PHNOM PENH: This week young Cambodians are at the forefront of several conferences and summits to promote their role in the nation’s development. One such event took place at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh, where leaders from the private and public sectors from Singapore and Cambodia shared their knowledge and experiences to eager young minds looking to shape the future in a variety of fields.
The “Leadership for Good” Summit was held under the theme “Imagine Cambodia: Co-creating a shared vision for 2050.” Hundreds of young people listened to the guidance of top officials like former Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak, Singaporean Ambassador Teo Lay Cheng and Secretary of State for the Ministry of Civil Services, Sok Sabayna. The event was spearheaded by Singaporean Consulting Firm Sequoia, in collaboration with the Asian Vision Institute and the Angkor Social Innovation Park. From November 7-8 young leaders were privy to keynote addresses, panel discussions, and collaborative sessions facilitated by distinguished leaders and experts from various sectors.
A dandelion was chosen as the symbol for the event, which aimed to spread the seeds of innovation and mutual collaboration. Jacqueline Wong, Founder Sequoia Group, said “To us it’s about being the wind to help spread these seeds. And the seeds to me represent the youth, their visions, their aspirations so that we can be a platform and a way to accelerate that fulfilment or that vision.”
On the opening day, young leaders listened to the story of WorldBridge CEO Sear Rithy, whose enterprise holds more than thirty companies across a diversity of sectors including logistics, property development, technology, food and beverage, media, hospitality, e-commerce, banking, and security. He told his harrowing story of fleeing the violence of the Khmer Rouge, only to return and establish his company in 1992.
Attentively listening in the audience was Rina Noy who is studying Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “It really inspired me a lot and I got motivation from it,” she said. “Like, the way he said he just started from the bottom with nothing and now he’s like a top businessman in Cambodia which is really inspiring.”
A freshman at National University of Management, Rina Noy is invested in her country’s future and eager to contribute to Cambodia’s development. “I’m really interested in logistics and I hope to get some logistics experience from businessmen that actually has logistics experience,” she said. “I hope to become like one of them to improve logistics in Cambodia as well.”
Also in the audience was Than Soputhearith, a first-year software engineer student at Camtech, whose main takeaway from the CEO’s message was the importance of teamwork. “It’s really important to make a project go smoothly. Basically, you have to be responsible and also make sure the teamwork goes well because without teamwork, you’re doing it alone. You’re not able to [make it happen].” He compared project management to constructing a strong bit of rope. “If you have only one string, you can pull it and it separates. So if you have a lot of strings you cannot pull it out,” he said.
Cambodia’s government is currently following an economic Pentagon Strategy, which aims to make Cambodia a high-middle-income by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050. President of the Asian Vision Institute, Vannarith Chheang, said that the first phase of the strategy focuses on good governance and building up institutions. “Without having good governance and a dynamic, robust private sector we cannot move things forward,” he said.
He noted that the push forward requires more than the efforts of those at the top, but rather a mass movement from the people as well. “Of course at the same time we need to have people’s participation. So, that’s why we call it “people sector” because if you need to move a mountain, you need to have people, a mass, to move the mountain forward,” he said.
He noted the need for a healthy ecosystem to support young innovators. “Innovation needs to be connected. So that’s why we need to have more of the ecosystem to support innovative ideas to bloom-to let the thousands of flowers bloom,” he said.
Jacqueline Wong has observed what makes Cambodia a prime candidate for development: most notably, the spirit of the Cambodian people. “We love what we are seeing here: the energy of the Cambodian people-the hospitality and the kindness-it’s the reason why we keep saying yes.”
Although he is only in his first year of university, Than Soputhearith is already displaying the qualities of a good leader and focused on how he can contribute to those who follow in his footsteps. “What I hope that I will be doing in ten years is helping the next generation because I want to share my experience and be a roadway so that they can follow to make sure that they don’t fall down by themselves. That they are able to have someone to help them manage their goal and their dream,” he said.
Vannarith Chheang said that the summit is a first step towards what he hopes will be a larger movement to prepare solid leadership for the next generation. “We want to build a movement. This is just the beginning, but we need to maintain the momentum and build up the movement for leadership for good.”
Jacqueline Wong believes that with enough support and strong guidance, Cambodia can reach its leadership goals before 2050. To young innovators and entrepreneurs she made an appeal, “Everybody step in, step up and reach out,” she said.