A Social Enterprise’s Founders: We are not sure if it works; we just do it

Lim Kimchhun was a national outstanding student in mathematics in 2004. He got a scholarship to study in Japan for 6 years in the field of civil engineering and architecture, urban environmental system engineering and City planning, and he also had working experience in management field over there. Nowadays, he is an investor in the stock market and a co-founder of LIFE Group. He loves sharing and wants to spend his life helping and empowering more people to use their potential.

Eang Linda known as “short but strong” is a debate champion of the Next Generation Program, and she also won 5 other debate competitions and a regional public speaking contest in China among ASEAN youths. She was invited to the U.S. in 2014 and 2015 to participate in Youth Leadership and Civic Participation. Linda was also elected as the President of Pannasastra Student Senate in 2015. Nowadays she is a co-founder of LIFE Group.

Linda Eang and Kimchhun Lim provided training to young people (photo provided by Linda Eang)
Linda and Kimchhun were interviewed by Sotheary You, Founder of Next Women Generation

Q: Hello guys! How are you?

Linda and Chhun: Hello! I am doing good.

Q: Are you busy these days?

Linda: A bit busy.

Q: What are you working on recently?

Linda: We initiated a social enterprise, called Life Group, and we are leading some of the projects that we want these to sustain without us. We want to empower our new members of Life Group.

Q: What does Life Group focus on?

Linda: I initiated the Life Group because I want to do a meaningful thing and do what we love. We want to help ourselves and, in the meantime, we want to help others to realize their strength, so that they can do what they love and have good health. When we started the Life Group, we didn’t know what we really want to focus on. We do what we can. For instance, I like the debate, public speaking and helping others to solve the problems, so we have the Life Forum for any youth who want to strengthen their capacity and to seek for advice to solve the problems.

Chhun: We have the Life Run that we can run together to have good health. Some people want to have good health but have less commitment to exercise alone. They can join us to have a running group. When run together, we can run further and more often.

Linda: Chhun likes running. We don’t need to spend a lot of running. You just need to have a pair of running shoes, and we can run together. 

Q: How long have you run this project? 

Linda: About two year now.

Q: Why did you initiate this Life Group?

Chhun: We were not happy with what we have worked on before. When we woke up in the morning, we were not pleased. We thought we don’t want to do that anymore. We want to do what we love. I like to give advice to people and empower people to do what they like. I met Linda, and she is an outstanding woman. She shared a similar experience with me that she forced herself to work on things that she didn’t like. I thought we should be able to find a way to do what we love and live happier. First, we created a debate class, because Linda is good at that, to earn some money to support our initiative through a membership fee.

Q: How does it work with the membership fee? Do many people register to join your group?

Chhun: We had many members when we started the group. They wanted Linda to teach them because there was no class for the debate at that time.

Linda: We didn’t expect anything at that time. I didn’t have a poster to promote my initiative. I wrote on my Facebook’s profile that “Does anyone want to join the debate class?” Then, people registered in the class.

Q: How many members do you have in the Life Group?

Linda: More than 200 members.

Q: How much does it cost for the membership fee?

Chhun: $30 for three months for the Life Forum, so it is $10 per month. For the Life Run, you just need to pay $6.5 for the T-shirt, and you can run forever.

Linda: We set a reasonable price to accommodate people so they can join us.

Q: Who join you? Are the students, people from the province or high school students?

Chhun: We have people from the province, high school students, university students, and working-class people. We are pretty diverse which is great so that they can learn from broader perspectives.

Q: Is that challenging when people come from different backgrounds?

Chhun: That is no problem. Our core value at Life Forum is respect for each other and being positive. When we are positive, it spreads out to others. Even though they come from different backgrounds, they open their mind to learn from each other. So, it runs smoothly.

Linda: We don’t judge that this idea is good or bad or right or wrong. We listen to each other and give each other advice to solve the problem. When people join us, they feel that they are valuable. They don’t feel uncomfortable being with us.

Chhun: This is the unique component of the Life Group. It is as same as the Life Run and the Life Forum. In our Life Run, the fast runner and the slow runner help each other. We don’t have the perspective that this person is better than this person.

Linda: We help each other.

Q: Do you experience difficulty when you first start up this social enterprise?

Linda: That was challenging. We don’t have experience running this type of business. It is new to us. We are learning while we are doing.

Chhun: We just do it. Sometimes it was right, and sometimes it was wrong. No one has done that before. We are learning while we are doing. So, we just do it. We think what we should do while we are doing. Even now we are considering what we should continue doing.

Q: What are those difficulties?

Chhun: First, we don’t actually know what we are doing. We just try it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t work. We think a lot when we set the price.

Linda: I think we have less experience in operating this type of enterprise. I like this type of enterprise. It is challenging, but I am happy to do it. If I worked for others, I wouldn’t have a chance to propose something new or doing something new. I think it is difficult to get an approval if I work for others. Sometimes I thought “I am not sure if it works, but just do it.” I am happy because I have an opportunity to challenge myself and doing something new. We have the feedback loops. We asked each other about what we have done about good and improving points. We can adjust it very quickly. We don’t need to wait one or three months to get an approval, or sometimes the project deadline was passed already before an approval.

Q: How many people join to create this group?

Linda: We have only two people.

Q: Have you argued?

Chhun: We have. We decided to work together because we have different strength that can complement each other. Because we have different strength, we argued, and we saw thing differently.

Linda: We think differently.

Chhun: I like critical thinking.

Linda: I like creativity. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to each other.

Chhun: For me, I want to run this social enterprise to be more realistic.

Linda: But, it is not creative.

Chhun: We discussed to find a good way to make it critical and creative.

Q: How do you work in a team?

