Friends for Good
One of the things I enjoy about living in Cambodia is that I get to meet people from all over the world, who try to do their part to make the world a better place.
I often catch myself thinking how different my social circle is, since moving to Cambodia in 2006 to start Bloom, a social enterprise that employs single mothers and young women vulnerable to being trafficked for sex.
In Singapore, I had a big corporate job, responsible for the Asian operations of a billion-dollar company.
My life was all about working to ensure I made money for the company, socialising (drinking!) with friends after work, and shopping on weekends.
Almost all the new people I met were through "networking", a euphemism, I have concluded, for "mutual making use".
I lost count of the specially organised networking events I attended at my former job. You network to meet potential new clients, new employees, even new bosses.
It was exhausting and difficult for an introvert like me who loathes small talk.
Worse than all that, was the feeling of being fake. I was always conscious that I was pretending to be interested in a person for the sake of making use of him or her to meet my corporate objectives. I am sure many of the people I spoke to were conscious of the same. I still cringe at the thought.
Of course, I did make real friends through my former job, people who have kept in touch with me and who have even visited me in Cambodia. These people were few and far between, and amazingly, have all ended up working in corporate social responsibility in one way or another.
I suppose deep down, like me, these friends had always wanted to make the world a better place and that was what drew us to each other.
Many of the people I have met since moving to Cambodia have been volunteers, most of whom come for a few days.
A few of them I’ve lost touch with but will always remember for their kindness, like Liza, a gorgeous lady of North African and Indian descent, who cleaned and decorated my shop with me, just because she wanted to help.
Many volunteers have moved here because they see they can contribute to improving the lives of those less fortunate than us, whether through working for a large NGO or by starting their own little projects.
You could argue that I meet these people because I’m now a social entrepreneur. After all, social enterprises tend to attract more people interested in social good than most other industries.
However, the other part of it is, as a business owner, I get to choose who my customers and colleagues are. That, for me, was one of the attractions of being an entrepreneur: I would be in control of who I interacted with and who I did business with.
And I am grateful that through Bloom, I have met wonderful people, even if only for a short time.