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Supporting Small Businesses in Cambodia: The Lion’s Den

It’s no secret that small businesses suffered throughout 2020. But thanks to a partnership with
Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, aspiring small business owners in Cambodia found support through World Relief.  

Bent Tree has been partnering with World Relief for nearly 15 years. Through their Business as Missions initiative, Bent Tree staff and volunteers helped refine a business development curriculum that has been used to train World Relief Cambodia staff and savings program participants. 

Most recently, Bent Tree church member and local business leader, Michael Cozzi, helped launch a new initiative in Cambodia called the Lion’s Den, which is similar to the TV program Shark Tank. Michael and Romroth Choun, World Relief Cambodia’s Program Operations Director, shared more about the new initiative and how they hope to see it grow. 

Michael, how did you first get connected with World Relief? 

M: In 2018, I traveled to Phnom Penh with a group from Bent Tree. We conducted business development trainings in partnership with World Relief Cambodia. But really the story began one year prior when I was encouraged to take a global missions class at Bent Tree.  The Holy Spirit used that class to change my life. I learned what it meant to be mission-minded and leverage my gifts to carry out the Great Commission. Little did I know that less than one year later I’d be teaching biblically-based business development in Cambodia to some participants who had never heard of Jesus before.  

What prompted you to bring Lion’s Den to Cambodia?

M: During my second trip to Cambodia, my co-leaderJackie Mosley and I collaborated with Brandon (World ReliefCambodia Country Director) on ideas to assist business development participants beyond just the trainings we conducted. 

Some of the ideas included microfinance loans to small businesses. However, after reading reports on Cambodia’s debt problem, I realized the rapid rise of tiny microfinance loans often led Cambodians into more debt. So, I knew this option would not work.  

That’s when God connected me with Lion’s Den — a Dallas-based organization that mobilizes Christian business leaders to invest their talents and resources for kingdom Impact. Lion’s Den gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business plan to investors in hopes that they will fund their business for growth. 

I felt God prompt me to bring Lion’s Den to Cambodia, and with Bent Tree’s spiritual, organizational and financial guidance, we pooled our resources and pitched the idea to the World Relief staff in Cambodia. Together, we launched the first Lion’s Den Cambodia pitch event in early 2020 and a second was successfully completed in the fall 2020.

Romroth, what were your initial reactions to Lion’s Den?

R: When Michael first brought the idea, I thought, “What is the Lion’s Den Pitch?” It was really a new learning experience. Michael helped us develop a rubric for learning, testing, idea analysis, and then he also added a spiritual component. Bent Tree has conducted business development training for several years. But we observed that most participants didn’t have many chances to expand or form new businesses, and that’s something I really wanted to see happen. So, God’s hand was really moving in the Bent Tree team’s heart. 

What was the first pitch session like?

R: I felt a bit nervous because this was really new for both World Relief and the business candidates. Participants pitched grocery selling, chicken and pig raising and small food shops in the villages. We selected four winners from among nine candidates. 

Some recipients received vocational training to open new businesses such as tailors and hairdressers. Others started raising livestock and other agricultural businesses. The agricultural businesses did well, but some of the others did not. There wasn’t much a of a market where those businesses opened. This is something further business development training would help solve. 

*In all, 27 people submitted business plans to the Lion’s Den, and 12 received funding. In 2021, World Relief Cambodia has two more Lion’s Den events planned, and is excited to continue growing!  

What do each of you hope to see come of this partnership in the future?

M: First, God put it on my heart to love, care and pray for the people of Cambodia. Beyond that, I feel the Holy Spirit leading me to grow Lion’s Den into more parts of Cambodia. I also hope to expand the Lion’s Den to other countries World Relief is working in as well. In the end, my heart is to love people everywhere as Jesus did through business and missions!

R: Partnering, to me, is sharing and caring about God’s Kingdom. I want to see at least 50% of our savings program members have a chance to form new businesses or expand current businesses in order to decrease poverty. This will bring the glory to God. I hope that with Bent Tree’s partnership we can figure this out.  

What would you say to others in the marketplace about how they can leverage their gifts and resources to serve and empower others around the world?  M: I would encourage people in the church with business experience to ask God how He wants them to participate, be it financially, spiritually or by sharing their business experience. I hope the Holy Spirit leads more men and women to use their God-given business talents to help the vulnerable start and grow new businesses. I see our partnership with World Relief as a channel to share the good news Jesus through biblically-based business development. 

 You and your church can support similar initiatives and empower communities across the globe by joining The Path.

Rachel Clair serves as a Content Writer at World Relief. With a background in creative writing and children’s ministry, she is passionate about helping people of all ages think creatively and love God with their hearts, souls and minds.

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