Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Category: Bussiness & Economy (page 2 of 4)

Why wait to be hired? Start your own business!

Why wait to be hired? Start your own business! – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.


I  think the difference has  started to emerge now in Cambodia between the way our parents think and the way I  and my peers think about employment and  making money. The older generation prefer a regular and safe job which gives them a fixed income, but this seems to have gone out of fashion with young people who would like to start their own businesses. This younger generation has taken on entrepreneurial ambition and does not want to wait to be hired.

While studying for our Bachelors program seven years ago, my friends and I used to talk about what we’d do after graduation. While some of us intended to continue with their Masters degree, others wanted to enter the world of business right away. Although we might have had a difference in approach at that time, we somehow wanted to end up on the same path – which is to have  our own businesses after a certain period of working for companies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Now in 2012, our old plan for the future has materialized into reality. Some of my friends who keep in touch with me have now set up their own businesses in the Small and Medium Enterprise(SME) sector. These cover a broad spectrum of activities ranging from manufacturing to services, such as brick production, shoe-making, IT services, training and coaching services, socio-economic research and survey services, translation services, and restaurant services, etc. The service sector appears to be the most convenient for startups as it only requires light startup capital and offers an easy exit. Meanwhile, some of my other friends are still working for companies and NGOs, yet still nurture  strong ambitions about departing the world of salaried work and  running their own business.

The entrepreneurial ambition seems even more prevalent among  the generation who are younger than me. As the Cambodian economy has shown remarkable growth in recent years, these younger people are  much more materialistic and would like to get rich quick. Some of this new generation of internet-savvy digital natives have even started up in business while still at university with the online selling of clothes, cosmetics and second hand products like computers and phones.

Such a difference of thought on the employment front between the older and younger generations in Cambodia has not happened by chance. It has actually occurred because of continual growth in the economy along with regional and global integration. It has also brought about  a change in the gender focus where women now also take the lead in entrepreneurship.

Women in Business

The first informal gathering of the Cambodian Women in Business Network organized on 3rd June 2011 when about 40 network participants including the author showed up to discuss the role of Facebook in facilitating their various businesses. Photo by Jerry Thai(CC BY-ND 2.0)

While the integration of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 is viewed by some analysts as a challenge for Cambodian youth  given its limited number of high quality human resources and high competition, it is also a great opportunity for young people in Cambodia to explore beyond the borders of their country, allowing them to get new ideas and see innovations which can be beneficial for the country in the future.

Moreover, it is crucial that this divergence of views and the context of regional and global integration be turned into an asset for the country. To do this, a proper social system should be installed by the Cambodian government which should include a  clear educational policy, affordable and adequate access to information, and support for small and medium-sized enterprise. The youth of Cambodia is dynamic, enthusiastic and keen to play a meaningful role in society and develop their country—and it is essential that they are provided with the right tools to do so and are well prepared for whatever future  opportunities arrive.

“Development” does not justify land grabs in Cambodia

“Development” does not justify land grabs in Cambodia

Saturday, 17 December 2011 / Chak Sopheap Tags: , , , ,

The problem of forced evictions and land grabs is growing worse in Cambodia, leading to violence fuelled by deep dissatisfaction over existing resettlement schemes. Estimates by both local and international organizations including Amnesty International identified approximately 10 percent of the population of Phnom Penh as having faced eviction in the last decade.

Amnesty International reported that several urban communities had been evicted from their homes and relocated to areas lacking in the most basic infrastructure. Other communities facing eviction orders are crying out for legal and humanitarian support from the government and civil society groups.

This phenomenon is not unique to Cambodia; it occurs in both developed and developing countries where poor communities or informal settlements and slums are the frequent targets. People are evicted from their homes to make way for development and infrastructure projects, large international events like the Olympic games and urban redevelopment and beautification initiatives. Sometimes political conflict, ethnic cleansing and war are the driving factors. However, “development” is the most frequent reason put forward in all countries, including Cambodia.

