Starting from 18th September, Impact Hub Phnom Penh organised an offline version of the MOOC: “Transforming business, society and self,” designed by MITx and Edx and in partnership with all Impact Hub of the world.


SUJourney_Week_5_largeThis MOOC -Massive Open Online Course – aims to inspire people who want to have a positive impact in society, but do not know how to become an entrepreneur of change. Participants will learn how to move from the desire to the idea, and the idea to action, using the U Theory.


Through discussions, workshops and screening of the online courses we discovered : “How to build a more sustainable Phnom Penh together?”
We invited special guests and inspiring entrepreneurs who have already launched initiatives to build a more sustainable Phnom Penh.



LIVE SESSION + WEEK 1: Co-initiating (Sept, 17th and Sept, 24th)

The first session was overall quite conventional compared to later sessions. The goal was to test the reaction of our participants and see what they liked or not. We came to the conclusion that we had to re-think the entire content of the course or at least adapt it.

Looking at the Iceberg Model that Otto presented thoroughly, we realized that we were not dealing with the same realities. The Iceberg model shows how capitalism is transforming and states the different stages it is going through. Cambodia cannot relate because it is going at a different pace, with different actors.


Phnom Penh is still an emerging city and the issues we are facing right now are much more “basic” (access to drinkable water – no public transportation – very few green areas…) in comparison to the issues raised by the participants from Western countries.

We also feel that the vocabulary used through the class is a bit complicated to understand for non-native English speakers and very conceptual.

We thus decided to reformulate the questions, using simple words and create debate among the participants by raising the main issues that we are facing in Phnom Penh right now. We asked participants to observe Phnom Penh, with new eyes and “suspend their voices of judgement”.

Impact Hub Phnom Penh and MakeSense co-organised this big brainstorming session. We asked our 23 participants basics questions:

▲ What bothers you in DSC01063Phnom Penh?
“The lack of green area” – “The corruption” – “The waste” “The lack of pavement” – “The over-use of plastic bags in supermarket” – “Floods” – “Almost complete absence of public transportation” …

▲ Put yourself in the body of an element of the city and describe your feelings:
“I am a fish of the “stinky river” (nickname of the canal which crosses PhnomPenh) and I am eating plastic bag, breathing oil, and fighting with rats, I am almost dying” – “I am the Independance Monument and everyday I see big traffic jam around me, I feel very stressed” – “I am a tree and I feel alone…”

▲ Where would you like your children to grow up ?
“In a city with green area” – ” In a place where they don’t have to give money to the teacher to pass an exam” – “In a friendly environment with no criminality” – “In a city with very efficient public transportation”…


Then, we asked our participants to deepen their analysis and gather in small groups to discuss the issue they chose.

After that, they had to pick “a devil” and “an angel” inside their own team and create a dialogue. The angel represents the idealist inside all of us, who has to use the “empathic listening” Otto taught us about, to understand the arguments used by the “devil” even when it’s hard. The devil stands for all the fatalists, pessimists people that we encounter. How can we learn toDSC01076 understand them, live with them, change their minds or even change ours to make it more realistic?

We ended the session with a 5 minutes-play by the devil (with real horns!) and the angel, in front of the whole group. The rest of the group had to achieve the “generative listening” we learnt about during week 1.

We received very good feedbacks from our participants who found this session “concrete and eye-opening on the issues we are facing in Phnom Penh.” “It was very interesting to put ourselves in the devil’s spot, it allowed us to highlight new point of view that is more realistic and connected with the field”.


We were very proud to see that our session was taken as an example by Presencing Institute in one of their video.





WEEK 2 AND 3: CO-SENSING (October, 1st)

To put it simply, co-sensing week was about learning how to listen to a person and have a true conversation with him/her. It is indeed the key of productive interaction: how many times do we pretend to listen to what someone is saying when we are really just listening to what we want to hear? How many pointless conversations have we had with strangers because small chat is easier?

DSC01140  It was what we decided to show our participants: the power of good listening.

The objective of the course was to prove that you can get inspired by anyone as  long as you learn to go beyond small talk, ask real questions and find out that  anyone is worthy of being listened to as long as you do it properly. Those are not  such innovative principles but we listening and chatting are such common things  that we forget that there is a right way to do it.

Through a 30 minutes interview between pairs of strangers, our participants had  the opportunity to try and achieve those new goals.


The rules were simple but still challenging:
– Go beyond what you usually talk about
– Don’t judge what the other is saying
– Don’t be afraid if there are blanks: they are part of the conversation!
– Ask why, why, why!DSC01147

One of our participants shared his feelings: “It was a very interesting exercise, it’s true that I am usually always speaking about the same topics when I meet someone for the first time – Where are you living? – What are you doing? – How long have you been here….? It’s a bit annoying and it takes time to achieve a deeper level of conversation. Thanks to this exercise, I could really discover my partner, what are her dreams, her realizations, and what she is proud of. The conversation was much more interesting and inspiring. I can’t say that I achieved the 4th level of conversation – the collective creativity- but we did have a “reflective dialogue”. I discovered that we were interested in the same topics and we have the same eager desire to build a better world. I am looking forward to seeing her again, in the next session to “co-create” something together!”



The second part of this session aimed at putting into practice the different levels of  listening.

A ‘Mysterious Entrepreneur’ made a surprise visit. Playing detectives, our  participants had to investigate the issues and challenges the organization of our  mysterious visitor (a solar electricity supplier) was facing.

After a 20-minutes session of questions and answers, our participants were asked  to write down what they thought were the main challenges of this entrepreneur  right now.

After opening our minds and opening our hearts, we were ready to generate new ideas and transform the problem our entrepreneur was facing into new challenges.





