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Understanding social enterprise, social entrepreneurship and the social economy in rural Cambodia

Isaac Lyne (Institute of Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Parramatta, Australia)
Chanrith Ngin (Faculty of Development Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
Emmanuel Santoyo-Rio (Independent Researcher, São Paulo, Brazil)

Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy

ISSN: 1750-6204

Article publication date: 10 July 2018

Issue publication date: 8 August 2018




This paper critically assesses Western views on the social economy in contrast to everyday realities in a low-income country, and challenges ethnocentric epistemologies in the discourse of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship that is prevalent in international development. It charts the changing trajectory of the social economy and different influences.


Qualitative data is used to explore views of members of social enterprises in Northern Cambodia. Three enterprises with different characteristics were selected. Semi-structured interviews and a group discussion took place in each case, exploring motivation, values, empowerment, participation, equity, innovation and risk appetite.


The important roles social enterprises play in rural community development are sometimes at odds with the reasoning of Western development agencies. The social economy in Cambodia is undergoing change with the advancement of capitalist market forces. This suits formal businesses but could exacerbate the exclusion of various community actors.

Research limitations/implications

Three case studies are in close proximity in Northern Cambodia, and the situated dynamics may not transfer well to other contexts. Some limitations are offset by the selection of different types of social enterprises.

Practical implications

The study gives insights of value to the designers of programmes or projects to support social enterprise who work within international development agencies and non-government organisations. For academics, it offers critical insight into assumptions about social enterprise that emanate from Western management literature.


This paper meets the need for close-up inter-disciplinary work on social enterprise development in under-represented contexts.



The authors are immensely grateful to the British Council’s Development in Higher Education Partnerships (DelPHE) programme for funding this research.


Lyne, I., Ngin, C. and Santoyo-Rio, E. (2018), "Understanding social enterprise, social entrepreneurship and the social economy in rural Cambodia", Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 278-298.



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