History Sewing Center Skills

The roots of Community First go back to March 2007.   Founders, Pierre Mainguy and John Whaley, met at a St. Patrick’s Day party, where their casual conversation turned to John’s non-profit work in Cambodia.  Pierre, who was just about to start his final year at the International School of Business in Paris with a career in the financial industries in mind, was intrigued.

John painted a picture of the abject poverty in Cambodia that had resulted from the deadly rule of the Khmer Rouge, and then asked Pierre if he would be willing to use his education and contacts to help start small business where it would make a critical differences in peoples lives.  The questions stayed with Pierre, and soon he was thinking about a new purpose for his life and a new way to invest his training and experience.

After accompanying John on two visits to Cambodia and graduating with his degree in business, Pierre boarded a plane for Cambodia with John in June of 2008 with $10,000 in cash and a plan to help change lives in rural villages.  Pierre and John shared the belief that what Cambodia’s poor lacked was not intelligence or ambition.  What they lacked was opportunity.  Their plan was to start small business that would provide employment, new skills and…opportunity.

Pierre was joined by three of his fellow graduates, and the team began a year of research to decide exactly what small businesses would offer the best returns in terms of impact and sustainability.  By 2009 CFI had raised funds to build and equip a sewing center in Smach, a village in the rural community of Sen Sok, northwest of Siem Reap.

The Smach sewing center gave jobs and training to 25 men and women, but it soon became apparent that poverty could not be defeated with a single approach.  Villagers were often ill from drinking polluted water from the village’s hand-dug pit well or from diabetes cause by their diet of only rice.

Based on its boots-on-the-ground experience and extensive surveys carried out in Sen Sok, Pierre and his team developed a new comprehensive approach to fighting poverty.  It focused on a pyramid of needs starting with clean water, better nutrition and access to healthcare.  The top of the pyramid includes opening new educational and employment opportunities.

Community First tested this approach in Sen Sok’s 16 villages of Sen Sok during 2012 and 2013, starting with drilling deep wells to provide clean water for all 10,000 villagers.  Then, our Cambodian agricultural specialist provided training and starter kits for growing vegetables and raising fish to enhance families’ nutrition.

Now Community First is bringing aquaponics, the ancient growing systems pictured on the walls of Angkor Wat, to villagers.  Working with engineers from California State University, Los Angeles, CFI is adding high tech innovations to this water-saving growing system to adapt these systems to household use in rural Cambodia and beyond.

Further, plans are underway to help revive Cambodia’s traditional lacquer crafts by restoring the now exhausted lacquer forests.  In addition to reviving an ancient art form, a invigorated craft industry will have major economic benefits for rural areas.

Today, John still functions as board chair of Community First and travels to Cambodia a couple of times per year to participate in planning, review programs and meet our partners in the work.  As Community First President, Pierre divides his time between work in Cambodia and education and fundraising in the U.S.  His dream of a more rewarding purpose for his life is being lived each day.

History Agriculture Fish Farming

Numbers & Quick Facts

  • Founded May 13th, 2008 in California as a Delaware nonprofit
  • US 501(c)3 Tax Exempt Status
  •  Offices in Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Agreement with the Cambodia Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Approved organization by the Central Contractor Registration

Budget Since 2008 $512 340

  • 77% Program Activities
  • 15% Human Resources
  • 8% Operating costs

Funding Sources as of 2012:

Private donors: 87%
Foundation: 11%
Others: 2%