The co-sensIMG_0084ing phase continued two days later, when our participants joined    our Impact Talk: Eco-friendly solutions (a conference gathering social  entrepreneurs on a particular issue). They listened to inspiring initiatives and we  sampled some of their feedbacks: “I discovered the power of bamboo to build  sustainable, aesthetic and strong houses. I am truly amazed by this material. I am  thinking about using it during the prototyping phase.”


LIVE SESSION + WEEK 4: PRESENCING:  Oct, 1st and October, 8th


For the two following session, we decided to show the beginning of the live session because of the galvanizing effect that it has on our participants to feel they are part of such an incredible community of change makers around the world. To transition slowly from co-sensing to a more introspective phase, we experimented with three exercises.

As a facilitator, we realized that for some of the participants, it was hard to share their feelings and intentions in front of the others. So we decided to choose two alternative ways to facilitate the co-sensing phase and to experiment a deeper listening method.

  •    Back-to-back: I feel you –DSC01221 
  •   People gathered in pairs, back to back, with no eye-contact, and answered this question: What inspires me? Why? “With eye contact, we are more focused on the content of what the other is saying. When I was speaking, I felt much more confident. I was less afraid of the judgement”.





  • Blindfolded trust –DSC01231

The second exercise of deep listening was to share a moment when you felt that the world around you was ending, when you felt that you could not stand a situation, and had to act. “I shared things with my partner that I am not used to share with others. I felt more confident and I knew that I could trust the other one. I am more of an introverted person, but, with this method, I totally felt a relationship of trust. As a listener, I think I achieved a deeper level of listening. Seeing the other being so vulnerable pushes you to give him as much attention as possible.

Some people shared their experience at DID – Dine in the Dark: Phnom Penh , a restaurant where you are eating in the dark. “All your senses are multiplied. For me, is a good place to talk about deeper topics with my partner”

Then we slowly moved to the introspection phase. We took the journaling exercise from another perspective. Participants wrote letters to… their ten years later selves!


It began by “Dear Future Me”, and had to include:

– What my dreams are for the following years

– Write down something that will make you smile, for your not-such-in-a-good-mood ten years later self

– Write down a bad habit that you will have eliminated from your life in 10 years.

– Write down the name of people you can really trust and with who you want to build something

“This question was the hardest for me. It made me realize that if those people were the ones I was writing down, they need to know how much they count for me I want to start building something really concrete now! Why wait? “

At the end, the participants wrote down their letter on a special website ( which is programmed to send this letter by mail in 10 years… Exciting!


  • Stuck exercise:

Our participants decided to apply all that we are learning to our dear Phnom Penh. The goal of the exercise was to connect our expectations, the future we see emerging in front of our eyes with our current reality, our eco-system.
As a facilitator, I took the role of a tourist, taking a picture of how Phnom Penh would look like right know. Participants had to act as elements of our environment and share their feelings.


DSC01241 On the picture, you can recognize the “stinky river” (nickname of the canal which  crosses Phnom Penh). It’s so stinky that nobody can stay nearby without holding  his nose. The tree is alone, the old lady cannot breath well…

I come back 10 years later in Phnom Penh and I take another picture. Participants had to change their behavior depending on what future they are seeing emerging.

Ten years later, a child is bathing in the canal and he is happy! In the second picture, the plastic bag has been recycled and has been transformed in a tree (why not?)

An inspiring and eye-opening session!




The concept of prototyping really struck me because I received an academic and rather conventional education that taught me the opposite of this concept. In school, when I had to write an essay, I spent ¾ of my time thinking about what I was going to write and only ¼ of the time left rushing into actually writing my thesis only to realize too late that my idea was not as good as I thought and that I needed to radically change.

Prototyping is the opposite: it is a constant reconciliation of thinking and acting: you have an idea, you test it, improve it and try again. To really convey this idea, we took things a step further…with a cooking class!

Indeed, where else can you better learn about trying, failing and finally succeeding? Cooking is all about making 0.8 versions, get an outsider’s opinion, then try and adding that one ingredient that makes it special!

12181103_10207348825859655_1897907393_o To spice things up a bit, we did a Khmer cooking course. Try and prototype using chili and you will see that it is in your best interest to get it right as quickly as possible!

We began by going to the market where we learnt to select the best ingredients: the most  important element in any business that wants to be successful, right? Then, after hearing the  chef present the main steps of the recipe, we had to decide the way we wanted to do it: should I  put more coconut milk? Less chicken powder? Add a little lemongrass? It is all up to me! You  have to try, taste and have fun above all.

After a really interesting three hours, time to eat our masterpieces! Some enjoyed it more than others, that’s for sure. My dish was not spicy enough: it will need some more prototyping!

IMG_0750To really complete the experience and learn how failures can be a part of the process of prototyping, we invited all the members of the U.Lab to join the Fuck up night that we are organizing on Thursday. Fuck up Nights are a casual meetups of successful entrepreneurs who share what they learnt from a business failure that they personally experienced. It shows that you can “fail seven times and stand up 8”! Failure is part of the process of creating, prototyping something new.

According to us, the key to a good prototyping is to stop dramatizing failure and start learning from it. 4 speakers came and show us how they’ve improved since they failed.



Cambodia is a country full of possibilities, whose economy is just beginning to boom. The U.Lab thus took place at a perfect time. Indeed, the U Theory is all about trying to deconstruct the way we think, interact and listen, in order to create new positive patterns in economy, society, and environment.

Phnom Penh is quickly growing and now is the time for future actors of the country to learn this new way of thinking to try and implement positive initiatives in an ecosystem that is still at its early stages.



By Julie Pomonti-Messas and Mélanie Mossard

Spread the love