Cambodia Investment Review

Rising Giants e92: Lida Loem Discusses Women Empowerment and the Entrepreneurial Journey

Rising Giants e92: Lida Loem Discusses Women Empowerment and the Entrepreneurial Journey

Cambodia Investment Review

On episode 92 of the Rising Giants Podcast, Lida Loem, co-founder and head of learning design at SHE Investments, provided an insightful account of her entrepreneurial journey, the challenges faced, and her mission of empowering women in business. The discussion took place at the Choice Accelerator co-working space in BKK3, Phnom Penh.

SHE is a social enterprise that designs and delivers the first and only gender-focused and culturally tailored business incubator and accelerator programs for women in Cambodia. The goal is achieving a gender balance in the Small – Medium Enterprise (SME) sector: with more women running larger, sustainable, and impactful businesses.

Read more: Rising Giants E91: Abby Kuba a Key Figure In 32nd SEA Games and 12th ASEAN Para Games

Lida, who also serves as a certified BDS Counsellor with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) under the CAPFish Project, boasts an impressive resume. Her experience spans over a decade in facilitation and training, and she has been instrumental in leading SHE Investments, shaping the organization’s direction and overseeing the design and delivery of various programs since 2015.

Entrepreneurship wasn’t an overnight decision

Since launching in 2015, SHE’s incubator and accelerator programs have graduated over 350 and 100 individuals respectively, resulting in more than 850 new jobs. The programs have enabled over 60 MSMEs to access upwards of $500,000 in financial capital for growth. Additionally, SHE’s digital bookkeeping app has attracted 6000 users, and the monthly revenue of graduates has increased by an average of $2,006.

The SHE Membership Network comprises 550 members, and from 2020 to 2022, 500 women completed SHE’s financial and digital literacy trainings.

Embarking on the road to entrepreneurship wasn’t an overnight decision for Lida. After completing her degree, she felt a strong urge to empower women and youth, a cause close to her heart. Meeting her co-founder further solidified her resolve, leading to the birth of SHE Investments. Their shared vision was to challenge and dismantle common stereotypes of women in business and fuel the growth of the female-led start-up ecosystem.

Finding Your Place in the Start-Up Space hosted at FACTORY on 8 April 2023.

Podcast co-host Dominic Kalousek asked about these stereotypes and how they have evolved since the launch of SHE Investments in 2015, Lida gave a candid response explaing the early years were particularly challenging as they struggled to attract women to their programs. Their deep dive into the issue revealed a web of societal and cultural barriers.

“A significant issue was the lack of female participation in our programs,” said Lida. “Women found it challenging to invest their time due to ongoing commitments at home. Additionally, traditional culture often dissuaded them from attending professional workshops.”

Equipping women with tools to solve their problems

To counter these problems, SHE Investments adopted various strategies. These included creating safe, inviting spaces for women and working to understand the unique problems they faced in joining their programs and participating in entrepreneurial activities. The approach wasn’t about imposing solutions; rather, it was about equipping women with the tools to solve their own problems, fostering a culture of autonomy and problem-solving.

“We actively foster peer-to-peer problem solving and extend one-on-one mentorship,” shared Lida. “Building a supportive community where women understand they’re not alone in their entrepreneurial journey is key. We are committed to long-term solutions, with most programs spanning six months or more. Simultaneously, we provide emotional support, understanding that balancing family and household issues is a critical part of their journey.”

Read more: Give a Day: Changes in Entrepreneurship Ecosystem & Opportunities to Further Support Women Entrepreneurs

Reflecting on SHE Investments’ growth, Lida acknowledged the critical role other accelerators and incubators played in shaping their journey. SHE Investments has evolved by learning from these entities and, more importantly, by learning from the women they sought to empower. When Dom inquired about the most significant strides they have made, Lida was quick to highlight the economic and social impacts they’ve fostered.

Lida Loem, co-founder and head of learning design at SHE Investments

“The main highlights from our program are the economic and social empowerment we have helped develop. We believe that empowering women financially and socially leads to greater employment opportunities and an improved standard of living for them, their families, and their communities at large,” Lida said. “Beyond financial empowerment, we also teach them about environmental concerns and how they, as small business owners, can make a difference.”

While SHE Investments doesn’t concentrate on any specific sector, Lida divulged that handicrafts make up about 50% of their portfolio. Agriculture, aquaculture, and green energy also constitute a significant share. However, the relatively low participation from tech companies is attributed to the nascent stage of the tech industry in Cambodia and SHE’s focus on already operational businesses.

Enables women business owners to flourish

Looking ahead, digital literacy and skills are key areas SHE Investments is keen to focus on, according to Lida. The organization is aiming to help women business owners become investment-ready, especially for amounts between $20,000 and $50,000. It’s part of their commitment to nurturing an environment that enables women entrepreneurs and business owners to flourish.

Lida proudly recounted the success stories of women-led businesses that have graduated from their program. These include Eleven One Kitchen, a food business that champions sustainable practices, and Solar Green Energy Cambodia, a company that harnesses solar technology to reduce electricity costs and promote solar energy development. Both businesses have thrived and become influential leaders, inspiring other women entrepreneurs.

Read more: Cambodian women entrepreneurs graduate with new business skills

On a personal note, Lida’s resilience and unwavering determination can be traced back to the mission of SHE Investments. “The impact we’re making keeps me motivated,” she revealed. “I continuously seek new ways to support people and innovate. I thrive on personal connections and derive immense joy from seeing people grow.”

Lida Loem, co-founder and head of learning design at SHE Investments

To maintain her mental wellbeing and maintain a fresh perspective, Lida also counts on mentorship. She expresses gratitude towards her mentor, Brett White, founder and CEO of Be Leaders. She is an ardent believer in continuous learning and humility as key factors for personal and professional growth. Currently engrossed in a book on business growth, she continues to feed her entrepreneurial spirit with new insights and perspectives.

Lida’s enlightening conversation on the Rising Giants Podcast underscores the importance of organizations like SHE Investments in fostering a culture of female entrepreneurship. By providing a supportive environment, Lida Loem and her team at SHE Investments are empowering women to defy stereotypes, break barriers, and leave a formidable imprint in the startup ecosystem. The world is eagerly watching as more and more women entrepreneurs, under SHE Investments’ guidance, rise to prominence and redefine the business landscape.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Related Articles