Interview with the Founder and Director of Rachna Satrei

Posted October 19, 2017 from Cambodia

1.) How did you come to co-found Rachna Satrei and what were the biggest challenges you faced when starting Rachna Satrei?

During 2005, I founded Rachna Satrei and registered the organization with the Ministry of Interior (MoI). I founded Rachna Satrei because I noticed there were very few women represented at companies’ leadership levels. Therefore, there was no one interested in working to empower women through promoting human rights, promoting democracy, while also strengthening women economies and building their capacities.

When first establishing Rachna Satrei, I struggled to secure funding opportunities for my projects. Plus, it was extremely difficult to convince the government to approve my project proposals. However, I committed myself to start with smaller scaled projects that were focused on improving women economies through capacity building. For example, Rachna Satrei’s first project was a female micro-finance project. I provided funding ($50.00, a total of $500.00) to ten different organized groups of women. Over a six month duration, local interns and I conducted regular community meetings to monitor the progress of the women’s ability to distribute the money amongst themselves and their ability to make investments. I was the individual who provided the women groups with training on book keeping, financial management, business/enterprise planning, as well as communication and negotiation skills.

While I worked for Rachna Satrei full time, I could only hire part time interns straight out of high school to assist me. I was only able to pay my interns less than 100$/month. Plus, Rachna Satrei’s annually expenses were $5000/year which I had to cover with my own money for over three years. In addition to my responsibilities with Rachna Satrei, during 2006, the NGO Network of Siem Reap was searching for a steering committee. Forty six local and international NGOs nominated me to be serve as the Chair of the NGO Network.

During 2008, Rachna Satrei received from it’s first international sponsor. Denmark’s development cooperation, DANIDA, a program under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, gave Rachna Satrei $50,000. This money was used for a project which improved the livelihood and natural resource management of 970 families in two districts, Banteay Srey and Angkor Chhum. Shortly after, other international sponsor such as Minnesotas Veterans for Progress, the United Nations Development Program, and Heifer Intentional began funding various projects of ours.

Although it was extremely difficult at first, I have now illustrated my commitment to empower women in Cambodia and have improved Rachna Satrei’s reputation as a credible NGO on the sub-national and national level. I have also demonstrated my ability to utilize funding from international donors. Now, I have help raising funds and establishing international relationships/networks from international interns.

2.) Can you tell us about Rachna Satrei's programs for women and how they address community needs?

Rachna Satrei’s Biggest Current Project- Project Inspire Vocational Sewing School

Project Inspire aims to provide women who previously struggled to find employment or were living in compromised situations with practical sewing and business skills. This program directly addresses problems which contribute to inequality: economic dependence, ignorance of rights and laws protecting women and children, lack of context and education about the broader opportunities, and ongoing gender discrimination in the home and the community.

Project Inspire provides training in the following areas:

*Core Sewing Skills: Complete seamstress training for 25 women 16-18 year olds per year in garment­ making skills including design, pattern making, construction, and sewing.

*Entrepreneurship: Basic business, financial, and marketing skills necessary to start their careers or their own businesses, and to understand their options for lifetime career advancement.

*Life Skills: Deep education and resources in life skills, including English and Khmer literacy, leadership, civil rights, and gender-based issues like domestic violence and human trafficking to reduce their vulnerability and expand their opportunities and the lives of their children and community.

Rachna Satrei Previous Projects:

• Community Forestry Project - Launched in 2008 with the support of UNDP Cambodia, Rachna Satrei worked with communities to compile data and map the surrounding forest. Locals would portal the mapped area to protect the forest and prevent illegal logging. After successful implementation, in 2013 this same project was launched again.

• Water Wells Project - In partnership with Minnesota Veterans for Progress in 2010, Rachna Satrei targeted ten families that were disadvantaged and excluded from regular economic activity. Due to civil war and land mines, many people had physical limitations and, because of social stigma, were forced to grow and raise there own food. Our project built ten easily accessible wells that gave these families better ability to care for their land and animals. As a result, 25 other neighboring families also benefited from easier access to water.

• Women's Aid Project - In 2010, Rachna Satrei distributed packages to local women containing rice, clothing and seeds in a flooded area of the Kampong Khlang commune. Due to high rates of domestic issues, the women were given education classes on women's rights and domestic violence. Two boats were provided by the US Embassy so children were able to continue attending school.

