Interview with Molika Meas, Co-Founder and Group CEO of iCare

This week we interviewed Molika Meas, the co-founder and Group CEO of iCare Benefits, a comprehensive retail technology social enterprise aimed at offering a long-term sustainable purchase cycle to low-income women factory workers. Under her leadership, iCare has become one of the most recognized retail and leasing businesses in the Mekong region with hundreds of thousands of customers in Cambodia and Laos. Molika is also the vice-chairwoman of the Garment & Manufacturing Committee at EuroCham and will moderate a panel on Preventing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at our Breakfast Talk on Preventing Sexual Harassment in the workplace on 27th February.

EuroCham: What was your journey like going from the non-profit sector to launching iCare Benefits?

Molika: Before I decided to join iCare, I didn’t have any business experience, I had come from a non-profit background working mostly for large international NGOs and UN agency. It was completely change from a non-profit organization experienced toward for-profit organization and leading a business world. However, as I learned more about this project, I realized it had a lot of similarities with what I was doing in development organisations.

I was given the chance to help factory workers to improve their lives by offering them purchasing power to buy essential items for their home; things like refrigerators, cooking equipment, and other household items. A big part of what we do is teaching financial literacy while allowing workers to purchase these items without any interest.

I think I can have even more of an impact in the for-profit sector, because whereas I was following a programme in the non-profit sector, I’ve been able to take the initiative and lead at iCare.

We started in 2015 with our employee benefits program. Our basic service is offering products to our customers that can be paid in monthly installments for up to six months, with interest free.  We’re also branching out to offer more complex products such as life insurance. For example, we’ve partnered with Forte to offer free life insurance during the repayment period for our customers.

We then went on to launch iCare Leasing, where we offer more long-term financing for bigger items. Just recently we opened our newest branch in Takeo province.

EuroCham: Is there enough being done concerning the larger picture of financial literacy in the country?

Molika: From the private sector perspective, we still need government support in encouraging financial inclusion. The Ministry of Labour has started working with the private sector by visiting factories, with help from organizations such as TAFTAC and GIZ to provide financial literacy workshops to those workers.

In late December, we entered a partnership with Sathapana Bank and GIZ to form the Digital Wage program whereby factories can pay workers electronically. This also includes a financial literacy training programme element.

Overall, we need to empower individuals to build their knowledge of financial literacy. We can’t blame the black market or private lenders, and we can’t stop individual from using them. The best way to address the problem is through education.

At iCare, financial literacy is a core aspect of how we do business. Our representatives visits the factories often and they set up booths and share information. Workers can come ask questions and we provide CSR trainings, often during lunch breaks. By working with brands, we talk about healthcare awareness, reproductive awareness, financial literacy and other topics. We don’t just sell products, we also address these CSR-related issues as well.

EuroCham: You will be moderating a panel on Preventing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Workplace at EuroCham Breakfast Talk on 27th February. What are your thoughts on this issue in Cambodia?

Molika: t’s a very sensitive topic and one that the Garment an Manufacturing Committee takes seriously and has discussed how to address it. The idea of the breakfast talk Monday is to start raising awareness and spreading relevant information. We will invite representatives of trade unions, GIZ reps, and CWEA reps to get their views on this. We just want to hear what is happening.

Some of the workplaces, they don’t take harassment seriously enough. Harassment can be verbal as well, but some places may only consider an action harassment if it is physical.

We want to share this knowledge. What’s out there to prevent this? What is the private sector and what are CSOs doing? We’ll learn about some legal aspects from Antoin Fontaine, including policies and procedures.

EuroCham: What more can be done on this front?

Molika: There needs to be prevention mechanisms in place, as well as complaint mechanisms. Sometimes, women don’t want to speak out or they are too shy to speak out, there should be an anonymous method for filing complaints. We also need to determine who takes action when there is a complaint. Companies should have a compliance department within HR, and they must take this issue seriously.

Some factories still operate in a traditional way, and women may feel heard. Some workplaces may only care about productivity. It’s a simple exchange, pay for productivity, and sometimes things like worker rights can get lost.

EuroCham: How do you plan on using your status and influence as an entrepreneur, social activist, and vice-chairwoman of the Garment and Manufacturing Committee as a platform for addressing this issue?

Molika: I want to use my knowledge and expertise to advocate for this issue and encourage all sectors to work together. It’s one of the topics we’re prioritizing within EuroCham and the Responsible Business Hub, along with waste management, energy usage and other issues.

The garment sector is a large industry and is the target of a lot of audits and thus receives a lot of focus. The government cares about this industry because it employs a very large hundreds of thousands of citizens. So it makes sense for the government to care about the workers as well as creating a safe environment for them.

They are doing work on this, as evidenced by the minimum wage rising. TAFTAC and EuroCham both have this on their minds and are working with the government to improve these issues. However, we need to look at this issue across all sectors, not just the garment sector.

Concerning gender-based violence and harassment, it’s a very sensitive topic and the first step is raising awareness. We’re happy to start this with a breakfast talk on Monday and we hope to see you there!

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