Surprisingly, almost all regions of the globe have experienced forced evictions including Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region. According to a global survey by the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions which covered 80 countries from 1998 to 2008, more than 18 million people have been victims of forced evictions. Of this number, 47 percent occurred in Asia and the Pacific, followed by 44 percent in Africa, 8 percent in the Americas and 1 percent in Europe. The data showed that nearly 2 million people face eviction annually. Even worse,  UN-Habitat reported that large scale development during the 1980s and 1990s had resulted in the displacement of 10 million people each year. During the following decade this number peaked at an estimated 15 million people per year.

Cambodia ranks first among Asian countries in terms of its number of evictions which are due to five key factors: 1) illegal construction and land occupation; 2) city development and beautification; 3) property market forces, gentrification and private development; 4) economic land concessions; and 5) social land concessions.

There are different figures reported for the number of families affected by forced eviction and land grabs. For example, the Cambodian civil rights group Adhoc reportedly says that in the last year [2010] alone, 12,389 families were victims of forced evictions. According to a survey in 13 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces by another local human rights organization Licadho, during the first half of 2010 more than 3,500 families – approximately 17,000 people – were affected by land grabbing. Another figure from land mapping launched on the first human rights portal,, hosted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, points out that 47,342 families were or could be affected by the 223 land disputes reported in the public domain during the 4 years since 2007.

Although there are no agreed on common figures about the number of families affected by land grabs and forced eviction, and Cambodia still does not have a central database for collecting such data, these ever higher figures indicate a critical concern that a revolution among the farmers may be in the offing if measures are not taken soon to give them redress.

While the government justifies evictions for the sake of beautifying and developing the cities, there are many eviction cases involving violence and legal abuses where little or no actual development has taken place. Strikingly enough, most of the areas that have been cleared to make way for development projects have been turned over to private companies owned or chaired by high-ranking officials and powerful affiliated businessmen.

Yet there have also been a few model resettlement cases like that of Veng Sreng where people were given enough time and allowed to choose their place of relocation. In this case there was close collaboration between the authorities, the community and local and international organizations in planning and coordinating a resettlement scheme. This positive approach meets the needs of the people and the government, while also addressing the government poverty reduction program and advancing the millennium development goals.

This model should be applied to cases where the government urgently needs an area for development or investment projects so that human security risks are avoided. The government’s current pursuit of development has often involved legal abuses and violations of peoples’ rights and produced little or no actual development. Thus it is important that the government reevaluate its development criteria.

Different people may have different definitions of development. In traditional economic terms, the notion is strictly based on the capacity of a national economy valued in terms of the gross domestic product. However, development as put forward by Michael. Todaro and Stepen C. Smith must “represent the whole gamut of change by which an entire social system, tuned to the diverse basic needs and desires of individuals and social groups within that system, moves away from a condition of life widely perceived as unsatisfactory toward a situation or condition of life regarded as materially and spiritually better.”

This concept includes three basic components: 1) Sustenance, or meeting basic needs including food, shelter, health and security; 2) Self-esteem, or a sense of worth and self-respect; and 3) Freedom from servitude, including access to choices with minimal external constraints.

Based on these criteria, development must bring about certain goals. It must increase sustenance or the availability of life-sustaining goods including food, shelter, health and protection. It must raise living standards including the provision of more jobs, better education and greater attention to cultural and human values, and contribute to greater individual and national self-esteem. And it must expand the range of economic and social choices.

In this context, the Cambodian and other governments that justify forced evictions for the sake of “national development” need to reevaluate their development agenda in order to faithfully address the core values and objectives of development.

Cambodia: reform needed to combat poverty

Cambodia: reform needed to combat poverty – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

Cambodia: reform needed to combat poverty

Cambodia is among the world’s poorest countries. While parts of the economy are making considerable progress, more than 30 percent of the population still live in poverty. Though the government has proposed many strategies – like the the Poverty Reduction Strategy Program, Cambodia Millennium Development Goals and the National Strategic Development Plan – little progress has been made in improving people’s living standards. On the 2010 U.N. Development Program’s Human Development Index, Cambodia is ranked 124 out of 169 countries, just above Myanmar but below Laos. This is a slight improvement over 1995-2005. Over the past few years, Cambodia’s economic growth rate has been in double digits which has helped reduce poverty from 34.8 percent in 2004 to 30.1 percent in 2007, according to World Bank figures.

