On Wednesday, January 12, 2011, APU welcomed Ms. KONO Satoko, the president of ARUN, LLC, to give a Social Outreach Seminar under the theme of “Towards a New International Cooperation Scheme: Empowerment through Social Investments and Sustainable Development.”
ARUN is a company that makes social investments and provides both technical and management support to investment companies in developing countries like Cambodia. The word “arun” comes from the Cambodian word for “daybreak.”
Years of war left Cambodia among the world’s poorest countries, but beginning in the 1990s international aid brought the country onto a path of recovery and development. This type of one-sided support, however, resulted in Cambodia depending on external assistance to survive. ARUN recognizes that autonomous and self-sustained activities are the only forces that can lead to the sustainable development of a society, and that development through one-sided financial assistance from other countries must be avoided. This is the philosophy that ARUN is built on.
Rather than giving financial donations, ARUN is supporting the growth of developing countries by making “social investments” (investments in social business) and creating a cyclical and interdependent model of assistance. When making a social investment, ARUN considers more than the typical criteria such as financial prospects, governance, and potential returns on investment. They also take into account “social criteria” and “social returns” – the entrepreneur’s commitment to producing social value by creating jobs and contributing to local communities.
Commercial financial institutions usually target large-scale companies, and microfinance institutions usually target small-scale companies, but ARUN targets the “missing middle,” which are mid-sized companies that have been overlooked for financial investment until now. In cooperation with local NGOs, investment and support is currently being given to ventures related to rice and beekeeping.
The end of the seminar featured a workshop called “What do you think ‘social returns’ means?” where students shared ideas among themselves and with Ms. KONO. Based on their experiences with volunteer work or international cooperation activities, they gave answers like “smiling”, “meaningful work” and “connecting people.” After that, Ms. KONO closed the Social Outreach Seminar by encouraging students to “continue thinking about what ‘social returns’ means to you.”