New Growth, Old Ways: Reflections from a Social Enterprise Field Study in Cambodia
Each year a mix of community members and PSU students travel to India or Cambodia with Impact Entrepreneurs to spend a few weeks working, learning and collaborating with social enterprises. This year the group is in Cambodia. Here are their stories.
By Tanya Murray
Today in the field we interviewed a farmer about his growing practices. He proudly explained that he’d harvest a kilogram of cucumbers off of two small plots of land. I asked him what he attributed this high yield to. I expected to hear that yields were improved by using black plastic to cover the bed tops, drip irrigation to supply a steady of water to his crop or the use of a newly available fertilizer or seed. Instead he attributed these yields to using compost that he made from a mix of material from a termite mound, buffalo dung, and hay. When I asked how he learned to make this compost his response ways simple. “From my ancestors,” he said. Another group described learning from a farm business advisor that farmers from his village were employing crop rotation practices, a technique also passed down from past generations to maintain soil health.
Having spent over twelve years as an organic vegetable farmer in the states, when I hear stories about farming practices passed down from ancestors, based on the integrity and resilience of natural systems, I recognize tremendous value. To me these methods are familiar and not far from the compost piles and crop rotations I’ve used myself to benefit to soil health, plant nutrition, and ultimately human health. It’s easy to be seduced by what is familiar and fits into my way of doing things. I suspect this is true for most of us.
At the same time I recognize the need to for continuous improvement, adaption and learning that is at the heart of innovation and entrepreneurship. Clearly there is a need for the kind of “New Growth” that the iDE program, Lors Thmey, that we are here observingis named for. My concern is that it is can be easy to embrace new technology without fully understanding the value of the old ways already in place. This seems especially true when working in a country and culture that is not our own. In his paper, “The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship”, J. Gregory Dees shares Joseph Schumpeter’s description of “entrepreneur as the innovators who drive the “creative-destructive” process of capitalism.” This description illuminates what I see as a potential risk of entrepreneurship that charges ahead to new technology and innovation without first fully understanding what is already in place. The risk here, being that in our effort to innovate and create, it can be all too easy to destroy opportunity and value that already exists. Dees also offers a valuable perspective here. He says, “Entrepreneurs need not be inventors. They simply need to be creative in applying what others have invented.” To me this serves as an important reminder to look for opportunity that create new growth while incorporating, building on, and honoring old ways.