Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Social Enterprise

When I first met Tim Keller, a candidate running for the 17th state Senate district, he mentioned he had done some work with a non-profit organization in Cambodia.

My first thought was that perhaps he had worked in one of the traditional areas: agriculture, community organizing, water management or even engineering or architecture. But Tim said his work was in the field of
information technology. Those involved in the field simply refer to it as "IT."

So the obvious question is: How does this apply to a country without a history of technology? This is something that's more applicable to Silicon Valley not Phnom Penh. But according to a BBC article, Cambodia is pushing to diversify its economy, and Tim's company,
Digital Divide Data, is a perfect fit in this context.

DDD is a social enterprise that utilizes a sustainable information technology service model to benefit some of the world's most disadvantaged individuals-those disabled by land mines.

The company offers youth in Cambodia and Laos
with the education and training and essential management skills they need to deliver world class, competitively priced information technology global to global clients. DDD has over 500 employees and was ranked by Fast Company magazine as a global Top Innovator. DDD was also profiled in the best selling book The World Is Flat by Tom Friedman.

Partly funded by Global Catalyst, a Silicon Valley foundation, Digital Divide Data is the brainchild of two former McKinsey & Co. colleagues who first went to Cambodia on vacation. They came away determined to help a struggling country to bridge the much-debated gulf between technological haves and have-nots, said an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

So there you have it. There are many aspects to development assistance, and this is one unique and innovative way to provide economic opportunities in a developing country.

Now let me get back to Tim's story (in his own words)

My life was changed forever when, at the age of 23, I moved to Cambodia and start DDD's operations. At the time I was pondering leaving the world of investment banking and living in San Francisco. A month after learning about DDD I was living in Cambodia as DDD's first President.

I remember my first day, After clinging on to the back of a scooter from Pochentong airport (back when it was more of barn) to our office through the unpaved, dilapidated chaotic roads of Phnom Penh, I arrived at our office and met our first 10 operators....

I lived in Cambodia for almost two years as we grew from an start up to
about 120 employees. DDD was the first I ever maxed out my credit card, before we figured out remittance, I'd take out $10,000 for payroll each month and pray Visa wouldn't cancel my card. After my first few months, and a lot of hard work and fair bit of loneliness, I partnered with several faith based organizations and was able to make the operation sustainable.

Tim, who has since been elected to the New Mexico state Senate, has brought his concerns about helping people to New Mexico.

"Today I am a business consultant and spend much of my time volunteering on the boards of several non-profit groups that foster economic opportunities in the Southeast Heights and around the New Mexico,"
said Tim.

Tim put together a powerpoint presentation illustrating the high financial costs to the state when people do not have access to Food Stamps. The presentation makes the case that by not fully funding the program now, our state will pay more in the long run. "Tim should be a fierce advocate for the issues that we care about," said Janet Page-Reeves, who once led a special Food Stamp Task Force.

(Tim is pictured above with co-workers from DDD in Cambodia and with his companion Dierdre McGinty on election night)

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