It had only been a childhood dream until he actually stood in front of it one afternoon in September. And it didn’t matter that all the souvenir that he’s got is an ill-framed photo of him standing in front of the base of a steel tower. What is important is that CHEN Cheth, GERES’ ICS (Improved Cookstove) Project Manager in Cambodia, had seen the Eiffel Tower because he actually had just been in Paris!
The first thing he noted with pleasure was the metro. How nice if Cambodia would have an underground public transportation system like that. And when he had to travel some 900 kilometers to another city and only did it in three hours aboard the speed train, he was impressed yet again with the efficiency and convenience.
On 08-10 September 2014 Cheth went out of the Southeast Asia region and to Europe for the first time to talk about the wonderful work that the ICS project has accomplished in Cambodia, in front of around 100 people. Cheth was in France for the 7th edition of the Convergences World Forum, an annual world-wide gathering of actors working in the area of sustainable consumption and production.
“I’m used to talking in front of hundreds of people,” Cheth says, referring to the hundreds of meetings he had facilitated with ICoProDAC (Improved Cookstove Producers and Distributors Association) –the domestic cookstove industry association that GERES organized to ensure survival of the ICS industry and its responsiveness to the market – members over the years, “But not in front of Europeans,” Cheth says. It was a nerve-wracking experience for him especially since he came from the airport straight to the conference venue with only enough time to rest briefly in-between. But the exhaustion, jet lag and initial public-speaking jitters notwithstanding, he managed to deliver an outstanding and well-received presentation at a session about ways and methods of Scaling up to multiply social impact in the solidarity-based sector.
Cheth told the audience that the ICS project managed to grow steadily – 750 direct actors/jobs, 3.5 million stoves disseminated among around 40 percent of Cambodia’s 15 million population in each of the 24 Cambodian province – over the past ten years is really a result of three key factors and strategies: (1) That the ICS is a really good and sellable product (a necessity in fact); (2) That the project did not attempt to create new production and distribution channels, but instead utilized existing ones (hence the engagement of traditional stove/pottery producers and distributors on motorcycle- or ox-driven carts); and (3) That the project implemented very good monitoring and quality control system which ensured consistency of the quality of the product.
Through Cheth’s participation at the conference, GERES’ work, best practices and lessons learned in Cambodia reached a larger audience including organizations from Africa where similar ICS projects are being implemented but never quite gained traction.
After three days in Paris, Cheth traveled southwards to the GERES headquarters in Aubagne where he stayed for two days and delivered a presentation as well for the benefit of France-based colleagues. While he was not very much fond of the food, he says, he is very grateful for headquarters-based colleagues’ warm welcome and hospitality.