An interview with Barry Cooper

Barry Cooper is a loyal CUFA supporter, Cycle Cambodia past participant and the man behind the two youngest CUFA supporters: his grandchildren. Below, Barry shares his thoughts on the Village Entrepreneur program and the effect CUFA’s projects are having in developing communities.  

Why does the Village Entrepreneur program stand out to you? What makes it special?

At a personal level, entrepreneurship has been a long-time professional interest, having a strong background in in entrepreneurial work in the corporate sector as well as the academic sector as a lecturer at Monash University.

All of this has led to a belief in the value of entrepreneurs and the businesses they create. Alongside all of this, I’ve taken a great interest in regional economies, both in remote Australia and developing nations.

I’m especially guided by the phrase “think big, act local”. This means that while I care about Cambodia as a nation, I believe the most useful contribution I can make is at the village level.

So for me, the key words are “village” and “entrepreneur”.

I’ve read every book on development economics that I can lay my hands on, so when I read about CUFA’s work, I found exactly the kind of program that I believe would create the most value in the most efficient way: hence my involvement in CUFA’s Village Entrepreneur program.

When you visited the Village Entrepreneurs were there any particular impacts that you noticed that impressed you?

To my shame, I had a mistaken belief that Cambodia’s Village Entrepreneurs were somehow backward in their entrepreneurial skills.

What I found was quite the opposite: the issues debated by Village Entrepreneurs were little different from those in Australia – and are heard every day from their counterparts in Australia.

Certainly, the financial issues were at a different level, with a handful of dollars making an enormous impact. But from a management point of view, even the smallest operation was making efficient use of the tools at hand, understanding markets, marketing and sales, and managing their networks of suppliers and sales agents.

Again, the financial support from the CUFA program was of enormous value for the people we met – but there was also great mutual benefit in seeing and talking about their ventures.

Oscar and Grace, your grandchildren, are our two youngest Community Investors. What motivated you to select them to become Community Investors?

For Oscar and Grace, grandfather’s visit to Cambodia opened a window into another world.

It was also a way of introducing Financial Literacy into their own thinking – and the value of an entrepreneurial view of their future careers.

And as intended, the Village Entrepreneur reports from CUFA have found their way into their schoolroom Show and Tell sessions – which means that the Cambodian message is being heard by youngsters at a very impressionable age.

Is there anything that you would say to someone considering becoming a Community Investor to convince them to take up the opportunity?

There’s no shortage of targets for socially-minded donors and investors, but CUFA’s suite of projects is focused on the notion of self-help. They bring dignity to the concept of aid through saving and Financial Literacy programs for children, a special kind of microfinance via village bankers and support for Village Entrepreneurs.

For a contributor to these programs, any investment in the people of Cambodia is reward enough, but for somebody who has studied aid programs in great detail, it is the effectiveness and relevance of CUFA’s work that has impressed me most. Most important, whilst there is a dedicated core of administrative staff in Australia, the bulk of the program management is conducted by Cambodians in Cambodia.

Anything else you would like to mention about the Village Entrepreneur program?

It’s not all work and no play.

The bicycle challenge is truly a challenge – but several hundred kilometres at bicycle speed, through town and country, guided by people who know and love their country, is complete immersion in the life of an extraordinary culture.

And by the way, Cambodians are the nicest people you’ll ever meet … !

CUFA’s Cycle Cambodia Challenge runs each year in July. It is an incredible opportunity to challenge yourself to make a difference while immersing yourself in Cambodian culture, visiting CUFA’s projects and taking in the incredible scenery, including the Seventh Wonder of the World, Angkor Wat. To find out more about the Cycle Cambodia Challenge and sign up for the adventure of a lifetime click here.

To find out more about the Village Entrepreneur program visit our Village Entrepreneur site.

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