An innovative e-market aimed at promoting local Cambodian products has grown into an essential platform for women producers to sell their products.
In 2020, Touch Socheata, 42, launched WeMall Cambodia with the aim of connecting local produce to regional and global supply chains by encouraging women-owned SMEs to sell their products on its platform.
Socheata, originally from Battambang province, is co-founder and CEO of the company. She said, “I want to build my empire to help other women, who own SMEs, and the community. Women play a vital role in economic development and, as I can tell, 51 percent of our population are women and about 65 percent of the whole SMEs are owned by women."
"So, when women can earn more, the country does too. With this, I think women can promote children’s education and their family livelihood when their businesses are doing well.”
She said WeMall Cambodia is now cooperating with hundreds of women-owned companies and many local producers in Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong Thom and Phnom Penh. She said the market serves a wide variety of products, ranging from accessories, arts and beauty products to clothes.
‘’During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mall was still operating as normal. But a crucial challenge we meet is consumer perception. Cambodians tend to use imported products rather than homemade products. That is why we are trying to promote our products to gain more support from outside beyond the small market we have now,” she said.
However, she noted Cambodians have gradually changed their behaviors and started to accept the quality of the local product. With this, Socheata said, they are willing to support local produce but on a small scale for now.
Socheata holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and a bachelor’s in Public Law and Economics from the Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh. She is currently director of South-East Asia of Woomentum, a digital community to promote women’s entrepreneurship.
Socheata said women entrepreneurs continue to face many challenges. ‘’Gender stereotypes, and lack of financial and technical support, are the main issues for women entrepreneurs. Most importantly their digital literacy is still far behind compared to male partners,” she said.
She noted that women should have strong confidence in themselves and continue building both digital and financial literacy if they want to stick to business. However, at the same time, support from surrounding people is also important for them to move forward.
“To me personally, I have also encountered some challenges in operating this business, including lack of capital to sustain the business and human resources as e-commerce is still new in our country for both buyers and suppliers/producers,” she said.
General Manager of palm tree product accessories store, Stoeungmeas, Chhort Chhorravuth said he joined WeMall Cambodia in early 2021. Chhoravuth said he found the website is advanced and has the same goal - to promote Cambodian products on the global stage.
‘’By putting our product on this platform, we can see that the total sales can increase around 10 to 20 percent. The number of sales can go up and down depending on our commitment and how much we are active on the platform and stay connected with the customers,” he said.
Tom Kimeng, founder of Rice Arts, is a member of WeMall Cambodia. She started selling her unique art pieces on the platform when it was first established. Even if sales are currently not doing well, Kimeng said she still has optimistic thoughts as it is a part of promoting Cambodian products to the outside world and helps women-owned SMEs like hers.
‘’We aim at exporting Cambodian products to the international stage, and we firmly hope it will gain more support shortly,” she said.
Kimeng said her business has created many jobs at the grassroots level and it has been providing free training to rural students. ‘’If the business keeps growing big, it possibly can create more jobs for those local people as well,” she said.
However, doing online business requires proper digital literacy in order to operate and control the overall process as everything is conducted online. This is a crucial problem for Kimeng, whose digital literacy is limited.
‘’I still find it inconvenient to sell products online as I still find it hard to use all those digital technologies. And I think that is probably a big problem that can decrease the selling rate,” she said.
Speaking at the launch of the Development of the National Media and Information and Digital Literacy (MILD) programme, Minister of Post and Telecommunication Chea Vandeth said only 30 percent of Cambodians have basic digital literacy knowledge and can use digital platforms and the internet to search for and share information.
‘’This huge gap is a crucial problem and possibly can prevent people from taking advantage of new technologies and digital public services in the future,” he said.