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Dare & Dream: Taking a Leap of Faith with Young Women in Cambodia

Shuting Tan

Reporter’s Note:

Gender equality in education matters to the personal development of young women from one generation to another. Yet, to unlock the potentials of young women, general education alone is not enough as the difficulties that stop them from utilizing their right to education may come from poverty, cultural norms, long distance from school, inadequate resources and so forth. According to UNESCO’s report on Cambodia’s education in 2015, take dropout rate for instance, a gap is found not only between male and female but also between urban and rural areas, the latter having the disadvantage. Such phenomena are not unusual in Cambodia and have continuously aroused increasing attention.

Bearing education and development difficulties faced by the girls in rural areas in mind, Dare & Dream resists to stay silent and has a plan to help.

Dare & Dream started in early June of 2017 as an online/offline consulting platform working with rural girls from low income families. Their aims are to empower girls to pursue higher education, to inspire them to chase their dreams, and to build girls’ networks platform to help them go into further education. While online platform provides girls convenience in communicating with their mentors via email, Facebook and skype, the offline platform allows them to directly reach out for face-to-face consultation.

D: Could you tell us about Dare & Dream?

L: Dare & Dream started in early June of 2017. It is an online/offline consulting platform working with rural girls from low income families. The aims are to empower girls to pursue higher education, to inspire them to chase their dreams, and to build a girls’ networks platform to help them go into further education. Our online platform refers to mentorship support requiring internet access. The girls can contact us by any communication channel such as email, Facebook, mobile phone, skype, and the like. Our offline platform refers to direct meetings and consultations in Phnom Penh or in any province.

Dare and Dream services include: (1) Mentorship support, (2) Scholarship Support that includes proofreading applications and mock interviews, (3) Matching young women to favorable universities, internships and careers, and (4) trainings which include providing leadership opportunities for mentees or membership and training services for other stakeholders or partners.

D: Who comprises the founding team of Dare & Dream? Would you like to share what inspired you all to join together to start it?

L: We are a team of three Cambodian women: Ms. Laitheam Eang, a sophomore student majoring in Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship at Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand, Ms. Kagna Mourng, a graduate from the University of Hawaii, USA, and a fellow of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program, and Ms. Saren Keang, a Master’s student in Sustainable International Development and Coexistence and Conflict at Brandeis University, USA.

One of the motivations that connect us is our deep passion to empower young women in Cambodia. That, obviously, binds us in the first place. But as we got to know each other more closely, we learned that we also shared very similar backgrounds that have brought us to where we are now—from unprivileged rural families through faith, hard work, and perseverance.

D: What problem is Dare & Dream aiming to address?

L: Cambodian girls face various barriers to attain any level of education and more so for higher education. Some of those barriers include poverty, security, cultural norms and restrictions, insecurity, poor infrastructures, long distances, lack of sanitation and clean bathrooms, etc. Dare and Dream seeks to address the following four issues: (1) Reducing girls drop-outs, (2) Building female role models, (3) Building future female leaders, and (4) Breaking cultural concepts.

D: What sets Dare & Dream apart from other initiatives that aim to address the same problem in Cambodia?

L: Dare & Dream provides first hand support since girls lack capacity, then we sharpen them with our various support mechanisms as described above and match them with the opportunity. Finally, we empower them to be self-sufficient and be able to take some spare time to volunteer helping other girls to role models like them too.

The online platform is a new concept for Cambodian girls in rural areas. With the increase in the use of smart phones and the internet, we believe that Cambodian girls will be familiar in using new technology such as Facebook, email, skype or other applications. At the same time, we would like to train these girls how to access social media and to get benefit from technology.

D: What is (are) the comparative edge(s) of Dare & Dream?

L: Our service is more direct and closer to the target group which provides room for them to interact with the expert and coordinator faster and more convenient. It is marketable and more innovative than other traditional organizations.

D: Have you developed a prototype service? If so, what is it?

