In this post Aaron Sexton of Cambodia Green Infrastructure (CGI) discusses what compelled him to create social enterprise start-up with his business partner Sirey Sum.
The flooding wasn’t my real concern when I first saw it, even though it had flowed into houses and businesses. It was the actual content of the water that shocked and appalled me. For years the black water in what is colloquially known as ‘Shit River’ has been bubbling away. It looks toxic. The ghastly contents of the open storm drain have always reminded me of a place that a gangster in a movie would dispose of one of his enemies. The water is putrid. Vile. And so is the smell.
The vast majority of storm and wastewater from across the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, currently flows or is pumped into a wetland system to the south of city. Its only treatment before it naturally flows of seeps into the Mekong and Bassac rivers is the natural absorption managed by a wetland system. Rapid development and population in Cambodia ha seen vast sums of money invested into the capital, many areas are dominated by construction sites. It is almost impossible not to see a crane from any part of the city. Yet, prioritising development has come at a large environmental and social cost. Even the wetlands are under threat. A city will be built where they do their magic.
Cambodia Green Infrastructure (CGI) is a social enterprise that has been created to design and install innovative green infrastructure solutions to improve urban areas. At CGI we believe installing bioretention systems across predetermined locations in the city will bring multiple benefits to the millions of people that reside here, many of whom make less than $3 a day. The systems will primarily work to reduce the duration and impacts of flood events, whilst absorbing pollutants carried from impermeable surfaces during rain events. However, the benefits are much more wide ranging. Installing bioretention systems has been proven to: improve health, livelihoods, the economy, the value of housing, and biodiversity. The systems also act to reduce air pollution, sequester carbon, collect sediment, reduce noise from traffic, and enhance the attractiveness of an urban landscape. I actually believe they will bring a sense of pride into a community and act as a catalyst to tackle other environmental and social issues.
With all these positives, benefits, and advantages of this low impact, cost-effective concept surely the question is: ‘when do we start?’. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Convincing the correct people in the correct department is never that easy in Cambodia. It’s a place where if you don’t know someone the greatest idea in the world can be immediately rejected. CGI have been patiently introducing our idea to key stakeholders, potential partners and donors. We have been collecting and collating data and information from anyone that is willing to share. We have developed a feasibility study and a business model for our concept. It’s almost judgement day. It’s time to rub Buddhas belly.