A week ago one person wrote into GlobalGiving (via the contact us form) and raised concerns about the past track record of this organization. GlobalGiving takes all feedback seriously, and we followed-up with many phone calls and invited eyewitness accounts. What follows is a summary of the many viewpoints that either support or challenge The Cambodia Project’s right to fundraise on our site.
Our aim is to be a forum for honest and wide-open discussion about The Cambodia Project.
Many people’s views are reflected below. All have worked with the organization at some point. All names have been suppressed to protect identities, as requested by the participants.
Commenter #1 (in writing):
“I've got a serious concern about one of the charities that you have listed on this site - The Cambodia Project. We brought these issues (with evidence) to the attention of others and wanted to alert you about them. After 3 years in existence The Cambodia Project still have no financial statements, no money in the bank, and no school built - yet they keep asking people for money and they take advantage of great groups like yours to do it. Surely there is some mechanism whereby you can weed out the bad apples. I'm not sure how, but I'd really encourage you to look closely.”
Commenter #2 (summary of a phone conversation):
“The organization has been working hard to do what it promised. It is true that it has not built the school yet. I recognize that there is a small group of disgruntled people who are trying to ruin our reputation and discourage others from giving to them. What would you have The Cambodia Project do about them?
It has sent several teams to visit Cambodia. It has sent volunteers. It has leased land and is working with many other organizations who I will invite to speak on its behalf. It has faced delays because the government has not approved its curriculum. It has done the proof of concept work and is ready to build the school. It is also building a community center and plans to do distance learning.”
This person agreed to get several people to write in support of the organization from: I-reach.org, Room to read, Habitat for Humanity, Cambodia, the Cambodia Secretary of commerce, and Hagar.
Commenter #3 (in writing):
“I will discuss here my specific concerns that pertain to your due diligence policy.
The two Global Giving criteria that I feel The Cambodia Project has violated are:
- The work has significant social impact.
- They have a track record for delivering on promises.
While The Cambodia Project literature presents ideas that would have significant social impact, the organization has made very little progress toward those goals. This alone is not so much the problem, but rather the reasons for the lack of progress. Based on estimates by the Founder and CEO, the organization has raised over $30,000 by telling donors that their funds will go directly to building costs and school supplies. To my knowledge, $600 is the maximum that has been spent in this area. This $600 is the $200/month rent for a building that remains empty. The Cambodia Project, on its website, your website and in newsletters, continues to raise money for school supplies for a school and programs that do not exist.
Despite raising a significant amount of money that would go a long way in Cambodia, there has been no social impact, let alone a significant one.
According to the IRS website, The Cambodia Project has not filed a 990-N that is required for 501(c)(3) organizations with less than $25,000 annual income. My larger concern and one of the main reasons for my leaving the organization, was the lack of financial record keeping altogether. It became clear that the CEO was making financial decisions without any oversight by the Board of Directors or anyone else. The Board of Directors remains largely uninvolved in the operations of the organization. They do not meet or receive regular financial statements.
I have kept in contact with the CEO and recently asked him what progress has been made in rectifying the situation. His vague response gave me the impression that very little had been done.”
Commenter #4 (summary of a phone interview):
“I encourage you to contact the current director of operations in Cambodia. This person is traveling at the moment but I can provide you with an email address. We have made progress. We leased a plot of land for 99 years, where we will build a school. There have been snags with the government but as soon as we find the last person for a signature we should be prepared to start construction. I have personally pushed for more immediate work in education, including getting a distance learning program started soon and the community center.
I have not visited Cambodia myself, and I defer to our head of operations on the ground for a first-hand eyewitness account.”
Commenter #5 (summary of phone conversation):
This person wanted complete anonymity, but left the organization after he/she felt that money was not being spent well. Believes 90% of funds go to operational costs. Also tried to improve accounting practices for this organization without success. Believes that The Cambodia Project’s attempts to join GlobalGiving began a series of events that alerted members of the staff of financial transparency issues.
Directed us to look at the website Foundation for Kids (http://www.foundationforkids.org/projects2.html). This is a nonprofit that collaborated with The Cambodia Project. It sent $8,000 to CPI to build a school, but this money has not yet built anything. This person believes it was used on administrative and operations expenses instead.
Commenter #7 (in writing):
“19 of the 20 volunteers that were working with the project in 2008 have left. I believe all have left for ethical reasons.”
Commenter #8 (in writing):
“What I find most troubling is CPIs presentation of the project. It says under ‘activities’ on GlobalGiving, ‘The funds will be used to begin constructing our first school in Kep/Kampot. Part of the funds will help build clinics to provide health-care & regular vaccinations to children/staff. Pilot plan will have 30 students, growing to 980 students in 1 yr.’ I believe he does not plan to implement the pilot school until next year. That means in three and half years CPI will have done… nothing. Also, the vaccinations program seems to be on hold permanently.”
Commenter #9 (summary of phone conversation):
“There were 80 volunteers working with The Cambodia Project at one point. The work was intensive research to build a school. 6 teams have come since 2006. People are volunteers and pay their own way. I believe one group did teacher training at a local college between June and August of 2008. 17 volunteers came here over the summer of 2009.
The plan was to raise $1 million to build a school, and in ten years, leave that school self-sufficient. Today there is a lot of research and preparation for that school, but no program on the ground. This preparation allows the Cambodia Project to understand the most important needs of schools, and where it can help most.
- teacher training
- build and stock a library
- how to use science labs that a Japanese aid organization has already built
I think the critics believe the organization’s founder has a big vision, but no funding to achieve it, and unrealistic goals. The founder wants to transform Cambodian education, and doesn’t want to start until he can do it on a scale that will make a big difference. Recently, this controversy is for the first time causing him to reconsider this big-splash approach.
Also, I think the critics were disappointed as volunteers who came to Cambodia to build a school and found the organization had not raised the money. They were like “this should have been done long before I arrived.”
I think the organization is now assessing what it has available now to work with, and how it can affect secondary education here.”
Commenter #10 (in writing):
“I joined The Cambodia Project for one of its field missions and was shocked to discover that donor funding has largely gone to waste. The group started in 2006 and yet there is still no school in Cambodia. There is not anyone with an education background even working on the ground there. Despite collecting tens of thousands of dollars from donors, publicizing a school opening in winter of 2008, and claiming to start a pilot program in September 2009, nothing has occurred.
Today, it is advertising this pilot program - It’s been emailing donors since the summer, saying that it will launch in September. Yet there is no education team on the ground in Cambodia; no teachers have been hired; very little money is left in the bank, no students have been recruited.
An empty building sits in rural Cambodia because rent is cheap and they’re trying to keep up that front; donor funding is getting wasted on operational expenses and on dinners with potential big ticket “angel donors.”
Sadly, the poor children of Cambodia aren’t getting anything from The Cambodia Project, except a little publicity and many empty promises.”