My Social Sabbatical in Cambodia — Kenory, Brand Manager at L’Oréal UK.
Have you ever thought about switching out the standard ‘Out of Office’ automatic alert and replacing it with a ‘BRB’? At L’Oréal UK, you can consider that done!
The Be Right Back (BRB) programme at L’Oréal UK and Ireland is a month-long sabbatical giving employees time to pursue their passion and contribute to society. Employees that go on a BRB then bring back learnings from their experience and apply to their role at L’Oréal.
Kenory, Senior Project Brand Manager shares her experience BRB’ing with us and the way it changed her life and the lives of those around her.
Why did you apply to BRB?
The minute I heard about the Be Right Back programme, I knew I would apply at some point because it is such a unique opportunity.
The application process is thorough and you need to carefully select a project that not only feeds into a passion of your own but will also translate to your work when you are back in your role.
I knew I wanted to work for a social organisation in Cambodia, as it is something I have been dreaming of for a very long time. Going alone to the other side of the world, working for an NGO and taking time to travel sounds like a dream (and it is) but it also puts you outside of your comfort zone — which felt SO good!
You travelled almost 10,000 KMs! Tell us about your destination.
I chose Cambodia because it is part of my heritage, so I’ve always felt very attached to it.
The country has suffered decades of conflict and one of the biggest genocides, in which 90% of intellectuals lost their lives and as a result, the country has been left with no infrastructure and remains in a state of disrepair. Half of the population is under 18 and 30% of Cambodian women above 15 are illiterate, which is a staggering number. Even if Cambodia’s economic growth is booming (+7%), inequalities are widening and NGOs still play a vital role in education and training.
I was looking for NGO lead schools when I found the French NGO, Toutes A L’Ecole, which is focused on helping underprivileged girls to gain freedom and dignity through high-level education and training; giving them the power to rebuild the future of their country. The NGO has built schools in Cambodia and a Hairdressing Vocational Training Centre, which was created in 2013 and originally sponsored by the L’Oréal Foundation, as part of the “Beauty for a Better Life” programme. It was the perfect match!
What was your mission while you were there?
My mission was to raise awareness of the Vocational Training Centre and about the “Chandara Concept Salon”. All services from the salon fund students’ tuition — who will officially graduate after 16 months of free training.
My role was to manage the communication strategy and to reach our clientele, media and sponsors. I also had a hand in training which was put in place to prepare the students for working in the salon — we did this by holding a workshop which focused on confidence-building and behavioural skills.
Did your skills as a marketer at L’Oréal help in your work with the charity?
What helped me the most was my proactivity, the “doer” attitude that I definitely got from my time at L’Oréal UK and Ireland!
Then, my marketing skills in terms of story-telling, images, competition understanding, media landscape and operating. In addition, my passion and dedication in bringing this all to life.
What about all the work you left behind?
I planned (way!) ahead of time so that everything was in place before I left. There was a great handover with the team who have been amazing, especially our division’s graduate Lauriane, who covered my role while I was away. I was able to come back to the perfect environment and get back on track quickly.
It sounds like an amazing experience. What was your biggest learning?
This experience has been the most interesting and profound travel I’ve ever done. I’ve learnt so much about Cambodia’s traditions, culture and its history which has motivated me to research the different people that I met, in an attempt to truly understand the impact of its history and culture on today’s society.
My biggest learning is: don’t take anything for granted, being able to immerse myself in this wonderful country made me realise the opportunity we have in terms of education, health, freedom, rights and way of life.
One month can seem like a lifetime! What were some of the highlights?
My first day at the salon coincided with the start of a traditional Buddhist blessing where a monk sang prayers and sprinkled water with fresh jasmine flowers.
Another highlight was when I went to Happy Chandara school to spend an evening with the seven-year-old girls, staying at the school accommodation where they permanently welcome upwards of 100 students from seven to 18 years of age, all with the most complicated backgrounds. They made me play lots of games, braided my hair and made me feel so welcome; it was extremely emotional.
This experience was immersive, self-exploratory and it definitely helped to open my eyes to so many new, different aspects of life! — Kenory
It wasn’t all work, was it?
I definitely got in some personal time! I spent a lot of time exploring Phnom Penh and learning what the country is doing to promote increased responsible tourism — this is something a lot of NGOs propose while helping underprivileged communities. Basically, it means enjoying yourself while doing good!
I also met a lot of my paternal family, even people I didn’t know before, which was a really fantastic opportunity.
Time to head back to the UK! What experiences did you bring back to work with you?
Toute A l’Ecole is fighting for equal opportunities, and that’s such a worthwhile fight that resonates in the poorest countries but also right here in the UK. I want to encourage professional knowledge-sharing with my colleagues because I believe that everyone needs this.
We can already start by raising more awareness and encouraging more people to support our work with The Prince’s Trust’s. Knowledge sharing and mentoring is a great way to be exposed to diverse views and come up with new ideas, to develop yourself and to adjust your perspective — while helping others!
Did you find anything challenging?
Having to immerse myself within a few days to be able to do my job and realise my mission in such a short amount of time. Trying to quickly understand a totally different culture and getting around a rather “archaic” system. The other challenging part was the heat! :)
Like what you’ve read about L’Oréal and our ‘Test & Learn’ culture? Like the idea of being able to see your ideas come to fruition from conception to realisation? Does the Be Right Back scheme seem like a fantastic initiative you’d love the opportunity to take part in? If yes is the answer to all of the above then check out our careers site to find an opportunity at L’Oréal!