Social Enterprise and Community Development: Theory into Practice in Two Cambodian Villages

Isaac Lyne

Social enterprise (or business driven by social objectives) is a prominent focus of development. In higher income countries it is a strategy for regional development or regeneration by creating optimal levels of social value from under-utilised resources. In developing countries, social enterprise offers hope for sustainable development by reducing dependency on aid and by developing markets and improving economic growth. Social enterprise is widely linked to ‘business at the bottom of the pyramid’, there is particular attention to heroic 'social entrepreneurs'. But critical literature shows a tension between the top-down ‘development’ driven view of social enterprise and a bottom-upwards grassroots community development approach driven by wellbeing. This thesis explores the second agenda in the context of Cambodia, a post-colonial and post-conflict, aid dependent developing country that has undergone rapid economic transition since the late 1990s. The thesis asks – How are social enterprises likely to be understood at the grassroots community level in Cambodia? and What discourses of social enterprise are likely to yield sustainable effects at this level of society? This research is multi-disciplinary, drawing from economic geography and substantive economic anthropology as well as the social enterprise management and social entrepreneurship literature. It engages with and critiques some of the most widely held theoretical approaches concerning social value and economic value, social capital, collectivity and solidarity, the attributes and naturalised ethics of social entrepreneurs. Theoretically, I make the case for social value in pragmatic terms as an embodied process that is situated in context. This allows for an historicised analysis of reciprocity and mutual self-help oriented to contextualised outcomes vis-a-vis wellbeing. The actions of some socially entrepreneurial actors give hope for social economies at the grassroots but they also call ethics into the question. It has to be appreciated that economic solidarity is processed through a host of competing interests and obligations.
This thesis was undertaken using an action research project in two adjacent peri-urban villages in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. The project was undertaken in collaboration with ten villagers with different skills and a partially shared interest in community development. It began with activities to stimulate new economic subjectivities and to amplify latent subjectivities and moved onto opportunities for social enterprise development that could foster sustainable and democratic development pathways. Significant barriers to grassroots led, cooperatively managed social enterprises were encountered. But in the research process ‘little narratives’ were uncovered, embodied within everyday economic activities that underwrite villagers’ survival while also having stabilising effects within the villages. The findings court controversy, as far as past traumatic events are found to have an enduring impact on economic subjectivities and grassroots reciprocity which intermeshes with the more recent impact of development strategies including microfinance and ‘free trade zones.’ The research has implications for how projects to promote social enterprise development within village communities might be approached by Third Sector organisations in Cambodia.

Suggested citation

Lyne, I. 2017. Social enterprise and community development: Theory into practice in two Cambodian villages, PhD thesis, Western Sydney University, Australia.