Saturday, June 9, 2012

Where's the beef?

Many years ago there used to be a TV commercial for Wendy's Hamburgers where an old lady would go to visit burger places and ask ''where's the beef?'' I couldn't help but think of that as I am living here in Cambodia, good beef is hard to find. For one like me who loves meat, I've concluded that the reason for the meat challenges here is that the poor cows don't get proper nutrition. All the animals here are so skinny perhaps they burn off their calories in the heat or perhaps there just isn't enough grass for them to chew upon so no wonder the beef can be tough. There's not enough flesh on the cows.

So after trying different restaurants here, I'd more or less given up eating any red meat until  a week ago when one of my Brazilian friends invited me to join them for dinner at a newly opened Brazilian BBQ restaurant close to my neighborhood. For the past few months when I would do my daily walk, I spotted the construction of the Samba Brazilian Steakhouse wondering when it would be completed for having had Brazilian BBQ in Toronto, I knew there could be some potential at this restaurant. Well the restaurant open recently and so I could not resist the opportunity to go check it out!

Sirloin with Parmasean cheese
Sausages and BBQ chicken wings!
Indeed I was not disappointed. However, this is not a restaurant the average Cambodian will go to since the average Khmer may spend about US$2.00 or less on a meal. . The price is steep at this restaurant at US$25.00 per person for the all you can eat beef buffet----its not cheap but cheaper than those Brazilian BBQ restaurants in Toronto which are about US$50.00 per person.  Those who attend this kind of restaurant are usually the expats and/or wealth Cambodians --- who can afford such prices. Here in Cambodia the name for a rich person is called ''Nyack Mieen''---translation---''someone who has''
Some of the largest beef ribs I have ever seen in my life!
For a meat lover like myself, visiting this restaurant is one of my indulgences although I don't expect to be eating here on a regular basis but at least there is a place to go to get some meat should I have a craving. I couldn't help but ask the manager where they get the meat from since I was curious if I could find the same butcher but sadly, all the beef except the chicken and pork are imported from New Zealand or Australia which probably explain the higher cost of the meal. Nonetheless, one of the secrets of getting your money's worth from a place like this is avoid eating too many carbohydrates---no rice, no pasta, no bread --- this is a place for those who want to get a high protein diet as there are also lots of salads to have with your meal.

So why am I mentioning this place in this blog? All of this had me thinking that Cambodia is an emerging market with lots of opportunities to do business and to set up businesses. While it has its challenges with a labor force that is predominantly unskilled, times are changing as more of the young people go on to higher education so the potential is there with the right training. There are lots of risks, but then again Hudson Taylor the founder of OMF once said ''if there are no risks in our exploits for God there is no need for faith.'' There is a lot of paper work involved in setting up a business here and like everything else here, patience is required but, the longer I live here, I find myself thinking like an entrepreneur, looking for business opportunities, thinking about the gaps, the needs and the services. Perhaps its because of my training and educational background having worked in the investment industry and capital markets, we were always sniffing out good companies to invest in.

Some of the ideas that are popping up in my mind come out of my own personal needs and our corporate needs thinking ''if only we had this store here'' or ''if only this service was available"--- much of this thinking is tied into job creation for the young women who will one day exit our Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP).  The reality is that while education and vocational training is important, we fall short in assisting them in their rehabilitation and reintegration if the education and training is not relevant to the market environment they encounter. These young women need sustainable employment that will equip them and prepare them to accomplish the dreams God has placed in their hearts. In a research report entitled ''The Butterfly Longitudinal Research Project" that was done by our partner Chab Dai, it was noted that ''livelihood options for trafficked and stigmatized young women in many communities remain limited and although vocational training may be available, high levels of unemployment and market saturation mean that young people are often left with few choices when it comes to supporting themselves and their families on their return. Hence, education and skills training need to be relevant to the Cambodian job market so participants can get good jobs upon re-integration. As such, community or residential based programs (like RAP) will need to assess the market for gaps and help the young women we serve,  realistically think through what they want to do in light of the market demands and these gaps.

Here in Cambodia, we don't have to look far to see this truth played out. Our partner organizations such as Daughters Cambodia has a wonderful clothing store and cafe that provides employment for women coming out of sexual exploitation. Similarly, AIM has a newly established Agape Training Center where all sorts of clothing attire are being made for export to a U.S store and our dear friends at Bloom Creations make some of the most fabulous cakes that are being purchased by the Royal family in Cambodia and many other ''nyack mien'' who live here. Each of these businesses support both the empowerment of the young women and provide a sustainable income to them while cultivating Christian work ethics in the work environment.

So while I may joke about ''where's the beef''' what seems to be crossing my mind these days are ''where are the business opportunities." For us at Ratanak, it is exciting to think about the future business possibilities and how we can create businesses that not only provide sustainable employment to survivors of trafficking, but ultimately our desire is to bless this nation by investing in its people and in so doing, fulfilling the mission that God has called us to: to be a Christ-centered organization committed to serving the people of Cambodia by being an agent of change in Cambodia's social, economic, and spiritual landscape.May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;  establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

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