L: The prototype services in the online platform is by FB public groups, closed groups, email and phone communication. We have started it about a month ago. We want to know the number of girls who are able to reach to us online, what are the main challenges and difficulties in online communication, what their needs are, what we can offer them, and what can we improve in the next three months. So far, our routine contact is by phone.

D: What have you done so far to solve the problem? Did you encounter any difficulties? How did you get over it? Have you made any improvements to Dare & Dream since then?

L: Since we have started our project in early June 2017, it is only in the first phase of our startup process. Our current problems are lack of human resources like local experts, limited funding, developing a good strategic plan, and lack of technical support to design the online platform. Another issue is the communication between the three founders. We are living in three different countries which makes it a main constraint to come up with detailed plans quickly. However, these problems cannot stop us to make Dare & Dream happen in the beginning of 2018. We schedule bi-monthly meetings by Skype to prepare our strategic plan, to update our work and arrange the tasks among the three of us. Recently, we have a partnership with Development Innovation Insider and a few organizations.

D: Would you like share something that touched you the most since you started Dare & Dream?

L: The most touching thing since we started Dare & Dream is seeing girls gradually becoming fearless and believing in themselves. Some girls have reached us online in seeking mentorship support. One girl participant mentioned that before, she was always shy to talk to people even her parents. She felt she wasn’t good enough and was afraid to make mistakes. However she knows that she needed to believe in herself and to consider obstacles as learning opportunities.

D: So far, what is the scale and impact of Dare & Dream?

L: So far, we have delivered six workshops in three provinces in July. The total participants are about 400—mostly female students.

The recent impact is through our inspirational stories, motivational talk, leadership methods and some practical exercises in workshops. Most of the girl participants said that it is their first time to participate in a workshop and they are happy. One female student from Samdech Ov High School in Takeo province said, “I dare to dream big now and pursue dream to be a doctor in the next three years in Phnom Penh. My family wants me to study journalism but I do not want to., Now, I feel brave to talk to them and let them know my real passion. My future dream seems a bit scary but I will encourage and challenge myself to achieve it.

We have also gained attention from the community via local media. The first workshop ended up being an enormous success, earning us a space in the local newspaper. Kagna Mourng, was invited to do an interview in the local radio, has widely inspired other girls through her study background and her hardships in reaching her dreams.


D: Financing is always a challenge for social enterprises, would you like to share some thoughts on the financial model and what is the ideal option for Dare & Dream?

L: We understand that to keep an enterprise self-sufficient, we need to gain a profit which is bigger than zero. However, we also want to take into account the low socio-economic status of many of our expected clients. Thus, for now we are thinking of charging a six-month membership fee of approximately $3. As locals, we feel that the amount is neither too high nor too low for the majority of our potential clients. If we have resources, it would be great to do a baseline study to confirm our hypothesis. If not, we hope to learn about our clients’ take in our three-month pilot trial.

D: Where do you see Dare & Dream in in one and five years respectively? What kind of scale and social impact would you expect in the future?

L: We wish to launch Dare and Dream in the beginning of 2018 which is when we are expected to have gathered sufficient support from technical experts, volunteer mentors, and an adequate budget to start off the first phase. We target at least 50 girls from across the country during this first phase.

In the next five years, we expect to have 1000 girls benefit from the initiative, and we hope at least 100 girls among them will become role models for the next generations.

In the long run, we hope to see a significantly increased number of Cambodian women being able to complete their higher education, have built their full potential, and have become leaders in their community, country and beyond. Ultimately, we aspire to achieve a more gender-equal Cambodia.

D: What assistance does Dare & Dream need to continue a lasting solution?

L: We need:

  • Technical support for web developing, web maintenance, and other basic technical skills to keep our digital consulting platform running smoothly.
  • Volunteers who could play a role in one of the services we provide.
  • Monetary contributions from our clients.
  • Partnerships from various stakeholders for in-kind contributions and potential joint ventures.
  • External donors.

D: What has kept you going so far and what makes you want to keep going in the future?

L: The passion for women’s empowerment and the vision of growing Cambodian female role models in the next five years inspire and motivate us to keep working hard to achieve our goals.

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