Interview with Penhleak Chan, General Manager at Raintree Development

This week, we interviewed Ms. Penhleak Chan, the General Manager at Raintree Development, a mixed-use building located in the centre of Phnom Penh that does more than host tenants -- it's a thriving community of like-minded businesses with various offshoots such as community spaces, research branches, event spaces, and empowerment programmes. After studying in Norway and the United States, Ms. Chan returned to Cambodia in 2013 and worked in development before moving to Raintree, where she's been able to utilise her business acumen while staying true to her passion for creative pursuits and community building. Come visit Raintree and Ms. Chan next weekend for the return of their classic Christmas Festival, which will feauture local businesses selling food, drinks, and gifts, as well as live music on Raintree's majestic rooftop!

EuroCham: Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to Raintree? What led you to this position and how does it align with your personal goals or passions?

Penhleak: I began my career in the development sector, focusing on making public data and information regarding Cambodia's economic and social development more accessible. I've always had a passion for education, creative industries, and making a positive impact. Outside of work, I was involved in a global education movement, which led me to connect with Raintree through a mutual friend. Initially, I was searching for a venue sponsor for our annual scholarship selection drive. However, as I spoke with the co-founders of Raintree, I quickly realised that this project was something special. 

Although I never aspired to work in real estate, Raintree's approach to driving the local economy and creating a vibrant community sparked my interest. Joining the team in 2018 as Commercial and Community Manager allowed me to work with remarkable individuals, expand my professional network, and implement community programmes across various sectors. As the General Manager, I now have even more freedom to explore creative projects and meaningful collaborations.

EuroCham: After a hiatus since Covid, your annual Christmas fair is back. What can people expect from the return of this year’s edition?

Penhleak: Raintree has always aspired to build a happy and connected community through our diverse events programme. We are thrilled to bring back our annual Christmas fair again this year, transforming our rooftop event space into a festive celebration of Cambodian culture and creatives. 

This year, we're taking it up a notch with an artsy spin. Alongside talented artisans and entrepreneurs, the market will showcase original illustrations, prints, and photographs from diverse creators. We've partnered with Sa Sa Art Projects, an artist-run initiative dedicated to experimental and contemporary art practices, to present a vertical exhibition featuring 40 original artworks by over 20 established and emerging Cambodian contemporary artists. Our rooftop event space will be filled as usual with pop-up stalls offering fashion, homewares, edibles, jewellery, and stationery, by 40+ vendors, each with a unique story to tell. It's the perfect occasion to celebrate with family, friends, and colleagues while supporting local businesses and finding thoughtful gifts for the holiday season.

The weekend is all about reconnecting outside of the office with professional friends, with a dose of festive cheer. We'd love to see the Eurocham community on Friday 8th December 6-10pm for our sparkling Christmas Cocktail evening, art exhibition tours, live music by Ms. Sarawan. You are also welcome to bring little ones on Saturday 9th December 9am-6pm for our Family Fun day.

EuroCham: There is an element of community empowerment in many of Raintree's activities. Could you tell us about how Raintree distinguishes itself from a typical mixed-use building?

Penhleak: At Raintree, our aspiration is to be a place where individuals and organisations can grow. While the building itself provides a platform for building meaningful relationships across various stakeholders and communities, it's the people and programming that truly set us apart. Our professional community spans the private, public, and development sectors, and through collaborations with multinational corporations, local conglomerates, regional tech ecosystems, and more, we gather insights and identify opportunities to positively impact the Cambodian economy and society. 

For instance, we collaborate with organisations to shape local innovations and quickly test scalable interventions for our community. In partnership with Singaporean social enterprise Saturday Kids, we launched Coding Cats in 2019, an early-stage digital literacy program. The goal was to enhance interest, competency, and advocacy for digital literacy among school students, ultimately improving the opportunities for young people pursuing technical education and careers. Through collaborations with more than 50 civic-minded educators, our pilot programs provided free extracurricular activities that fostered curiosity, investigation, and self-motivated learning through technology courses for 200 students. These pilots demonstrated the effectiveness of short courses, enabling future partners to design and implement larger and sustainable interventions.

EuroChan: Could you tell us a little bit about the Tech Startup Ecosystem Report from 2018? Is there potential to conduct this research again?

Penhleak: I'm glad you picked this up as we don't widely advertise, but Raintree engages in independent research across several private sector and development fields. It’s our aspiration to contribute shared knowledge resources to enable organisations to have greater impact in our local economy and community, just like the tech startup report.

We were co-commissioned to conduct an independent research report on Cambodia's tech startup ecosystem in 2018. The report synthesises the perspectives of over 120 stakeholders and includes both quantitative and qualitative data. It provided a snapshot of the ecosystem that year, highlighted existing challenges, and offered broad multi-stakeholder recommendations for future development. The project was a collaboration with Mekong Strategic Partners, commissioned by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) and the National Institute of Posts, Telecoms and ITC (NIPTICT), and funded by Smart Axiata's contribution to the Capacity Building Research and Development (CBRD) Fund.

Although the report is a few years old, it continues to be downloaded and referenced by startup ecosystem builders as a comprehensive foundation for understanding local dynamics. As it opened dialogue to both international and domestic policy initiatives and investors, we'd love to do a new version that could drive more economic growth in this economically challenging time. Additionally, we are always looking for new knowledge projects and welcome partnerships for independent research initiatives across other sectors.

EuroCham: What are your plans for Raintree in 2024?

Penhlea: We’d love to expand our portfolio of community events and programmes. Recent initiatives such as the Design Dialogue series and the Vertical Art Exhibition have shown the positive impact of industry partnerships. We are excited to continue co-designing and delivering creative collaborations in the upcoming year. We are also interested in projects related to special development opportunities, diversity and inclusion, technology, education, and wellness, in addition to creative industries. If you have unique ideas or would like to partner with us on projects or events in these areas, please feel free to contact us.

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