Many young Cambodian’s today face a range of challenges when they start their working lives; their lack of experience, skills and capital often mean the work they find is poor quality and low-paid. Research by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Cambodia confirms that while youth unemployment is low (3.8 percent), this rate disguises the high rates of vulnerable employment or work that is dirty, dangerous and demeaning. In addition, for many women and youth in Cambodia today, sociocultural and family pressures are an additional burden that can restrict or limit the freedom they have to pursue their true aspirations.
As a young person I was fortunate enough to fall into a career I am passionate about, and I had a head start because I had gained work experience before I graduated high school. So I believe the youth of Cambodia have great potential and the country will benefit if opportunities and support are unlocked for youth to achieve their full potential. That is why, for me, the national rollout of the entrepreneurship curriculum by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports (MoEYS) is a step in the right direction.
Too many people in Cambodia don’t appreciate that entrepreneurship is more than just knowing how to run a business and make money. It is a way of looking at the world and a set of skills that encourages creativity, resiliency and ongoing lifelong learning from experience.
Entrepreneurs are optimistic and look to the future; they believe that success is possible and are willing to take risks. They’re fast moving, able to change quickly and willing to try different approaches and new ways of working. A society that encourages and rewards entrepreneurship is more dynamic and better placed to prosper in the modern world – no one has more energy and optimism to channel into entrepreneurship than youth.
We are fortunate in Cambodia to have many examples of young entrepreneurs who are helping to build a better and more prosperous society. Entrepreneurs like Kongngy Sav, founder of My Dream Home, have introduced innovative solutions to provide low-cost, environmentally friendly housing options that could see millions of Khmer brothers and sisters benefit; entrepreneurs like Rithy Tul are leading the way to ensure that new ways of thinking and new approaches are encouraged and not constrained by mobilising peer-to-peer support by youth entrepreneurs for youth entrepreneurs; and strong women like Sreat Mom Sophear are using their business expertise and success to represent young women entrepreneurs throughout the county and ensure that their needs and contribution are not overlooked or undervalued by the government or business sectors.
These examples and the energy and passion among young people that I see and hear everywhere in Cambodia make me optimistic about our country’s future. But the success of our young entrepreneurs will require targeted policies and services to allow this generation to reach their full potential and young people need to be aware that there is still a lot of opportunity for new startups.
Access to training and skills development for all is just a starting point though. For this reason I took part in the national Entrepreneurship Roundtable, organised by MoEYS and ILO, on August 24. I call on all sectors – business, government, academia, international organisations, civil society – to reflect on the discussions we had and take forward the key recommendations that emerged.
DJ Nana, an entrepreneur, media personality and youth activist. She was awarded UNFPA’s Youth Champion Award (2016).
Note: This article was originally published in the Phnom Penh Post on Aug 31, 2017
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