You might associate the hostel chain with loud Brits necking shots and heavy petting in the pool, but Mad Monkey’s whole ethos is built on making Cambodia a better place. Communications Director Claire Casher tells us why.
It’s easy to spot Claire at the restaurant-bar when we arrive at Mad Monkey Hostel in Phnom Penh: she’s the only one not wearing elephant pants, or looking like she stopped drinking an hour ago. Clearly, last night marked another massive party at the largest backpacker hostel chain in Southeast Asia, which has branches all over Cambodia, as well as in Bangkok and Boracay, in the Philippines.
But we’re not here to talk YOLO. We’re here to talk about how Mad Monkey uses the profits from this hedonism to fund vital projects, supporting some of the poorest people in the country.
“The main focus of our business is to be a socially responsible hostel company, by creating positive change in every community that we operate,” explains Claire, a composed and charming Canadian who worked with North Korean refugees before taking up the post as Mad Monkey’s Communications Director.
“Coming in a close second is providing an amazing experience for our each of our guests and educating them about the places that they are visiting,” she adds.
Swimming Against the Tide
2017 might be the United Nation’s Year of Sustainable Tourism, but Mad Monkey formed their business in a market where responsible travel was not seen as a priority.
“It’s not a negative reflection on the state of the industry before Mad Monkey arrived. But more a void, a missed opportunity” Claire explains. The interest was personal; most of the company’s senior management had previously been backpackers who wanted to engage with the areas that they were visiting on a “deeper level”.
For this reason, she says, new hostel locations are chosen with two considerations in mind: the business opportunity, of course, but also the scope to run local sustainability programs in that area. Commercial success is primarily seen as a way to increase positive social impact in the long run – which means they also need to be careful about the projects they get involved with.
How Are Projects Chosen?
“We don’t get involved with projects that involve short term volunteering, that we feel would not be beneficial to the people it is meant to help,” she says. They’re especially cautious about projects involving children, avoiding short term teaching positions or anything involving children. As official partners of the Child Safe Movement, they try, too, to stress why this matters to those staying at their hostels – and train all staff about how best to explain the impact of these projects to others.
“It is our duty to educate travellers who come here with certain preconceptions from home, through no fault of their own. We are in a position to educate them about how those kinds of activities affect the local community and what they can do instead that will have a more positive impact,” she says.
Beyond this, though, Claire says she doesn’t go in with a pre-determined vision of what type of projects Mad Monkey should fun, instead taking the time to talk to people on the ground. This happens organically, explains Casher, as they begin to build a local team; it quickly becomes clear what the biggest issues in the area are, and which existing organisations it makes sense to partner with.
As a result, the company funds a range of arts, education and clean water projects both from their own profits and donations from guests. Their biggest impact, though, is through their policies as an employer.
A Fairer Deal
“We just try to meet the same employment standards that you would get in each of our own countries,” explains Casher, adding that you can see the benefit this has had for their staff’s families and communities. Mad Monkey, she says, actively recruits people from less advantaged backgrounds in order to pay them a fair living wage, provide good working benefits, and help with healthcare costs.
So next time you find yourself ducking for cover as the boisterous Mad Monkey crawl rolls into your bar, remember: it’s all for a good cause!