Our story starts with a small village in the far eastern corner of Cambodia in 2009. Volunteering for a local organisation, we’d travelled to a remote part of Cambodia to visit an impoverished rural community. Far from any roads, we’d woven through a network of dirt tracks to reach a cluster of villages. Untouched by the outside world and still recovering from nearly three decades of conflict and civil war, the villagers struggled to survive, eking out a living however they could. We’d been from house to house and seen how people were running out of rice, their staple diet. Preparing to leave, in one of those haunting moments you never forget, the village elder made an emotional plea to us to help their community in whatever way we could.
The stark reality of living on $1 or less a day truly hit home that day - the ultra-poor are risk averse, with little opportunity to improve their situation, and with no buffer in times of crisis or failure. It was a fork in the road for us. We had two choices when we came back to NZ. We could ignore the desperation of those we’d met and look after ourselves; or we could instead use our skills for a larger purpose and try and provide opportunity and hope to those in desperate need. The situation weighed heavily on our hearts as we knew it would be a long term commitment. It seemed crazy. We eventually chose the latter – seeing the utter need carried with it a responsibility in our eyes.
After a lot of trial and error it became very clear that the poor needed proven micro-business ideas, improved agricultural products, training and access to markets, along with sustainable forms of microcredit which don’t cause indebtedness. None of the development agencies was offering this package in Cambodia. Microloans were helping people at or above the poverty line; we wanted to help those below. And so we started developing a business-based programme designed to help the ultra-poor. The first step was to choose a prototype microbusiness to test – we chose chicken raising, and tested the profitability by raising our first batch of chickens at the school we’d partnered with in Chhouk. Our next step was to test it with a group of 13 villagers and find markets for the chickens. From there we’ve involved a total of 50 people and we’re continuing to grow and improve what is a unique franchising programme for the poor. We’d like to invite you to follow our story. It’s a story of starting something ‘crazy’ and the power of disrupting conventional thinking – we believe, in a smart way...
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
We founded Catalyst Microfranchising after living in South East Asia and seeing first-hand the daily struggle the ultra poor face in meeting their basic needs.