“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'I'm Not Here to Change the World'

Diana Saw had just had a defining moment.

On a holiday in Cambodia, she had just witnessed a woman selling her baby.

"I was quite traumatised," she said of that experience in 2006.

Sitting in that mother's hut made out of leaves with no toilet, running water or electricity, Diana, then in her mid-30s, thought: "How can two women who are around the same age live in such different circumstances?"

The Singaporean who had just left her job as a regional general manager for a billion dollar company put the difference between her and the woman down to "pure luck", but she didn't leave it at that.

"I thought, what was the best way to help these women after the whole experience? Was it to donate $50,000 to an NGO or should I come and set up something myself?

"I went back home and told my partner that this is what I want to do: I want to come back to Cambodia, start a business, employ single moms."

Within two months, Diana had moved to Cambodia.

And through several failed business ideas, along with the difficulty of learning a new language and living in a different culture, she set up a small workshop making bags out of recycled materials.

Offering wages above the market rate and a cheerful working environment, she gave single mothers, and eventually other at-risk women, stable jobs so they could feel a sense of security.

"May they never sell their children again because they know that there is a job waiting for them and the children can go to school," she explained.

"I'm a big believer in jobs. I think having work, giving meaning to your life, and stability – that's important."

In Cambodia, where there are thousands of NGOs but continued pervasive poverty, it's easy to be disheartened by the magnitude of the social problems.

And it hasn't been easy for Diana running her small social enterprise: she's been cheated by trusted staff members, kicked out by landlords who then sell copycat bags, and even threatened with acid on her face.

Some days she wonders if she's even making a dent.

But then she reminds herself: "I'm not here to change the world. I'm just here to change the lives of those six women, 12 women, and their families."

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