#TEAMMANTALITY’S Entrepreneurial and travel lifestyle writer John Mojsa was invited back to Hope School in the small rural village of Bakod, Tramkak District of Takeo Province in the south of Cambodia. The school is a volunteer run project that has been set up to empower these under privileged kids by teaching them basic to intermediate English to propel their job prospects. Having been to the project twice now, John has learnt a life changing lesson that every entrepreneur should take note of and all will be elaborated on in this blog.
To really feel the full effect of the lesson, we must first lay out the lives of these children. Bakod is around seventy five kilometres south of the Cambodian capital city Phnom Phen and, as you may or may not know, Cambodia is an extremely poor country. Compared to the other typical backpacker countries such as Thailand and Vietnam the country has a relatively low influx of tourists meaning an average family’s income is a lot smaller as it only comes from other locals.
Project founder and Bakod native Jason Han goes into a bit more detail about the project and what it is all about.
“The main focus at Hope Agency is to teach children English. Learning English is of paramount importance to the children and their families livelihoods, as many well paid jobs in Cambodia require at least a basic knowledge of the English language.
“As the school is based in a rural area called Bakod Village, most of our students who attend live nearby. Many more however are starting to attend from surrounding villages. The children will travel up to 3km for the privilege of learning English. At the moment we have around 200 students.”
The average income for a person in Bakod is $642USD-per-year which compared to a Western income is obviously very shocking.
I guess you must be questioning what the hell this has to do with millennial entrepreneurs. This is where the key lesson starts to be uncovered…
The definition of an entrepreneur according to Google is “a person who organises and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” Our view is that it is far more than that. For us, an entrepreneur is a person who is absolutely in love with what they do and lives and breathes their work, constantly looking for ways to grow as a business and as a person, whatever the risk. They undoubtedly believe in themselves and have such a strong desire that in their mind anything is possible, whether that be thinking outside of the box, investing in an unknown company or taking over the world a la Richard Branson.
However, that is obviously a hypothetical definition and in most cases that description is of a top level entrepreneur such as Elon Musk or Gary Vaynerchuk. In reality most entrepreneurs have flaws such as self-esteem and self-belief issues and one of the most common traits in a western person is resilience in tough times.
Statistically, 80% of businesses fail in their first year which proves to us even more that a lack of resilience is a common flaw. Being born in Western civilisation we have comforts of all proportions. We arrive into this world in multimillion pound, state-of-the-art hospitals under the care of hundreds of thousands of extremely skilled Doctors. We live in heated houses with comforts that are a distant dream to people in third-world countries such as Cambodia. We could go on about how easy we have it, but anyone who has access to the internet knows if we get into financial, natural or physical disaster our government gives us a comfort blanket (in the UK at least).
In Western society many drift through school, university and life without truly knowing what they want to do. Most people spend over £27,000 (a number that the average Cambodian could only afford after forty-two years) to attend university to get a degree in something they do not truly believe in. They do it because society says that they need to do it rather than for the love of the subject. Many end up pursuing a different path. We are bombarded by so many opportunities in the western world that doing what we love and sticking to it is a much harder option than going through life taking the easy route.
In short, as a westerner we are thrown straight into comfort rather than naturally learning resilience. In layman’s terms, we are handed everything on a plate, so when the going gets tough, we simply do not know how to react and push through the hard times.
Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the world’s top entrepreneurs, recently stated on famed podcast London Real that “immigrants have a genuine advantage over residents because they are so f*+king hungry to succeed and will do anything they can to be a success. As an immigrant, you get to see the UK or any western country for that matter for all it is, a pool of opportunities. Compare that to home which has limited opportunity.” Which confirms our point entirely; someone from a third-world country is so hungry to improve and be a success that they will break boundaries to reach their goal. The sad thing is that those goals are usually out of reach purely because of where they are on the world’s map. To watch the video click here.
One of our favourite quotes is this; “The cure for cancer may be trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education.” Someone intelligent, who strives everyday to be better, who works hard for themselves rather than for their parents, or because in their society it is what is expected of them – but whose future is limited due to the limitations of their upbringing.
So now we know about the background and what makes a successful entrepreneur, what are the lessons John learnt that you can put to practice straight away?
The key lesson, as we said before, is resilience. Every entrepreneur requires resilience to succeed despite the hard times. Branson for example was millions in debt and had court cases out of his ears whilst he set up Virgin. Most people would have packed up and jumped ship at that point. But it was his resilience that got him to where his is today – £6billion and over fifty successful companies.
The same can be said about Elon Musk who admitted to sofa surfing even at the peak of his business. He states “My proceeds from the PayPal acquisition were $180 million. I put $100 million in SpaceX, $70m in Tesla, and $10m in Solar City. I had to borrow money for rent.”