• Agriculture Development Project - In 2008, Rachna Satrei targeted the development of agricultural capacity in rural communities. Rachna Satrei provided agriculture inputs (seeds, tools, livestock) and training in productive agriculture practices. Our project was supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).

• Peace Houses - To aid in women's escape from domestic violence, Rachna Satrei facilitated community building projects to create new and safe homes for women and their families. This project is ongoing as we continue to build new houses when we receive funding.

• Gender Rights Project - A Rachna Satrei funded initiative to promote women's rights within their homes and communities. Awareness sessions were given to entire communities that explored issues related to domestic violence. An elected female representative was given further training, as well as preventive and responsive measures to combat domestic violence. They were also provided with connections to local authorities and lawyers. As a result, we have seen women in these areas become leaders in driving social change within their districts.

• Small Businesses and Micro-loans - In 2008, Rachna Satrei invested 50,000 Cambodian Riel, as well as business training, to the Propel commune to begin a community bank. Created to fund small business loans, it has helped to facilitate several businesses. Since the project’s launch, the money in the community bank has tripled.

• Improving Income and Nutrition through Community Empowerment (INCOME) - partnering with Heifer International in 2015, we targeted 1200 families in the communes with the highest poverty rates. With strong commitments from the community we established self help groups. These groups provided education sessions, formation of farming cooperatives and female led project management. This project has helped to produce stronger, stable incomes for the families involved and continues expanding to reach more communities. We are currently creating a video for Project INCOME which includes statements from the local female farmers regarding how they’ve benefitted from joining the project. Responses included increased source of income, increased self-confidence, and increased community cohesiveness.

• Women in Business and Development - A branch stemmed from project INCOME, women are taught to be strong leaders and model business women at a grassroots level.

Rachna Satrei’s Future Projects (still in the development phases)

• Anti-Human Trafficking and Unsafe Migration (Anti- HTM) - A proposed launch in late 2017, this project works to tackle unsafe migration and human trafficking through community engagement. It will be implemented in six communes throughout the Siem Reap district. With education on prevention, promotion of rights and laws, and partnerships with government bodies and local authorities we aim to reduce unsafe migration.

• Arts and Learning Centre for Girls - We are currently in the beginning stages of planning a program to teach young girls computer literacy and giving them access to traditional Khmer art and dance classes.

Rachna Satrei addresses community needs through providing communities with necessary resources. For instance, for Project INCOME, with support from Heifer International, we provided chickens, pigs, cows, ducks, as well as agriculture material like hoes, jars, nets, and seeds. We also provided money to model farmers to expand on their farming businesses. We also created Agriculture Cooperatives, which are women self-help groups that collect various portions of their income and put it towards one person’s business or a community good that will help improve community living conditions and address their needs. We provide community members training on capacity building, animal management and raising, home gardening, financial management & critical thinking, business/enterprise planing, basic management & leadership skills, as well as the communication skills necessary to conduct community forums.

What are your long-term strategic goals for Rachna Satrei?

Rachna Satrei has four long term strategic goals. The first objective is to increase women’s leadership roles throughout communities. We aim to strengthen women’s ability to fully participate in the decision making process of sub-national and national democratic institutions.

Our second objective is to enhance women leadership roles both at the grassroots level as well as the international level, so they are able to better advocate democratic policy and women’s rights.

Our third goal is to improve the living standards of vulnerable women and their families. We strive to expand their livelihood/employment choices and increase their resilience from climate change and natural disasters.

Rachna Satrei’s last goal is to increase awareness regarding domestic violence laws, child trafficking, unsafe migration. This is in order to generate positive behavior and awareness in communities to reduce all form discrimination and gender equality.

What are some determinants of a successful nonprofit organization?

Rachna Satrei’s projects have benefitted over 11,984 people representing over 2,996 families throughout 85 villages in 6 different districts in the Siem Reap province.

