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Why are we here?

With nearly two weeks under our belt and a few blog posts, you might be wondering, “What exactly is DC-Cam, and what is a group of T-birds doing at an organization specializing in genocide documentation and education?” In order to fully grasp the scope of our project, we must first turn back the pages of history and understand Cambodia’s political and cultural landscape from the 1950’s to the present. Buckle up, this is going to be a long post.

Cambodia faced somewhat of an identity crisis during this period, as it had gained its independence from French colonial rule in 1953 and then experienced a bloodless coup in 1970 when a U.S.-backed military leader, Lon Nol, overthrew King Norodom Sihanouk (the recently deceased leader discussed in a previous blog post). With the Vietnam War raging on Cambodia’s eastern border and thousands of Cambodian civilians falling victim during 200 straight days of U.S. military carpet bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail, many became angry with the pro-U.S. Cambodian government. This anger pushed many Cambodians to join the growing communist movement of a new political group called the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, invaded the capital city of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 and within a matter of a few days had evacuated all of the city’s 2 million inhabitants. His regime forced people from all major cities into the countryside to promote an agrarian communist utopia, and he was determined to accomplish his agenda by eliminating anyone who stood in his way. This included but was not limited to political opponents, monks and priests, artists and musicians, and educated people.

By 1979, after nearly four years of Pol Pot’s regime, approximately 2 million Cambodians had perished, due to starvation, disease, or execution. Many of the deaths occurred in the notorious “Killing Fields” which scatter the countryside.

Now fast forward to 1997 when the Documentation Center of Cambodia or DC-Cam was established as an independent NGO. DC-Cam began researching and collecting all materials related to the Khmer Rouge regime. As a result, the center now houses the world’s largest collection of primary Khmer Rouge documents and related materials. DC-Cam’s two main objectives include memory and justice. By researching and documenting the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, the center hopes to preserve the memory of the genocide in honor of those who died and for future generations. Through these researching and documenting efforts, DC-Cam also provides historical data as evidentiary material in the prosecution of the Khmer Rouge leaders, thereby helping victims achieve justice. 

Over the past many years, DC-Cam has gained enormous credibility among international academics and politicians. DC-Cam’s founder and Director, Youk Chhang, was listed as one of Time Magazine’s most influential heroes & pioneers, just ahead of George Clooney (sorry ladies), with Senator John Kerry writing Youk’s biography for the article. It is this credibility that has allowed DC-Cam to attract new donors and set aggressive long term goals to grow the organization.

With nearly a quarter of the country’s population wiped out from the Khmer Rouge era, almost 50% of the population is under the age of 25. On a business level, this affects staffing demographics at many organizations, including DC-Cam, where there are approximately 50 employees and volunteers.  Each year Youk sponsors a number of employees to go out into the world and earn graduate degrees from major universities in the U.S., U.K., Canada and across Southeast Asia. Most of these bright, young employees have suffixes like M.A., LL.M., J.D., or even Ph.D. with degrees in Anthropology, Genocide Studies, Criminology, and Human Rights. At this point however, there are no M.B.A.s in the group which is a critical point as DC-Cam is about to enter a major transitional phase and expand the organization into new areas which requires a deep understanding of complex business frameworks. Youk recognizes that he would like to strengthen the business side of the organization and has reached out for help.

Enter Thunderbird. Our group has been tasked to help create the strategy and build the business plan as DC-Cam transitions into the Sleuk Rith Institute (SRI). The SRI is an expansion of DC-Cam into a conglomerate of a handful of entities that will both generate revenue streams and uphold the organization's mission of memory and justice. The new pillars for SRI will be a school with various levels of certificates and degrees, a museum to protect and preserve Cambodia’s cultural heritage through the development of education projects and exhibitions, and a research/media center to earn revenues from its vast institutional publications and media products.

Additionally, in order to establish the three pillars for SRI, the organization will need money. DC-Cam currently has a multi-million dollar endowment invested very conservatively through a major brokerage firm. Acknowledging the need for investment strategies and revenue generation in order to achieve the new vision, Youk and his Board of Advisors asked that we take a very thorough look at the current investment strategy and make recommendations for a slightly more aggressive approach. On top of analyzing the financial health and options of DC-Cam they have asked for recommendations for potential revenue stream options from each of the pillars. 

Sound like a tall order to accomplish in five weeks (well, three weeks from today)? We sometimes think so too, but are confident that we will be able to work through the various challenges presented and deliver a very strategic and actionable recommendation to our client. It’s been an incredible journey thus far, and we hope you’ll continue to follow us as we navigate these uncharted waters.

-Andy Rizley