Interview with Mr. Huot Dara, CEO of Phare Performing Social Enterprise


Phare Performing Social Enterprise is a member of EuroCham and is one of Cambodia's most well-known and successful social enterprise role models, particularly in the cultural tourism and creative industries. Today we are interviewing Mr. Dara on his growing social enterprise and the newly formed Cultural and Creative Industries of Cambodia Association for Development and Advocacy (CICADA), which aims to play a significant part in the future of the tourism industry in Cambodia.

1. Can you tell us a bit more about your company, “The Phare Performing Social Enterprise”?

“Phare is a special family of organizations that have touched many people’s hearts for nearly 30 years now. We are not only World Record-holders thanks to our 24 hours circus marathon performance, but also winners of many international awards. I would say our artists are true cultural ambassadors to Cambodia.

Not just because they perform around the world, but especially because our mother organization, Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang, has helped many Cambodians transform their lives and has helped Cambodia to preserve and develop a cultural identity, to create careers in the creative economy and cultural tourism sector. We help brand Cambodia as the Kingdom of Culture through Phare’s artists appearances on world stages. For example, our artists are performing in 7 national theaters in France this November and December (check this article) and Phare Creative Studio is co-producing a full feature animated film called “Khmer Smile”.

Phare performing social enterprise (PPSE), within 9 years of its launching, has become one of the most respected and successful role models of social enterprise in Cambodia especially in the cultural tourism and creative sectors. Phare Creative Studio produces animation, graphic design and films that are meaningful and impactful to Cambodian society and Phare Circus is more than a conventional acrobatic circus. The artists create and perform stories based on their own life experiences. Drawing from recent history, folklore and modern society, the artists blend drama, dance, live music and circus arts to share a part of their lives with audiences. The performers come from unimaginably difficult social and economic background. They discover and develop their skills at Phare Ponleu Selpak non-profit school. They are able to earn a good living and transform their lives at Phare Circus, breaking the cycle of poverty. By attending a Phare Circus show, you enjoy Siem Reap's best live entertainment, financially support the school and provide opportunities for Cambodian artists.

2. How did Phare cope with the COVID-19 crisis? What do you see as an opportunity during this period of uncertainty?

“At Phare, we have been able to retain 40 artists’ jobs and 37 staff throughout the experience of Covid thanks to strong solidarity amongst the team members and in our field of profession, what we call “Affective Labor” which is our passions in the work that we do. We have reinvented ourselves and the whole Phare guests’ experience and the way we operate our business accordingly to the new market demographics and the new normal. We relaunched our shows in Siem Reap with the weekend program “Phare Circus Rising” piloted a season of performance in Phnom Penh at the Factory which was hugely popular.

We see opportunities in our Phare Creative studio of film, animation and graphic design to develop itself further to be a go-to creative and production agency, opportunity to develop Phare’s musical talents to go into the music space and digital products of Phare performances are the strategies we are working on. As said earlier, we see opportunity in Phnom Penh as a market for Phare to expand our cultural and entertainment experience to with Phare Fine Dining and Cabaret performance experience in the future.

3. What do you perceive as the biggest opportunities and challenges for social enterprises in Cambodia?

“More and more social entrepreneurship trainings, ecosystem builders’ enablers, incubators and funders are allowing this sector to evolve fast in the last few years. Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology & Innovation (MISTI) has adopted the Inclusive Business Strategy that gives recognition, legitimacy, accreditation and a support mechanism to qualified impact making enterprises which is a great step for a legal recognition and support mechanism to social enterprises in Cambodia.

The challenge is where the social enterprise sector will fit into this Inclusive Business Strategy Framework and how social enterprises in Cambodia can come together as a stakeholder to engage with the Cambodian government in advocating for accreditation or registration, recognition and support mechanism for social enterprises of Cambodia.”

4. Can you explain us about the Cultural and Creative Industries of Cambodia Association for Development and Advocacy (CICADA)?

“We believe that culture – and creative actors in the country do currently not yet have a sufficiently effective representation in the policy- and advocacy field, even though cultural tourism plays an important role in the attractiveness and destination marketing of Cambodia. Six cultural organizations and their leaders came together to establish CICADA to overcome the current lack of formal representation. Next to myself there is Osman Khawaja from Phare Ponleu Selpak, Ms. Laura Mam of the renowned Baramey Productions, Ms. Onn Sokny, country director of Epic Art (an NGO offering education and arts training for people with and without disabilities), Ms. So Phina from Cambodian Living Arts (the host organization that received a grant from UNESCO for the initial set up of this association) and Chea Sopheap, director of the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center.

The Cultural and Creative Industries of Cambodia Association for Development and Advocacy (CICADA) envisions a diverse and flourishing Cambodian society where cultural and creative industries (CCI) are recognized, valued, and thriving. CICADA’s purpose is to represent and advocate for the cultural and creative industries to develop a sustainable and inclusive infrastructure to ensure that our sector is at the heart of political, economic and social decision-making. One of the first projects of the association is a socio-economic indicators data research and analysis in some area of our sectors that will be used as effective engagement tool and basis of needs assessments for human resources, trainings/capacity building for cultural and creative professionals.”

5. How do the cultural and creative industries influence the tourism industry in Cambodia?

“I will quote my good friend’s interview in an article in “Phloeun Prim, executive director of the NGO Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) says: it may be the art sector that will give the country the winning edge to relaunch tourism once COVID-19 is under control.”

My take is that CCI attracts tourists and makes them stay longer and thereby contributes to tourism spending in the country. You could say that Cambodia’s arts, its cultural assets - both tangible and living arts, and our creative assets - physical and digital - are our high performing athletes in the world’s “Cultural Olympics”. Instead of bringing medals, in this case, they bring tourists to Cambodia. Cambodia is known as the Kingdom of Wonder, the Kingdom of Culture and a Small country with a big heart – that is thanks to our cultures, the hospitality of the people of Cambodia, the food, history, arts, music scenes, performances, craft making and shopping experiences…all this contributes to tourists deciding to choose to visit Cambodia and to stay longer.”

6. In your opinion, how has the concept of culture changed in recent years? What are the main trends in the world in the cultural and creative fields, and what will these fields look like in the near future?

“Culture has always been an evolving term, it’s hard to define and subject to discussion. There are countries that have a strong budget priority for culture in what we call a “Cultural Governance” system, and there are countries, like Cambodia, which are still building a foundation on cultural governance. What arts, culture and creativity gives us as individuals, society and humanity can be very tangible and concrete. The contribution of cultural tourism to the Cambodian economy and employment is for example very tangible, but many of the benefits of culture to individuals and society in terms of intrinsic values are very difficult to measure and to define.

Modern education systems are increasingly promoting creative skills, fostering out of the box thinking in students and people thanks to what arts, culture and creativity can provide. The rapid adoption of what experts call “Cultural & Creative Industries” and “Creative Economy” speaks for itself. Countries in ASEAN are embracing this concept very quickly. Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and a few other ASEAN members already have established their national “Creative Economy” agencies. In 2019 at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, 2021 was declared the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

My take is that CCI as a sector will receive strong focus and attention from all governments in the world and this sector will grow in its significance, acceptance, recognition, and impact exponentially in the near- and medium-term future. Cambodia is already leading an ASEAN strategy on creation of an ASEAN wide center of Creative Economy. It is an exciting time for us to join hands, establish CICADA and gather all cultural and creative professionals and eco-system stakeholders together to align our strategies. I am confident that EuroCham Cambodia will play an important part in CCI’s development in the Kingdom and that EuroCham will closely cooperate with CICADA and its advocacy work.”


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