LINDA MOTTRAM: Eight years ago, wandering British backpacker Lee Sheridan landed in Laos and, as sometimes happens with backpackers, he never left. Now he’s the general manager of the Laos franchise of business support company Teamworkz, employing a small group of locals and planning to expand the company’s services in online accommodation booking. Already they’re processing thousands of bookings a year, but Lee Sheridan says there are many Laos hotels and guest houses that haven’t yet felt the benefit of having an Internet presence.

LEE SHERIDAN: At the moment we’ve covered the three main destinations in Laos. So we’ve got Vang Vieng, Vientiane and Luang Prabang. But we want to expand our reach outside of the main destinations and encourage people to spend longer in Laos and to explore other areas and to really get to appreciate what Laos has to offer.

LINDA MOTTRAM: That takes money, though. Lee Sheridan says in Laos there’s no viable commercial source of funding. But $200,000 of the company’s own money has now been matched by the Australian Government, giving Lee Sheridan the ability to expand.

LEE SHERIDAN: As part of this, all the photos and descriptions you write about each hotel we visit, we will be giving this to the hotel for them to use in their own marketing. The other thing we’re looking to do is we will build individual hotel websites for each of those hotels as well.

LINDA MOTTRAM: That’s on top of the three extra locals Mr Sheridan will probably employ in his own operation and the benefits of likely increased tourism in less frequented areas of Laos as the project takes root. It seems to fit well with the Enterprise Challenge Funds goals to help fund commercially viable operations that wouldn’t otherwise proceed and to extend the opportunities to the poor. Other recipients of a total of $5.5 million Australian include firms in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. And then there’s the biggest of all in dollar terms.

(Advertisement Plays) LINDA MOTTRAM: A corporate video promoting the 100% ANZ Bank-owned WING mobile phone banking service for Cambodia.

ADVERTISEMENT: Cambodia’s a country of 14 million people yet there are only about 500,000 bank accounts in the entire nation.

LINDA MOTTRAM: WING is getting $1.5 million from the Enterprise Challenge Fund to match the same sized contribution from the ANZ to expand the service. But the ANZ is a banking power house in the Asia Pacific region and it’s flush with profits. The Australian grant concerns the non-government aid monitor, Aid/Watch. Director Lara Daley says the Enterprise Challenge Fund’s approach encourages companies to see profits in poverty.

LARA DALEY: My question would be, why would a company the size of ANZ need Australian Government support to invest or expand their markets into developing countries and to make a profit? I would see that as a definite misappropriation of aid.

LINDA MOTTRAM: ANZ spokeswoman Mairi Barton says for the bank it’s about giving back to the community.

MAIRI BARTON: It’s the UN’s preferred approach to the delivery of services in underprivileged communities, so having that government, business and community partnership. So for us, working in conjunction with the Enterprise Challenge Fund will enable us to extend these services, bringing banking services to populations in deep rural communities where we just otherwise wouldn’t have ventured.

LINDA MOTTRAM: She says the extended WING project won’t be among ANZ’s high profit-earning operations and she points to similar projects in the Pacific where the bank has given 70,000 people new services with subsequent access to micro credit and other economic benefits. Mairi Barton says there will be similar benefits in Cambodia where cash rules among large numbers of the low-paid, who send remittances back to family in villages.

MAIRI BARTON: There are currently, you know, huge issues with people being robbed. You know, it’s a cash society, they face really, really high fees from cash transfer agencies – sometimes up to 30%. So what we’re offering is a low-cost alternative that’s highly secure.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Governance is said to be strict and Australian MPs with an interest in the country’s aid program intend to scrutinise the results of the Enterprise Challenge Fund grants closely.


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