He would not stop whatever the cost and would do the unthinkable to fulfil his dreams. He was an outright multi-millionaire but he was not satisfied. If investing all of his money into new business dreams would get him closer, then sofa surfing was just a small price to pay. Resilience at its finest!
These successful people had more resilience than the average Joe naturally from how they were brought up. We highly recommend reading their autobiographies which we will link here so you can gain even more insight on this topic!
- Richard Branson ‘Losing my Virginity’
- Gary Vaynerchuck ‘Ask Gary Vee’
- Elon Musk: Telsa, SpaceX, and the quest for a fantastic future.
After John’s first week in Bakod he saw their resilience was natural. They had it in abundance. They worked fourteen-hours-a-day to make money for their family on the farms, whilst going to school to further their education. This is their life. This is all they know.
To show this in more detail we want to show you just how much of a struggle it is in Cambodia as a young child to make it in the entrepreneurial world. John has spoken about world famous entrepreneurs, but he assures us that the story of Hope Agency founder Jason Han (real name Chanthou) is one that inspires him more than any…
“I was born in Bakod village of Takeo province straight after the war of Khmer Rouge. The war destroyed schools, infrastructure, the economy, healthcare and families. About two million out of five million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge government.
After the war my family lived on the farm where they struggled to make ends meet, due to me having eight siblings, two older and six younger. By the age of eight years old I was sent to live with my auntie near the mountains. I had to work on the farm by growing rice, vegetables and caring for the animals.
At the age of fourteen, I had to move to Phnom Penh, away from my home, in order to work to support my family for food and my six younger siblings’ educations. I worked as a house maid, on the construction site, and in a clothing factory. I did this for three years without school until the age of seventeen.
During my time working in the factory, I was given the opportunity to live and work at the orphanage whilst continuing my education. During my stay at the orphanage I was able to go back to high school, where I got sponsored to go to university.
After I graduated, I got offered the job to run another orphanage and helping the local families in the poor community by growing vegetables and raising animals. When I turned twenty-three, I was given the chance to work as a PE teacher at the IB School in Phnom Penh.
Whilst at the IB school, I felt a burning desire to give the children in my home village the prospect of having free English lessons, art, sport education, social skills and to let them enjoy their childhoods. The school has been set up for over five years now and we have had over two-thousand children attend our school.
A lot of our students have gone on to universities, got jobs as teachers, bankers, interpreters, tour guides and hotel receptionists. The school has developed greatly, thanks to our local staff and international volunteers who help teach English, construction and farm work and boosting the local economy.
Our plan is to run the school as long as there is a need for us in the community and I hope to place a few schools in other villages and to make the facilities here more enjoyable for the children.”
As you can see from the story, Jason went through hell, no support system, no government funding, he just pushed on no matter the troubles he faced to pave his way in the world. From a fourteen-year-old factory worker to owning a business that helps thousands of children and gives wonderful experiences to over seven-hundred volunteers from around the world. He is doing what every resilient entrepreneur wants – to leave a lasting legacy.
So how does a Westerner develop resilience?
The way resilience is learnt can be done in a few ways:
1. Exercise regularly and get enough sleep. This doesn’t just physically strengthen you, it does so mentally. It helps control stress, anxiety and depression because the stronger you feel physically and emotionally, the easier it is for you to overcome challenges.
2. Practice positive thinking. It may sound a bit ‘woo woo’ and ‘hippyish’ but it works, honestly! The more you practice being positive, the more your subconscious learns to be positive in situations it gets triggered to work in.
3. Win or learn. Most people focus on losing and never end up chasing their dream for fear of losing. To get a resilient mindset you must remove losing from your vocabulary. If you don’t win, have a deep think about what didn’t work out this time and learn how to be better the next time.
4. Celebrate your wins. As we said before most people focus on losing and it cripples them. When they do something good they instantly bypass it and move onto something negative. The next time you have a win, whether small or big, give yourself a massive pat on the back and reward yourself. Again, this means you become more hungry to succeed because you know if you do, you will get rewarded.
5. Build strong relationships with colleagues and friends so that you have a support network to fall back on. Also, set specific and achievable personal goals that match your values, and work on building your self-confidence.
To conclude this article, you have had a bit of insight into some of the struggles a Cambodian person has, but how it has actually benefited them in a way a lot of Westerners need to become a successful entrepreneur.
If you were to put a typical hard working Cambodian into western culture with the resources and opportunities we have, the chances are that they would be more resilient in their approach and thus go further when the problems occur in business.
Whether your just starting out as an entrepreneur or are already someone who has a business going but struggle to up level and evolve your business resilience is most likely something you struggle with. Take the points above and put it into practice and see how your business and life flourishes!