Cambodian government policies aimed at reducing poverty will not work without collaboration from people at the grassroots level, civil society organizations and donor communities. An active grassroots civil society would ensure that citizens’ diverse voices are articulated and heard by local governments. It would also act as a check on local government action and ensure that it complies with the wishes of citizens – a community-based monitoring function that enhances accountability. Both roles would promote governance for the benefit of the poor.

Poverty reduction is one of the mandates of international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and has been their joint focus since 1999. Their continued financial and technical assistance is crucial to both government and civil society organizations. There are huge grants from major donor countries and agencies that prioritize a formidable range of pressing issues including agricultural and rural development, human rights issues, decentralization, disability and rehabilitation, disarmament and demobilization, education, electoral reform, fishery and forestry sectors, gender and women’s participation, governance and transparency, health and HIV/AIDS, landmines and unexploded ordinances in affected communities, land reform, microfinance, resettlement and rights of affected people and the rule of law. If policies in these sectors are effectively implemented they will contribute to poverty reduction.

Since the early 1990s NGOs in Cambodia have been heavily involved in post-conflict reconstruction, emergency relief work, repatriation and resettlement of refugees, and assisting with the implementation of basic services and infrastructure. NGOs work hard under difficult conditions in many sectors and geographical areas where the Cambodian government has outsourced, ignored or failed to provide assistance.

Despite their contributions to government policies, the activities of some of these groups – especially those that advocate civil rights or fight corruption – are obstructed or rebutted by the government in the name of protecting national security and the social order.

The central issue here is thus the lack of cooperation between the government and civil society organizations. There is no communication and coordination between government and donor agencies so that funds can be channeled properly to avoid duplication of tasks, and no common fund-requesting procedures to facilitate the organizations’ work.

In addition, there are donor-driven agendas to which NGOs often have to conform to maintain their funding. Such shifts may not be appropriate neither for NGOs themselves in terms of expertise nor for the particular development needs of the various communities. They also create conflicts of interest among civil society organizations when jockeying for funding which ultimately contributes to a lack of collaboration between them.

Furthermore, there are many challenges for people at grassroots level who wish to exercise their rights. A small oligarchy of high-ranking government officials, army generals and rich entrepreneurs dominates the country politically, socially and economically. The National Assembly and the Senate do not fulfill their functions effectively and hardly take any initiative on their own. The judiciary system, which is not dependent on the executive power, provides the rich and mighty with impunity. All TV channels and most of the radio stations and print media are controlled by the government and do not report fairly on the opposition parties.

Corruption is rampant in Cambodia; in fact, corruption is one of the main sources of human rights violations and one of the main factors fueling poverty. Instead of being properly consulted, rural and urban community leaders are intimidated and pushed aside. In most cases, the courts do not protect their rights to a fair trial. Grassroots activists who try to resist are arrested and given heavy sentences.

The poorest and most disadvantaged parts of society have limited opportunities to exercise their civil and political rights. They neither know about their rights nor how to advocate for them. The failure of the authorities to protect their rights, and excessive use of force by security forces sometimes lead to counter-violence. Thus in order to tackle poverty and violence, civil society organizations and donor communities need to lobby the government for administrative and judicial reforms and empowerment of people at the grassroots level.

Poverty reduction requires a strong government role in collaboration with civil society. First, the Cambodian government should work toward a clean, highly competent and courageous leadership. Second, Cambodia must develop a highly educated, development-oriented, non-corrupt, efficient bureaucracy. The new anti-corruption unit, recently established after the long awaited law on anti-corruption was finally adopted, should be aimed at strictly and independently enforcing the law.
Third, all civil society and government stakeholders interested in the development of the country should work towards a culture of mutual collaboration, through extensive community consultation rather than through pressure exerted by powerful groups or lobbies.

Ultimately, the Cambodian government should enforce reforms of the administrative, legal and judicial, military, economic and financial branches to improve the living conditions of the Cambodian people. Only if these reforms are implemented will poverty reduction policies be feasible

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