Miki – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I spent my childhood frequently moving between Tokyo and an underdeveloped region of China. This experience made me realize that many social issues, including poverty and human rights, are greatly correlated with commercial systems and business operations. Ever since, I have been active in exploring ways to practice business principles that would bring out positive social changes throughout my education. This intern opportunity is where I can further develop my skills and understanding of social entrepreneurship, as well as a platform an experience, to turn my passion and knowledge into impact.

The Cambodian government recognizes the importance of diversifying the economy and stimulating entrepreneurship to alleviate poverty. However, it is challenging to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities that are economically sustainable and socially responsible at the same time. One of the most effective tools to create opportunity for the poorest is to extend credit to poor entrepreneurs. When carried out as part of a well planned campaign, microfinance can be the difference between an unstable temporary job and sustainable self-employment. The business development project let me contribute my knowledge and talent to microfinance initiatives in Phnom Penh. Not only I was utilizing my skills, I was also training the locals to effectively use the funds when managing their business, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the projects.

The organization I work at is called Farmer Livelihood Development (FLD). Under it, there are subsidiary social enterprises that contribute to different aspect of developing lives of rural Cambodian farmers. The subsidiary I worked for was called Khmer Farmer Product (KFP). KFP serves as the medium between the commercial market and the poor farmer in rural area of Cambodia with little or no knowledge or business skills. KFP is a social enterprise that packages, trades and markets products on behalf of farm businesses and small­scale handicraft and food processor groups, all of whom were trained by FLD. It allows former trainees to gain commercial confidence in their new skills, and facilitate them entering the commercial market.

Though it may sound like an opportunity where I contributed to the community I worked with, it is actually an amazing chance for self-development. With this chance to explore what I am passionate about , I can now take every step following in life with firm faith and unstoppable belief. The ones who march on a path that has never been visited before are the ones who truly inspire. And those people are true leaders who make a difference in the world.

Human Rights Through Education – Ann Arbor, MI

This year, our student organization Human Rights Through Education (HRTE) presented a speaker series entitled “Human Rights in Conflict.” Following a successful fall film series of the same name, HRTE organized this speaker series to explore how the interpretation of human rights is shaped by conflict situations, and vice versa. HRTE was honored to receive a BLI small grant to support the final event in this series.

On March 14th, Loung Ung, a renowned Cambodian-American activist, lecturer, and author, joined HRTE and the University of Michigan community as the keynote speaker of “Human Rights in Conflict”. Ung, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide and former child soldier, passionately recounted her story to the audience. Following Ung’s talk, audience members posed very thoughtful and fruitful questions on Ung’s experience and her work as an activist, making for a very interesting and stimulating discussion.

Loung Ung offered reflections on her work and her journey to becoming an activist, stressing that this path is very unique to each advocate. She encouraged members of the audience to find ways to become an activist within a profession that they love and are passionate about. She stressed that you can be an activist in any discipline; everyone makes change in their own way.

Behind the scenes, the planning and implementation of this event provided a great opportunity for HRTE members to develop leadership skills. HRTE’s flat structure allowed for members, new and old, to be actively involved with the planning process through working with departments on campus, communicating with speakers, and grant-writing, among many other opportunities. HRTE prides itself as a group that effectively upholds learning from peers and informal mentorship in a way that forms a strong, passionate community of members who leave the University of Michigan as formidable social justice advocates.