“I realised that for organisations to be sustainable, they needed to be run by local staff. And for local staff to run organisations, they needed to be empowered. That is the key to sustainable development.”
For almost four years, Sally Hetherington worked as an Operations Manager for Human Hope Association, one of Cambodia’s ethically driven grassroots organisations which is now sustainable, being solely operated by locals who have overcome poverty themselves.
In 2011, while working in a financial sector job in Sydney, Sally came across statistics that frustrated her like how 1 in 4 Cambodians over the age of 15 are illiterate. Sally bought a one-way ticket with the one mission: to help build the Human Hope Association (HHA) become a social enterprise and be self-sustainable “I came on board because I saw the potential, and I knew that for organisations in Cambodia to be sustainable they needed to be run by Cambodians and I wanted to help them get there.”
Since then, Sally has seen the controversy surrounding foreign led organisations in poverty-stricken Cambodia and invites the debate on best practice in international development “It’s not enough to just have good intentions, we are smarter and more educated about the best way to impact change, and it doesn’t involve exploitation. We believe in the ability of the Cambodian staff to run the organisation well, hence we have an entirely Khmer governing board and staff”.
To Sally, the mentality of making HHA locally driven and run was more important than to be seen as a hero “I would love to work at HHA forever, after all, I have a year round tan and an endless supply of coconuts at my doorstep, but this isn’t about me and my wishes. This is about empowering Cambodians to take care and empower other Cambodians so that the country can grow and thrive, which is exactly what sustainability should be about”.
And this involved Sally and her team making a bold move: disallowing foreign volunteers “There IS a place for volunteering overseas, however nowadays the increase of voluntourism means that volunteering is often undertaken without enough local consultation, and with unskilled individuals. To achieve long-term change, the local communities HAVE to invest in the process, international aid cannot do it all by itself.”
“We are committed to acting ethically, for example we always show our community in an empowering way. This is because above all, respect is important, and so we don’t want to portray people in an unflattering light to get more donations.”
Now back in Australia, Sally dedicates her spare time to fundraising for Human and Hope Association with her partner, Seyla, a former staff member of the organisation. Together, they raise awareness about the importance of empowering local staff in sustainable development and celebrate the achievements of this entirely locally-run organisation!