Experteering Spotlight: Breaking Gender Barriers in Cambodia with Kering Foundation’s Solidarity Leave

Petra Barbu

Petra is a content marketer passionate about social enterprise, impact investing, and microfinance.

The Kering Foundation is committed to supporting women’s rights and sustainability, and they found the perfect partner in African Clean Energy. ACE is an organization that promotes sustainability through clean cookstoves that save lives (primarily women) from indoor air pollution, and supports women’s empowerment by emphasizing equality in their hiring process. A talented HR professional and employee from the Kering group of companies, Raffaella, joined the Kering Foundation’s Solidarity Leave program so that she could use some of her vacation time to volunteer her skills with ACE. ACE is in the process of expanding its operations in Cambodia, and Rafaella joined them there to help implement a scalable hiring process to support gender equality and economic empowerment as it expanded in southeast Asia.

Raffaella with a group of children during an ACE 1 demo.
Raffaella with a group of children during an ACE 1 demo.

Why did you apply to join the Solidarity Leave Program offered by Kering?

I oversee an HR department in the Asia-Pacific region for my company, and am currently based in Hong Kong. I learned about the program through our internal Kering 360 network, and I felt compelled to share my skills and expertise for a good cause. I was hoping to get out of my comfort zone and share my skills with a company that is committed to making an impact.

Raffaella's company dinner with part of the ACE team.
Raffaella’s company dinner with part of the ACE team.

What was it like applying to Solidarity Leave, and then getting matched to a project?

Shortly after applying to join Solidarity Leave, the Kering Foundation connected me with MovingWorlds to be matched with an overseas project that aligned with my skills. The process was very smooth, and I was introduced to various organisations in different geographical locations. I chose to volunteer with African Clean Energy as I felt their mission resonated with my interests in environmental sustainability and empowering women and I wanted to participate in something, which had a direct positive impact on local communities.

I planned my project and trip through the MovingWorlds planning process, working directly with ACE management to discuss the local company needs and to set mutual expectations. During this time, I also took the Experteering best practices training, which gave me some useful insights and it was great to exchange ideas with other colleagues who were about to also start a project.

A family with their new cookstove.
A family with their new cookstove.

What project did you work on while on your Solidarity Leave Experteering project?

ACE’s mission is to enable clean cooking and sustainable energy for people without access to modern energy sources. Negative impacts of utilizing open fires or using dirty and dangerous fuels affect in particular women and children. ACE was founded in Lesotho, and has recently set up their operations in Cambodia. During the mission, I supported the Country Director with the design of a basic HR structure to support ACE’s business growth in Cambodia through ethical principles and by establishing a recruitment plan as well as creating of a mid-term target organization to include development opportunities for employees with the overall aim of maintaining business effectiveness. The creation of job descriptions for key roles within the organization and preparation of a compensation scheme proposal aimed at enhancing sales recognition, in line with various career progression steps were also some of the key activities.

Raffaella with villagers after a demo
Raffaella with villagers after a demo.

What was the highlight of your Solidarity Leave experience?

Through the week I spent a full day on the field in rural villages in the outskirts of Phnom Penh with the local Sales team to witness their operational work and sales dynamics first-hand.

During the field day I had the opportunity to meet with people from the local communities and the best memory I took away with me was from the time I spent trying to communicate with the children that were following us around the villages and wanting to play and interact with us.

By visiting existing ACE customers, I was also able to see the impact of their product on the local communities and in particular the women of these communities who, in Cambodian society, are generally in charge of running the household and responsible for its finances.

The overall experience, albeit brief, was extremely inspiring and it definitely helped to put things back into perspective.

Local women with the ACE cookstove.
Local women with the ACE cookstove.

What advice do you have for people thinking about going on Solidarity Leave?

You should definitely go for as long as you are comfortable traveling solo! And remember, it’s still travel and you’re working in very different environments, so it’s important to have good adaptation skills and flexibility and be mindful of and open to the cultural differences you may encounter. Apart from that, just keep an open mind and embrace the experience!

Raffaella posing together with locals, after an ACE 1 demo.
Raffaella posing together with locals, after an ACE 1 demo.

Do you have any suggestions for people thinking about applying to the program?

Make sure to discuss your trip with your manager and ensure you are on the same page. Before leaving, I explained the project to my manager and once we agreed on the timing, he was extremely supportive. For a strong application to the Kering Foundation, I would emphasize your passion for sustainability and women’s empowerment, which is extremely important to Kering, and explaining clearly what specific skills you will bring to the host organization.

Want to read more about this project? Read the post we published which shares ACE’s perspective on hosting an Experteer!

Join Raffaella in making an impact by volunteering in Asia, Experteering your human resources skills, or signing up for a membership with MovingWorlds.