Rags to riches to rags

Scott's story

An unconventional success story helping people help themselves and innovating the non-profit model.

Despite never completing high school, the Scottish-Australian Scott Neeson ended up making quite the name for himself.

It all started when Scott got a job as a projectionist at the drive-in movie theaters after he dropped out of school.

"I was educated in Australia and was not an especially adept student. I left before finishing high school. The federal government job scheme found a job for me working as a projectionist at the drive-in movie theaters," he says.

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This position at the movie company eventually led to work as an office and marketing assistant. Scott worked his way up the ladder, becoming the managing director of the distribution arm at the Hoyts cinema chain in 1987.

In 1993, Scott’s career took him to the beating heart of the film industry – Los Angeles.

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High school drop out

Scott spent 26 years in the film industry. He eventually served as President of 20th Century Fox International, where he managed revenues in excess of $1.5 billion and oversaw the release and marketing of several blockbuster films, including Braveheart, Titanic, Star Wars, and X-Men.

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"I thought there was something wrong with me, the more I got, the less happy I was."

Scott spent 10 years at Fox, overseeing the release of some of the top-grossing films of all time. To many, it seemed like Scott had it all – a powerful role in the film industry, celebrity friends, a big house, fancy cars and a boat. But for Scott, there was something missing.

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The moment I stepped on there was the single most impactful moment in my life. I was standing there facing into the abyss.

— Scott Neeson
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The trip that changed it all

While on vacation in Southeast Asia Scott ended up standing ankle deep in trash at the sprawling landfill of Phnom Penh. In a haze of toxic fumes and burning waste he witnessed thousands of children and adults rummaging through the garbage dump for scraps they could sell for money. They earned 4,000 riel ($1) a day – if they were lucky.

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There were kids everywhere. In some cases, they’d been left there by parents that didn’t want them. It shook me to my very core.

— Scott Neeson

Meeting Sreyoun inspired CCF

Within the first 20 minutes of being on the garbage dump that very first day, Scott met a child. He couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a boy because they were completely covered up, partly to hide from the heat and partly because there was nowhere to leave their belongings.

It turned out that this girl, 9-year-old Sreyoun, was working on the dump with her mother and younger sister, who was seriously ill. As they were living in extreme poverty, it was relatively inexpensive to sort out their problems right there and then. With the help of a translator, Scott arranged a place for them to live, got the girls into school and the sister into hospital, and when back in LA, organized to send money each month to keep the family sustained.

It took little more than an hour, and it struck him - with the horrific backdrop of the garbage dump - how simple it was to help. That was the start of CCF.

In 2019, Sreyoun graduated from university with a degree in finance and economics.

When Scott returned home to start a new job at Sony Pictures, his heart wasn’t in it. That year, he traveled to Cambodia for one week every month as he set up a charity on the dump. The contrast between his two worlds was immobilizing.

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In 2004, Scott decided to leave Hollywood behind and moved to Cambodia.


Opening the first school

With limited knowledge of the community and its people, Scott needed support.

That’s when he met Kram Sokchannoeurn—or, as we know her, Noeurn— a teacher and local counselor at a private international school in Cambodia. Together, they started a school for 45 kids.

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What impacted Scott most was that these children, who were living in the most abject squalor, were not asking for money.

"Every time I visited the dumpsite, children followed me saying, ‘Som tov rien’ (‘please take me to study’). It's very hard to say no to that because it's a child simply asking for an opportunity."

After spending countless nights walking through the community and getting to know each family, Scott began to understand the barriers that kept kids from the classroom. When he started addressing the most obvious issues, like food, clean water, and medical care, the change was clear. More and more kids started filling the classrooms.

Over the years, Cambodian Children’s Fund has evolved to address every barrier to education, empowering the community to take part in the change.

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As Founder and Executive Director of Cambodian Children's Fund, Scott has been living in Phnom Penh for over 15 years. He remains at the heart of the organisation and the community.

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Their smiles say it all

Today, Scott lives by simple means in Cambodia, devoting his time to running CCF and ensuring he is connected to the community.

Scott firmly believes in building from the ground up with an in-depth understanding of each individual, each family and the overall community.

See how you can get involved
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In a world of fallen heroes, Scott shines as one of those very rare individuals who “walks the talk”. He is fearless and his selfless, remarkable commitment to children in the developing world represents a genuine profile in courage. Thank you, brother, you are a hero, now and always.

— Quincy Jones, Musician, Record Producer and Humanitarian
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Humanitarian, Philanthropist, Innovator

Scott’s humanitarian work has become an inspiration to many and his achievements both in the film industry and in promoting social justice and community development around the world have been widely recognized.

See Scott's Awards
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We’ve come a long way, but we’re not done yet

We’ve helped over 4,200 students lead the way out of poverty, but that doesn’t stop Scott from taking nightly walks through the community, checking on kids and their parents, helping families cope with crisis, and meeting new kids in desperate need.

Lasting change takes time, understanding, and resources. Together, we can empower this community to build a brighter future.

Now is the time to break the cycle of poverty in Cambodia

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