Southeast Asia’s economy overall is booming, but not all nations are benefiting from the same levels of investment and success. One nation that is lagging behind is Cambodia. Education and infrastructure are lacking, and poverty is still widespread, especially in the countryside. Business leaders see the garment industry as an opportunity to lift the country’s economic prospects, but not all investors are convinced: The World Bank ranks Cambodia 145th in its “Ease of Doing Business” rankings. And while tourism has increased, many locals do not share in the economic benefits. While visitors marvel at Angkor Wat’s countless temples and stay at posh hotels, women in the area are often relegated to work like construction, which can pay as low as US$1 a day for a long day of hard labor.
One opportunity that can help improve the lives of Cambodian women is sewing. Companies like J. Crew have launched successful product lines that were manufactured in Cambodia, and now there may be more steppingstones for more Cambodians in the future. Through November 30, MasterCard and Hôtel de la Paix will team up to fund a sewing school that will teach women the skills they need in order to support themselves. The funding will occur thanks to a US$50 donation that will be made for every Hôtel de la Paix bill paid with a guest’s MasterCard.
The Purchase with Purpose initiative could very well make a difference, but there are also pragmatic reasons behind boosting the skills of Siem Reap Province. Hôtel de la Paix is pricey, with rooms ranging from US$265 to $715 a night, an awkward sum in a country that ranks among the world’s poorest. Some locals—and visitors–have criticized the extravagance of the hotel, so the partnership with MasterCard is a step in building stakeholder engagement. Many visitors to Angkor Wat only stay for two nights, or even just fly in for the day from Bangkok, and have no clue about the local conditions. Funding a school can prove that the hotel is serious about engaging in the local economy.
But there lies another reason why MasterCard could be investing in a such a project. The scars of war and terror under the Khmer Rouge regime will fade, and Cambodia, which has averaged 8% to 10% annual economic growth in recent years, will witness a growing middle class. And around the world, women often make the financial decisions for their families. MasterCard will become well known to the women that benefit from the Hôtel de la Paix sewing school, and eventually those women and their families will join the economic ranks that have discretionary income. Meanwhile, similar educational programs covering environmental awareness and public health will occur as a result of MasterCard’s involvement throughout Cambodia. Overall, it is an example of how a hand up—not a hand out—can improve a region’s quality of life.