Economic Development Program....
Once Trailblazer has helped our village partners secure abundant clean water and sufficient nutritious food (through our Health and Food Security programs), the next step for our adult constituents along the progression from “survival to sustainability” is to support them in establishing livelihoods – jobs, a source of income.
A little more than one third (38%) of Cambodia’s approximately 15 million citizens continue to live below The World Bank designated “international poverty line” of USD $1.90/day. In Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, where Trailblazer focuses its efforts, and one of the three poorest provinces in Cambodia, 45% of the people live in poverty. The average wage of rural villagers in Siem Reap province is less than USD 25¢ a day, or less than USD $2 a week. However, it is important to remember that, when discussing the average income, we need to differentiate between those people living in the town of Siem Reap, and Trailblazer’s constituents who live in the villages outside of town.
One of the great ironies about life in Siem Reap province is that, while more than two million tourists travel through Siem Reap town each year to experience Angkor Wat, very little of that economic influx makes its way into the nearby rural villages. Without some sort of technical and financial support, these rural communities cannot develop beyond a level of subsistence, and remain in a state of poverty where they struggle to merely survival.
To address this issue, Trailblazer pursues three strategies within our Economic Development program: supporting  work skills development,  marketing villagers’ products to tourists, and  local “Village Fund” micro-finance programs. Through these efforts, we provide technical and financial guidance for villagers who wish to start or expand a new small-scale business, or turn a craft into an income.
Strengthening and Expanding Our Village Funds
One of the greatest challenges to economic development is access to capital, even small amounts of funding. To address this, Trailblazer helps rural communities establish a Village Fund, an innovative approach to microfinance that enables villagers to get the capital they need to start or grow a business. Loans are given to villagers to support such enterprises as buying livestock, or fertilizers for their crops, securing medical care, starting a small business, or purchasing a motorbike or bicycle so they can have better access to work and school.
Since Trailblazer was founded twelve years ago, we have helped launch 24 Village Funds. Each Village Fund is owned and managed by that village, and makes loans to both savings groups and individuals within the village. Trailblazer Foundation’s role is to encourage and mentor our partner villages in developing their fund. Additionally, Trailblazer requires that each villager who receives our assistance in other areas (wells, water filters, latrines, etc.) make a small contribution to the Fund – thereby ensuring our work helps provide the capital for these Funds (instead of Trailblazer providing the capital).
Each year, Trailblazer provides trainings to communities who either  want to start a new Village Fund, or  need further training on how to manage their existing fund. In 2017, we will provide capacity building training to each of the twenty-four Villages Funds we have helped launch. These trainings will address overall fund management, loan management, and transaction management. Additionally, we plan to introduce the Village Fund concept to twenty-one villages. We expect that four to nine of these villages will decide to establish a Village Fund. Villages with whom Trailblazer is already working will be more likely to establish a new fund, because – as explained above – they can use payments for Trailblazer’s products and services to build up the new fund’s cash reserves.
Partnering with the local Women’s Development Center
Trailblazer Foundation is also working with the local Woman's Development Center to support its efforts to train and equip women with the knowledge and equipment needed to produce and sell sewn and weaved textiles. Trailblazer has been informally supporting the Center for a few years now, by donating sewing machines that the Center’s graduates can use to produce clothing and other textiles to sell.
Both Trailblazer and the Women’s Development Center want to formalize and deepen this working relationship. The Center receives some financial support from the Cambodian Ministry of Woman’s Affairs. However, this support is not sufficient to meet the Center’s needs related to growth and sustainability. Trailblazer Foundation would like to fill the gap, by providing the funding and technical assistance needed to address the Center’s priority needs.
For 2017, Trailblazer has committed to  purchasing and donating 20 sewing machines to the Center, to be given to the Center's training graduates;  helping the Center increase sales of its graduates' textiles by collaborating with the Center to enlist three-to-five tour companies to visit and shop at the Center while on route to or from Angkor Wat, as well as enlist three-to-five shops in Siem Reap City to sell the Center's textile wares.
Farmers Community Group
During 2016, Trailblazer enlisted the help of three graduate students to design a new farmer’s cooperative. The objective of this new project is to enhance both the number of economic opportunities available to our partner villagers, as well as the return on investment participating farmers will receive for their agricultural pursuits. Participating farmers would grow higher value crops, which they will sell to cooperating grocery stores and restaurants in Siem Reap City.
In 2017, Trailblazer will launch this new “Farmer Community Group.” Designed to leverage Trailblazer’s Food Security trainings, yet be a new project within our Economic Development program, Trailblazer already has 30 women farmers ready to participate. Based on Trailblazer surveys with interested restaurants and grocery stores, the farmers will grow up to nineteen different crops to meet the needs of prospective outlets.
This year, we will pilot the Farmer Community Group by initially selling produce at a farmers market in Siem Reap City, one frequented by local ex-pats and western tourists. Trailblazer and our cooperating farmers will also test and evaluate different scenarios for addressing the major challenges of such a cooperative:  enlisting enough farmers to provide a steady stream of product,  growing crops faster,  keeping the produce fresh for delivery, and  establishing a transportation system to get the produce to market in a timely fashion.
Last year, Trailblazer provided capacity building training to most of the twenty-four existing Village Funds. These Village Funds collectively made a total of 55 loans in 2016. With each family receiving a loan having an average of five members, these 2016 trainings directly benefited 275 people.
Also in 2016, Trailblazer donated 11 sewing machines to the Women's Development Center. Given an average family size of five people, Trailblazer’s sewing machine donations directly benefited 55 people. Trailblazer also initiated the conversations that led to a more formal working relationship with the Center, and the above-mentioned collaborations for 2017.
Finally, in 2016, Trailblazer conduct a feasibility study, and then designed a new Farmer Community Group concept. As mentioned above, we will formally launch this new project in 2017.
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