For a nonprofit organization to be successful, especially in Southeast Asia, it needs to learn how to adapt the positive aspects of Western ideals/doctrines and incorporate them into their organization’s goals. The organization must also make an effort to not only preach its goals. For instance, instead of merely claiming to support local businesses/entrepreneurs, the organization must go and buy products from local, rural businesses instead of the bigger markets/corporations in the town center. The organization should also not depend on donor money. It will not be able to achieve its aspirations. Organizations must be socially accountable, be a part of the solution.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

When I was younger I learned about Cambodia’s first female ruler, Queen Neang Neak, also known as Queen Soma. Cambodia was an extremely prosperous, glorious, and united country during the 1st century when Neang Neak ruled. Queen Neang Neak’s ideology and passion to protect the Khmer culture after marrying her Indian husband, inspired me to strive and return prosperity and equality to the citizens of Cambodia. When I meditate I feel a deep spiritual connection to Khmer history and am excited to help promote the value of women just like Queen Neang Neak. I also dream that during my lifetime, Cambodia will be have another women Prime Minister as other countries do.

What advice do you have for individuals interested in nonprofit careers?

I often tell individuals who are interested in pursuing careers in a nonprofit organization to pursue their dreams, but manage their expectations for the future. Even though they want to make a positive impact, they need to be socially accountable in order to achieve their objectives and goals. They need to understand who they are as an individual, what they have to offer skill and idea wise, and where they want to go in the future. Then they can figure out exactly how they want to help others through nonprofit work and how they plan to implement their ideas. I also suggest that individuals constantly reevaluate and update their goals, while also searching for new places and people to support and empower. I emphasize that individuals interested in nonprofit work should never lose their confidence and should never abandon their mission. If they are not successful initially, they should not punish themselves.

*During our interview, Maly expressed that she views herself as a “forest tree”. In comparison to a “city tree”, “forest trees” are independent and do not have to rely on others for support. They learn to grow tall while existing in the shade/coverage of other trees. Eventually once all of their hard work pays off, they are able to break the surface and can exist in the Sun’s light. Then, they are able to see sunrises and sunsets, the benefits and successes of their dedication to helping others.

What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources?

My favorite books are:

Effective Leadership: How to be a Successful Leader - John Adair

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century - George Friedman

Diplomatic Law: Commentary on the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations - Eileen Denza

I also like to read the Internal Regulation of the Cambodian Senate

My favorite films are:

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Killing Fields (1984)

The Blue Kite (1993)

All the King’s Men (1949)

Nixon (1995)

* Phoung Maly Nhean ,Founder and Director of Rachna Satrei

Maly is currently the Executive Director of Rachna Satrei, a grassroots non-governmental organization based in Siem Reap, Cambodia which she founded twelve years ago in 2005. Rachna Satrei strives to create equality and empower women, children, and disabled individuals within local communities by improving their socioeconomic opportunities through educational training, community development projects, and advocacy programs.

Maly founded Rachna Satrei because of her passion for her home country, and is a deeply committed to advocate for Cambodia’s most disadvantaged groups: women, children, and the disabled. She fights tirelessly for human rights, sustainable environment, and a brighter future for Cambodia.

With over ten years of experience in operations and executive leadership in Cambodia’s non-profit sector, Maly is also the Provincial Coordinator of Siem Reap’s NGO Network, NCN-SR (Nongovernmental Coordination Network - Siem Reap). Representing 150 local non-profits, the NGO Network coordinates between the local and national levels to promote democracy, good governance, and advocates for the civil society.

Additionally, Maly is the steering committee for the Gender and Development Network (GADNet), and serves on the governance Board of Directors for Trailblazer Cambodia Organization (TCO). GADNet & TCO focus on issues such as human rights, rural economic development, and youth empowerment. Maly’s responsibilities include leadership on the governance board of directors, as well as being the liaison for donors and is responsible for coordinating fundraising activities.

Maly earned her MBA in General Management and Accounting/Administration from Build Bright University in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2005. Her areas of expertise include university’s lecturer and community development, organizational development and management, women rights, and public relations.

Comments 1

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Jill Langhus
Oct 20, 2017
Oct 20, 2017

Hi there. Thanks for sharing more information about what Rachna Satrei does. I loved the interview, projects and stats that you shared about all the work that is being done by this organization. I particularly liked the part/advice that Maly had for people that are pursuing non-profit careers as it's a challenging course to pursue.