Channary Ny was the country manager of the She Investment. She has worked on gender equality and anti-trafficking with non-governmental organizations in Cambodia. She joined the She Investment in 2021. She is passionate about women’s economic empowerment in Cambodia.
Note: The interview was taken place in September 2021.
[Below is the transcript of the interview that is slightly edited for clarity.]
Sotheary: Hello! Thank you so much for joining me today. How are you? Do you still work from home?
Channary: I have been working from home for about two weeks. We went to the office for a while. Then, there were COVID-19 cases around our office building, so we returned to work from home. We closed our office in February or March 2021. We allow our staff to go back to the office but limit 15 people a day. Are you working from home?
Sotheary: I am working from home. I am doing consultancy work. I went out for a meeting once in a while in 2020. For 2021, I ultimately worked from home. I did not go out since the outbreak.
Channary: Is that because you are concerned about the COVID-19 situation?
Sotheary: I want to participate in preventing the outbreak. Prevention is better than cure.
Channary: Yes, I agree. I don’t want to regret [after contacting with the virus.]
Sotheary: We probably spread the virus to others before we even know that we contact with the virus.
Channray: Some of our partners want to meet us in person. Some people tell us that they are already vaccinated. Sometimes, we are okay with that, but we practice social distancing.
Sotheary: I have a meeting via Zoom. I am comfortable with that. It has been almost two years already.
Channary: We get used to it.
Sotheary: I would like to go back to your work. Can you share with us what you have been doing recently?
Channary: We are pretty occupied because we have changed our training methods. We have provided in-person training before. Because of COVID-19, we shift our method to online training. We are busy with training for young entrepreneurs and partner organizations.
Sotheary: Can you tell us what the She Investment does?
Channary: We have many programs at She Investment. We work with young female entrepreneurs and small and micro-enterprise owners. We support them to scale up their businesses. We help them increase their impacts on society, the environment, and the economy in the long run. We have an incubator program, accelerator program, and investment readiness for entrepreneurs. We have a digital resource center, providing short videos on using Facebook and digital platforms for businesses, managing finance, and other materials that support entrepreneurs during COVID-19.
We have Thrive Program, assisting entrepreneurs with finance to buy equipment to improve their businesses. The program’s financial support package is between 3,000 USD and 10,000 USD. In addition, we have a small package of 1,000 USD for female entrepreneurs running small and micro-enterprises. We have the She Membership program, a networking opportunity for female entrepreneurs in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampot, and Kampong Cham. We would like to provide them opportunities to strengthen their skills on top of training courses offered by the She Investment. She Investment also has mentoring and coaching for individuals and groups of entrepreneurs.
Sotheary: When did you start working to promote the equality of societal members?
Channary: I started working on the issue with non-governmental organizations. I have worked to support vulnerable people. Most of them were women. I wanted to be their voice and empowered them to have their voice.
Sotheary: Why are you interested in women’s empowerment?
Channary: I have seen it since I was young. My neighbor didn’t value his wife. The wife shared her concern with my mother. I have heard that. I have seen her cry. My mother encouraged and comforted her. My first job was working with the community. What I observed is that Khmer society has high expectations for women. Women have less space to express themselves. Our culture also does not encourage women to speak up. Having seen that, I told myself that I wanted to be their voice if I had an opportunity. I can speak up on behalf of them. I want to allow them to express their opinion. I want to tell them that they can do what men can do.
Sotheary: Have you experienced any pressure like other women?
Channary: I have. My dad loves a son than a daughter. I have limited opportunities to choose what I want. For example, he said a daughter should work nearby home. But I worked in the community after graduation. I worked in the province. I traveled to provinces and stayed at the hotels. My neighbors saw me walking out of the hotels. Sometimes I walked out of the hotel alone, and sometimes, I walked out with co-workers. My neighbors called my dad. They told my dad that they saw me walking out of the hotel, and it was not good. My dad was conservative. Then, I didn’t share what I experienced with my dad. He convinced me to quit my job because he thought women shouldn’t do community work and go to provinces. He said other people could look down on me and think I am not a good girl.
Sotheary: How did you convince your family?
Channary: I didn’t quit. I told him that I wanted to do; I could do what men could do; I always faced challenges; it was my dream and passion. If I could work on it, I could overcome the obstacles. After that, I got an accident when I worked in the community. A motorbike hit me. I didn’t tell my parents. When they called me, I said to them that I was okay. When I returned home, my parents saw my injury. My mother cried. She told me to quit my job. I told her that I liked it and knew how to protect myself. I didn’t stop it because I enjoyed it even though I had pressure from family and society. My neighbors were curious about my work. I worked outside and returned home once in two weeks or a month. When my parents understood the nature of my work, they didn’t care about what other people said. They stopped asking me to quit.
Sotheary: What motivates you to continue working?
Channary: I see the gender gaps. I have witnessed my neighbor’s case. I am happy because I am a part of the change. If it doesn’t start from us, what are we waiting for? I trust myself. I want to help other people. Women can do what men can do. Sometimes, we do it better because we are more persevere. I believe that there is always a solution to the problem, and we can make a difference. We are open to learning new things. Moreover, encouragement from my mother is significant for me.
Sotheary: How does your mother support you?
Channary: My mother always supports me. My dad didn’t support me at first. He wanted me to be a businesswoman. He ran a jewelry shop. He always encouraged me to study business and help him sell jewelry. I told him that I didn’t want to be a salesperson; I wanted to do community work. My mother supports me and allows me to do what I want. Back then, she always checked if I was okay when I went to the community. She took care of me when I got injured because of my work. She continuously checks if I am okay. She is my idol. Her strength and perseverance taught me to be a strong and independent woman. She is proud of me. She praises me when I help others. She said it is good that I don’t give up. She always cooks good food for me. Her smile can help me to overcome any challenges.
Sotheary: What are your challenges working with small and micro-entrepreneurs?
Channary: Women need to overcome social expectations that challenge them. For instance, they need to seek approval from their husband or family to join the training. Most women are lack confidence. They need support to unlock their potential. Cambodian women tend to think that they are not good enough. They have a hard time balancing work and life because of social expectations. People believe that Cambodian women should stay at home to take care of husbands and children. At the same time, they are also entrepreneurs. So, they fulfill household obligations and work outside of the home. They must work harder to showcase their capacity and gain recognition from people around them.
Sotheary: How about you? What challenges do you face as a leader?
Channary: It is similar to other women. I need to work hard to gain recognition from people around me. Sometimes, I feel I am not bold enough. For instance, when I apply for a job, I make sure that I can do the job 100%. But men would apply for a job even though they meet only 30%-50% of the selection criteria. The number of female mentors in Cambodia is limited.
Sotheary: Do you have any messages for other women and girls?
Channary: Women need to find their passion. When they find their passion, they can easily follow it. They should start from themselves; they shouldn’t wait for others to join because we don’t know when to find people who share our passion. They should start it now. If we take no action, our dream is still the dream. Don’t give up. You should know that your way is not always easy. If we are tired, we can rest but never quit.