Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs Share Their Success

Thaung Thyda and Bun Channimol speak to Kiripost about how they overcame a string of hurdles to thrive in their respective industries and how ultimately their vision to drive change has seen them rise to become leading women entrepreneurs in Cambodia.
THAUNG Enterprise can produce up to 50,000 tons of salt annually. Picture: supplied
THAUNG Enterprise can produce up to 50,000 tons of salt annually. Picture: supplied

In Cambodia, women entrepreneurs in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) form the backbone of the economy. While some ensure they generate enough income to support their family, others grow their businesses to create more employment opportunities for the wider community. Meet two emerging entrepreneurs who have built their businesses from the ground up.

Thaung Thyda: co-founder and CEO of Thaung Enterprise

Thaung Thyda is one of Cambodia’s rising women entrepreneurs. Born into a salt farming family, Thyda has made it her mission to transform the salt business in the once-sleepy town of Kampot. The road ahead is tough and sometimes she wants to quit. But what keeps her motivated is that she wants her story to encourage a new generation of Cambodian women to take on entrepreneurship.

Currently, she heads the family business and is steering it in the direction of the international market. Her ultimate aim is to position Cambodia’s salt farming sector on the global stage. In an interview with Kiripost, she said she is proud that her business, THAUNG Enterprise, supplies nearly 40 percent of salt products in Cambodia, as well as exporting to international markets. One major ingredient to the success of her enterprise is simple: her customers.

‘’We are now playing an essential role as the main salt supplier in the country as almost 40 percent of the entire consumption is supplied by THAUNG Enterprise. We also export our products abroad, including to Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, and some countries in Europe,” Thyda said.

After five years building THAUNG Enterprise from scratch, Thyda has started to see year-on-year growth. From a small community of seven farmers, today there are a few dozens switching from manually-processed work to technology-deployed processing machinery to help with production flow and the upgrade from traditional quality to international standards.

“This is how we see ourselves now. We are not a giant enterprise. We are still a small SME, but phase by phase we surely grow and expect to secure [work] for every stakeholder in this supply chain ecosystem.”

Thyda said it is her mother who provides her with inspiration. She once told her that her family’s “sea salt was full in stock,” she told Next Women Generation (NWG), a platform for inspiring stories of role models. With her work experience in Phnom Penh and trips abroad, her mother’s words lingered in her heart. It was this that motivated Thyda to return to her hometown Kampot to build the family business into an international brand.

Now, the young businesswoman has found her purpose in life. Working closely with the community of salt farmers, her personal passion is running a business to help them.

When she first set about developing her family salt business, she faced hardships as there was no revenue for a period of time. At one point, without quick profit, her family told her to quit and return to Phnom Penh to get a paid job. “When I wanted to quit, I told myself that I started it because I love it,” she told NWG.

Where seawater is allowed into salt evaporation ponds, salt is produced in south Cambodia’s Kampot and Kep. According to the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, “presently 4,657 hectares of land are used for salt production”.

When asked what should encourage new and young woman entrepreneurs to start and not quit early on, Thyda said, “Know what your life purpose and goals are and what you are capable of. Choose what you have a passion for and make sure you have a strong commitment towards it. Without strong commitment, I am sure you will take it for granted. Be committed with the consistency of actions, of result, and of work.”

Thyda added it is key to remember not everyone is born to be an entrepreneur. However, these are skills that can be learned with dedication and built upon with solid planning.

“Train yourself by learning everywhere. Learn from senior people who have both failed and successful experiences, collect data for your plan and strategy, and plan well with your business model with all data and strategy. Don't just guess or imagine it will be this and that, use data to analyse. Your heart may bring you forward, but you brain will help you know if it might work or not.”

Another top tip Thyda shared is to create a business that in some way drives social change and development. “Be a useful human resource for our community, society and country by impactful activities through your entrepreneur life to bring better change. You are the generation of change; generation of creativity.”

However, she noted that the entrepreneurial adventure comes coupled with challenges, and encouraged those who hit hardships not to give up.

“Accept the truth that an entrepreneur journey is not an easy job. There will be times that bring you down and you want to give up but, trust me, the journey is beautiful. It will lead you to your life purpose if you truly want to make it. It will bring you value to your life through your impactful results.”

From Family Salt Farm to International Business

Bun Channimol: Co-founder and CEO of Sastra Film

Bun Channimol is passionate about one thing: film. She not only loves watching films, she also harbours a passion for making them. Once an aspiring writer, she leads Sastra Film production company.

Now in her early 30s, she is proud to make Khmer films loved by young Cambodian audiences.

Bun Channimol
Bun Channimol

On its YouTube channel alone, Sastra Film has garnered more than 1.37 million subscribers and 40 million views (of all videos combined). The channel’s top music video ‘We break up, we make up’ has attracted more than 13 million views.

The YouTube channel’s total number of views hovers just below Khmer rapper VannDa, whose latest profile featured in Vice, a Canadian-American magazine. The latest data was retrieved from its public domain in July 2022. It does not include Google Android and Apple Store combined, which make up more than 100,000.

Growing popularity of production companies based on YouTube channels' audience
Growing popularity of production companies based on YouTube channels' audience

In an interview with Kiripost’s Samoeun Nicseybon, Channimol told her story of struggling to move the needle when she founded the film production company in 2015.

“I think during these last few years, the film industry in Cambodia has become better as the writers and producers have put more effort into their work,” she said.

In recent years, Thai and Korean dramas have risen in popularity among Cambodian audiences. But, as a script writer and film producer, she understands Cambodian taste and keeps her stronghold.

She said her past work at print lifestyle magazine La Reine and production company Hang Meas gave her the groundwork, knowledge and skills to run her own film company. It took about five years to bootstrap the film production startup, which has grown from a two-person husband-and-wife team to become a company of more than 100 staff.

In Sanskrit, Sastra or Shastra means "precept, rules, manual, compendium, book or treatise”.

Sastra Film cofounder’s high hopes for Cambodia’s burgeoning film industry