by Xavier Bek.
Xavier is a marketing student at Temasek Polytechnic who recently took part in Skillseed's Marketing for Mamas course, an exclusive collaboration facilitating the real-world application of marketing skills for social good.
When I was in Secondary 3, I took part in an Overseas Value in Action (OVIA) trip where we built a classroom and basins with the intention for children living in a village to have a conducive learning environment and keep themselves clean. We donated rice, mixed cement, hammered nails, and even sawed planks while others played games with the students, taught them English and made origami.
Though that was heartwarming, this time around, my teacher shared that he wanted to accomplish more, to provide a permanent solution instead of a temporary one. We reflected on what my teacher said but were clueless about how we might be able to come up with an everlasting solution for these communities.
As Marketing students, our mission was to make use of our training and expertise to work with an established social enterprise in Siem Reap to expand the benefits of sustainable, village-based employment to more mothers, or Mamas as we like to call them. And only after going through Marketing for Mamas, however, I realized that lasting solutions do exist and that we could all volunteer our gifts of the head, hand, and heart to be a part of it.
When we first arrived in Cambodia, we were expecting a typical community service trip. However, by the end of the trip, to call it meaningful would definitely be a huge understatement.
To backtrack a little, this involved a lot of prep work. Before leaving for Cambodia, we met with different organizations and individuals to learn about Cambodian culture, understand some of the problems faced by social enterprises, and took part in workshops to empathize with people from different communities and grappled with the importance of long-term solutions. We gained insights on the social enterprises’ goals, problems and also a snippet of their business plans, which gave us an idea of what to expect in Cambodia. We also created a roadmap/guideline on how we planned to tackle obstacles on the trip and what we hoped to achieve and contacted travel agencies in Siem Reap to interview them for market research.
Upon hitting the ground in Siem Reap, we walked into travel agencies and found out about their target markets, their competitors and what they look for in products. We couldn’t have done it without the help of Theary, who was working as an intern at Husk Cambodia, learned many skills when she was with us, and even aided us in translating
After the interviews, we had to collate our findings with the other groups and began designing a marketing plan for our community partner. The entire group - including our teacher - burnt the midnight oil - but it was an enriching experience; we could not learn these concepts just by reading a textbook, but only by applying them in real life. I learned also that there are people without the luxury of textbooks, who would love to learn these concepts, while we took our academic privileges for granted.
One of the highlights of my trip was getting to know the Mamas, whose lives and livelihoods would be impacted by the success or failure of our efforts, and even befriending some of them.
We met the Mamas at their workshop where we played simple and universally beloved games we’d prepared and adapted beforehand - a variation of Red light/Green light, Splat, and even a mini Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. It was the best feeling when I won 4 rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors in a row - Go, one of the Mamas, high-fived with me in delight as I won each one for the team, and my heart was warmed by the bright smiles on their faces and the joy we helped to create.
The next time we visited, the Mamas gave us a taste of their 9-5 as they taught us how to sew tote bags, one of their main activities for work. It was my first time sewing, and the group could share a laugh whenever we made a mistake.
At the end of the trip, we presented our findings and recommendations with confidence - midway, the electricity was cut off and some of us gave an impromptu presentation without the help of our slides on the screens. Overall, when I look at the marketing plan we had designed, I am proud to say that I was a part of this and I hope that the results bear fruit for the Mamas we’ve come to know and love in time to come.
This was the most memorable trip I’ve ever taken part in, as we managed to contribute towards a long-term solution to the community’s needs, and we could go home with our heads held high knowing we had done the most we could.
Special thanks to Mr Steven, Theary, Lim and Yee Hui who took care of us and were like friends we could talk to and even crack a joke with from time to time.