Travelling to Cambodia for the last fourteen summers allows one to see the distinct speed with which Asia is developing. The country has gone from dirt roads and motorbikes to skyscrapers and Rolls Royces. And it is obvious that the Asian middle class is quickly becoming the most relevant market for most multinationals: with 4 billion people, it would be unwise to count them off as potential customers.
According to a 2014 article by HBR, Asia’s middle class is the group that has most gained in income since the late eighties whilst US and Europe’s middle class are the one that have gained the least. This somehow felt intuitive to me as middle class jobs such as manufacturing or garment moved in the 80s and 90s to Asia and thus provided those countries with exceptional growth potential and with the income increases associated with it.
Now, it is also clear that the bottom 1% of global population are clearly and distinctively not benefitting from the growth in their respective countries. They are a segment of the population on whom the industrialisation has little or no effect. These tend to be farmers or rural population, with little access to education or resources to create a better life for themselves. Furthermore, this segment of the population tends to be the one most affected scams, predatory lending and such that only further exacerbates the daily difficulties.
At PSE, our objective has always been to take people from the bottom 5% and provide them with an education and necessary training to be able to enter the workforce for a decent job and earn a better life for themselves and their families. To date, we have had over 2000 graduates that are now part of Cambodia’s labour. Most of them work in Tourism-related activities but some go on to work for Banks and other NGOs. But the most important aspect of this is that we are able to take people from that bottom 5% and training them to become part of the booming Asia middle class.