On 12 December 2023, the German and Cambodian research partners of Build4People WP#6 “Sustainable Urban Transformation” from Hamburg University and from Royal University of Phnom Penh conducted an insightful Science Workshop, prepared as a webinar by Impact Hub Phnom Penh. The focus was on the role of Innovative Urban Businesses (IUB) to facilitate transformative change in Cambodia.
The workshop began with greetings words delivered by Prof. Dr. Seak Sophat of Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), local research partner of B4P WP#6 and by Dr. Michael Waibel, Build4People consortium leader. Thereby, Michael brief introduced the recent Sustainable Building Incubator as joint activity between Build4People and Impact Hub Phnom Penh.
After that, the CEO of Impact Hub Phnom Penh, Mélanie Mossard, gave her keynote speech by providing an extensive overview of sustainable start-up activities supported by her social enterprise.
Among others, her presentation discussed startup maturity stages, the challenges and the achievements of start-ups in Phnom Penh and Cambodia. Particularly, the presentation discussed the concept of Asset-based Community Development as the key recommendation for promoting IUB in Cambodia.
Theoretical insights in the field of sustainable entrepreneurship and transition studies were provided by Dr. Thuy Nguyen, research associate of the Build4People WP#6 “Sustainable Urban Transformation”, Hamburg University. Her presentation provided a practical rationale and theoretical background for the topic of sustainable urban transformation (SUT) and the needed role of entrepreneurs in shaping SUT.
The state of the art of the topic sustainable entrepreneurship was also provided, including a brief review of literature on the characteristics of sustainable MSMEs (micro, small and medium sized enterprises), their challenges and opportunities, their conceptualized roles in shaping SUT and engagement approaches.
In addition, the presentation illustrated the so-called “empowerment process” through the organization of the Build4People Sustainable Building Arena series, which created a valid platform for entrepreneurial frontrunners in Phnom Penh to network and exchange ideas.
Thuy’s presentation concluded by discussing implications about prevalant research gaps in the context of the role of sustainable MSMEs in urban transformation, particularly in the building sector in the Global South.
Furthermore, three case studies of successful sustainable entrepreneurship got presented by Chansopheak Hem, Kongngy Hav, Chanraksmey Vorn.
Chansopheak Hem presented his project Jungle à Domicile which has not only been established as a plant store, but as an educational space to foster an awareness of urban gardening and urban green spaces, as well as an inspiring co-working space for small businesses in Phnom Penh. Chansopheak has also organized several educational workshops to promote green spaces and co-organized first ever Phnom Penh Plant and Garden Fair, which have reached out to thousands of people in the city.
Kongngy Hav introduced his company, which is producing cost-effective and environmental-friendly construction materials in Cambodia. According to him, his company is currently the largest producer of interlocking bricks in Cambodia and ASEAN, and the first ever producer of so-called “Breeze Blocks” in the country. His ambition is further to become a leading producer of polished tiles and other sustainable construction materials in Cambodia.
Chanraksmey Vorn introduced her company EGE, the official and exclusive distributor of “Eco Green Energy”, a French brand. Since 2021, the company has promoted renewable energy solutions through more than 50 projects providing solar energy materials and services, mostly in rural areas of Cambodia. She also pays special attention to support female engineers has a share of about 70% women in her company.
In all of the three case study presentations, the entrepreneurs shared their motivation why they did their businesses, the multifaceted opportunities and challenges of their business and their future plans, as well as potential areas for collaborations. To support their business development, all of them requested more support in regard of capacity building / training and financial incentives from the side of the government, among others.
To sum up, the practical and scientific insights of our webinar illustrated that there is a need for more transdisciplinary and systemic approaches in regard of identifying innovative research agendas in the field of sustainable urban transformation.
Particularly, the panel discussion moderated by Michael Waibel showed that the role of entrepreneurial frontrunners and their potential role in shaping sustainability transitions in the Global South still remains under-researched. It also showed that from policy side, the role of IUB should be further strengthened to support their niche innovations, which have substantial potential to transform the building and urban planning sector towards more sustainability.
That is why we would also like to generally advocate for more transdisciplinary approaches such as of Build4People, which combine participatory and action research to facilitate knowledge and solution co-creation between multiple scientific disciplines and societal actors.