Georgina Hemmingway - Empowering local communities with tapping into the tourist industry

Georgina Hemmingway

Kind Luxury had the pleasure to speak to a young and driven social entrepreneur, Georgina Hemmingway. Her background is in UK politics but she has always been interested in international development.


A trip to Cambodia made those interests merge for her with the idea of social innovation. Spending time in Siem Reap, Cambodia's most popular tourist town, made her see with her own eyes what one of the guest speakers on social innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School had recently stated: "business is the only free agent in town". While the idea of business being totally free is obviously an exaggeration, the realisation that it has more freedom than any other influencing factors was certainly a powerful one.


Using business as a vehicle for positive social change was her motivation for co-founding the Footprint Cafésrestaurant, bookshop and event space in one. Footprint cafés donates 100% of its profits to educational projects in Siem Reap province; it has created its own book donation programme to rural schools and invests significantly in the development and welfare of its 17 strong team.




  Georgina Hemmingway  


  Social Entrepreneur and Philanthropist  


  Self-sustaining, fully functional cafés where 100% of net profit is donated back into the community  

How did your philanthropic journey start?


My philanthropic journey got started with an email from my sister-in-law who suggested we meet up in Cambodia as we were both travelling through South East Asia. In the end we met up in Bangkok but I had already bought tickets to Phnom Penh so I went anyway. A wild first night out was followed by news of the biggest civil disaster in Cambodian history when there was a stampede on a bridge in the capital; 347 people were killed that night and another 755 were injured. The mood in Phnom Penh was sombre indeed. Instead of doing the usual tourist sights I met a friend of a friend who had been volunteering. Meeting them led me to volunteer myself in Siem Reap.


Living and volunteering in Siem Reap made me, like many others before me, see the very different life experiences of tourists travelling through Siem Reap and the lives of people actually living there.


Most tourists will enjoy 5 star hotels, an array of restaurants and cuisines and party until the early hours, as I had done on my first night.  But for many Siem Reapers reasonable living conditions, access to a decent education, health care and even clean water aren’t a reality.


Despite more than four million tourists visiting Cambodia, and Siem Reap being the number one tourist destination, the province is still the second poorest in Cambodia.


In short, a bustling tourist industry does not mean a thriving local community.

Georgina Hemmingway

How did you go about setting up the Footprint Cafés? Can you tell us about the café, how it works and what its aims are?


Footprint’s mission is to link the successful global tourist industry to thriving local communities.


We want to ensure that the spending power of tourism is used to help empower local communities.


The way we do this is very simple: we create an attractive high quality café that tourists are drawn to in its own right.


The structure of the café is however its three P’s model: People, Planet and Profit.


People – means that we pay our team a decent wage, give them good working conditions including a savings scheme, help with health care and we also invest in their career and training. That training doesn’t have to be within the service industry but instead our team identify what their long-term goals are and how we can help them to achieve them  – whether that’s language skills, business management training or developing their knowledge in a certain sector.


Planet – we do what we can to care for our planet and to limit our own footprint on it. Examples include our reusable metal straws, takeaway boxes made from sugar cane, using our used coffee grounds for compost and donating our used cooking oil for conversion into biodiesel.


Profits – 100% of our net profits are given as educational grants to the local community. Which projects we donate to is decided by our local team as we believe the best people to know how they would like their community to develop is the local community itself.

New Leaf Cafe

I was extremely lucky in setting Footprint up in that I was accepted at the Cambridge Judge Business School to study their PG Dip in Entrepreneurship. The team there are fantastic and do a lot to support their students. The course allowed me to spend a year focusing on developing the idea of Footprint and both its long and short-term goals.


At the end of the course I held an event in Cambridge, converting a café there into a Cambodian café and invited the faculty from our course and a lot of potential investors.


I gave a presentation and showed a short video outlining the dream. That night Dr Darrin Disley was in the audience; he loved the idea having been to Cambodia himself in the early 90’s and offered to sponsor a whole café; this was shortly followed by a commitment a few months later to sponsor the first four. He also joined Alan Barrell and Michael Carter on the board of trustees.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far as a philanthropist?


Most people are good. Talent comes in many forms.

Georgina Hemmingway

What are the biggest challenges in managing a charity organisation? What keeps you up at night?


Footprint is a social enterprise – this is a relatively new concept, as such it is one of the hardest things to explain to people what we are. We are a functional business in our own right.


Our start-up funding is donated but each café must function and make a profit on its own.


The fact that we donate 100% of net profits just means that we have a terrible business model from a traditional perspective but a great one from a charitable outlook. Mixing business with a socially positive impact is what social enterprises are all about.


Nothing keeps me up at night. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, when you fail, try again – get a good night’s sleep.

What is your aim for Footprint Cafés in the next three years?


I would like Footprint to have established four self sustaining fully functioning cafés around South East Asia.


Once we have a regional proof of concept we will be going for a $1.5 million funding round to start a global roll-out.

What does your typical day look like?


I don’t think there is one.


When I’m in Cambodia I will usually get up around 5:30 to be at the café for 6:30; by that time the morning crew will be in and finishing off set up. I spend a couple of hours on emails and social media before doing a stock run for our kitchen and bar team. The rest of the day will consist of meetings with the management team which can mean planning events and media strategy, refining our menu, reviewing our supply chain, assessing our team's progress etc. A lot of time is also spent meeting our customers, partners and benefactors.


In the evenings, we often have events or we host meals for potential partners or other social enterprises in town. Having these dinners is a great way to show them what we’re about and to learn about what their mission is and how they are achieving it.

And finally what advice would you give to someone considering setting up their own charity?


Ask yourself why you want to do this. Research to make sure you are not reinventing the wheel.


Make sure your trustees bring different skills and knowledge and don’t worry about them not seeing eye to eye all the time; tension is good at that level and in the charity sector in general – there’s no one right answer.

To find out more about the Footprint Cafés and its social engagement visit

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