Chhun: We have our word, URO. U stands for understanding. R stands for respect, and O stands for open-minded. Then, we don’t argue. We talk and find solutions.

Q: Have you experienced criticism?

Chhun: We ask for feedback from our members because our members see us more than the outsider.

Linda: We ask both new and old members. They gave us comments to make it better. Mostly they like our forum. We ask them because we want to get a new idea to improve our forum. We need feedback. We are not avoiding criticism. We ask them for feedback.

Q: I have heard that the entrepreneur doesn’t earn much at the beginning of the start-up. Have you experienced that?

Linda: We have. When we just started, we didn’t have many members. We experienced that pressure. We have other incomes from our freelance work or our saving to cope with that.

Chhun: If we run a business, it would be easier. But we are running a social enterprise. We don’t charge much from our members. That was so difficult, but we are happy. We want it to move forward, but we can’t just spend our own pocket. We tried to find a solution and to increase our profit. Then, we can stabilize this social enterprise.

Linda: I have pressure when I run the Life Group. But, do I regret it? I don’t. When we worked for others, we got money, but we have mental pressure. This kind of job would bring us a little financial stress, but we are happy to do it.

Chhun: Sometimes I asked myself that “is this an appropriate thing to do? Do I help only others, but not myself?” I had no doubt anymore when I saw people at the Life Forum. Those people shared us that “Life Forum is their second home. They are who they are because of Life Forum.” I was so energetic to hear that. I can’t stop. Many people need us.

Linda: Especially when we were happy. We feel that we are helping others, so we forget the hardship that we experience. We think that helping others is bigger than the difficulty so that we continue doing it until today.

Q: How about your family?

Linda: My family wanted me to work as same as everyone else because they see that everyone does it. I can’t say anything. I keep doing it better and better. I don’t try to convince them to believe in what I am doing. I work to generate noticeable outcomes so that they will support us later.

Chhun: I face a similar experience. My family wanted me to work in a profession that has a higher salary and to work as same as average people do. They thought those jobs are safer because others have done those jobs already. No one has done what I am doing. They want me to have a good career. But I don’t want that. I think people who decided to follow what they like would experience that kind of situation. But, by the end of the day, I just need to bring the result to them and show them that I am happy with that so that they won’t say anything anymore. You have to think about risk management as well.

Q: Have they asked you to stop or told you in a way that encouraged to stop running this business?

Linda: I think they used to tell me that. They asked me why I don’t work as same as average Cambodian?

Q: How did you tell them?

Linda: I think it is challenging. I think many people have a hard time to challenge them. I first try to understand their perspective. I listen to their complaint so that they would open their mind to look to my view. I told my mom that “I know you want me to be happy. I also want to be happy. If I worked in other professions, I wouldn’t be happy. I felt like I was imprisoned when I worked in other professions. I know you don’t want me to feel that.” I told her that please do not expect an immediate result as an angel magically creates something. I am a human; I can’t make it like that. I asked for her support. I told her that if she supported me, I would deliver a better result.

Chhun: My family has never asked me to stop doing this. They didn’t support me at the beginning, but I challenged them to do it. I have my plan to make it happen. I depend on oneself. I didn’t ask them for money to operate this. It was less challenging for me because, if anything happens, it would only happen to me. Now I am happy. I don’t have financial stress so that they don’t care about it anymore. When we have economic freedom from them, they don’t ask us to stop. In most cases, they asked us to stop because they concerned that we would be their burden.

Q: Do you have other investors in your Life Group?

Chhun: We haven’t had yet. We are seeking partners to invest in our Life Group.

Linda: We are funded by our membership fee, yet it is not stable. The Life Group would be stronger if we would have more sponsors.

Q: What do you mean by “stable”?

Chhun: I think about financial stability. We have a good team, but we don’t have a budget to provide them with a salary. We need more resource to generate good works. If we have sponsors, we can distribute that fund to them, so that they can work with us longer and produce a better result.

Linda: We have a good team, and they are talented. We want them to help us fulltime, but we don’t have enough financial capacity to accommodate them. We don’t ask them to help us a lot. We just asked them to help us as they can, and how we can help them back.

Q: What do you see the Life Group in the next 5 or 10 years?

Chhun: In the next 5 or 10 years, I expect that people in our Life Group community will help each other even better than today. We hope to have more programs in the Life Group such as signing and painting. People who join us will receive support with whatever they want to do. I want to see more people will be happy with the Life Group and will be able to show their potential to the world.

Linda: I want them to be happy when they open the door of Life Group. I want them to be stronger, and we want to have a supporting system in our community to help them to reach their potential.

Chhun: For instance, Linda and I are complementing each other. Linda is good at video editing, and I am good at negotiating. We work together so that we can move forward faster. But it doesn’t mean that we have enough capacity to do what we plan to do. We need more people to help us to get better outcomes.

Q: It seems like you guys are great partners for the Life Group. Do you have any suggestions for other young people who want to start up and are looking for partners?

Chhun: I used to pick a wrong partner. For instance, I teamed up with other people before because I thought they were smart. Then, I realized working together in a team is not depending only on your smartness but also your working styles. We couldn’t work together because we had different working styles. Then I learned that we don’t need an outstanding person; we need a person who can work together in a team. We need people who are solution-oriented, who know how to solve the conflict, especially in the group.

Linda: In the Life Group, we selected only people who are familiar with our work she and we know those people for long enough time. We tested them by working together. We want to see if we can work together.

Chhun: If they are our members, they would have learned our vision. They observed us every day. They joint us so that it will be easy for them to observe themselves if they like it or not.

Linda: I have many good friends, but if you asked me that “would I team up to run a business with them? I don’t do that.” We might break up even though we have all smart people in the team. So, our strategy is to recruit only people who clearly understand about the Life Group, and used to work together on something.

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