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Great Minds

Captains of industry gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel in Phnom Penh during the last weekend of January for the 2016 Global Alumni Convention (GAC), which played host to panel discussions on the hot topics currently shaping the dynamic business sector here. Branding, the media and the push to upskill Cambodians in science and technology were discussed at length, and organisers hailed the convention “a great success with delegates of 24 nationalities graduating from 16 countries contributing actively in one capacity or another at the event.”


Former Commerce Minister H.E. Sun Chanthol gave the opening speech of the Business & Education Networking Reception, where he discussed the importance of branding and announced a number of exciting ventures, including the announcement that Lord David Puttnam had been approached to assist the ministry in hand-choosing 20 local products to be rebranded for the market in 2016. The minister encouraged a collective effort to improve Cambodia’s brand, in a bid to entice ever more investment, and also laid out plans to complete the drafting of the eCommerce law as well as a Consumer Protection Law.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, one of the hottest topics in schools right now, was dedicated its own panel discussion, including Dr. Byrony Mathew, deputy head of mission for the British Embassy, who leads the embassy’s project on STEM education in Cambodia. The panel raised key points including the need to identify the skills gaps in the local market, and the urgency to bridge the gaps as Cambodia strives to compete in a global market where innovation and new skills are essential. New teaching methods are needed for these subjects, the panel discussed, meaning that current teachers had to themselves be upskilled, and new ones trained for the job. The panel unanimously agreed that supply was not able to meet demand and urged employers to support local talent by training and employing Cambodians and then encouraging them to train , building their capacity.

On the topic of media as a “gateway to the world,” the discussions focused on media partiality and quality as well as looking into how increased Internet penetration was affecting the media landscape. The speakers all noted that media had to adapt to the current climate and that the digital audience had a tendency to be very critical, while also emphasising the need for the media to remain free from being used to perpetuate propaganda. The panel highlighted the ease with which a media outlet can be set up and owned in Cambodia, and agreed that information was relatively free and accessible, particularly compared with other countries in the region. Some panellists pointed out that there is a dearth of quality professional journalists in the country, a point that was rebuked by some.

As interesting cross section of speakers sat on a panel for Women and Entrepreneurship, where some spoke of positive changes for women in Cambodia and others said there was still a need to foster the empowerment of women to become leaders and entrepreneurs. The panel also felt that a positive change of mindset among men was assisting this empowerment, with education acknowledged as key to encouraging open minds and a break from traditional norms. Lim Sok Hourng, director of Himawari Hotel Apartments, added that, to be a successful working mother, a clear separation between family and work was essential.

Within the banking and finance sector, “The Importance of Evolving Systems” was the theme. The panel included H.E. Chea Serey, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, who announced that fast online electronic payment systems (only in Riel) with initially no online transaction fees would be launched this year. The panel keenly discussed the need to move from a cash dominant society to electronic payments, but warned there was a need for education on this and discussed its potential implications for bank branches and staff. De-dollarisation was a key topic, with it expected to help fight money laundering. The panellists discussed creating a love of the local currency among citizens in order to wean people off the US dollar. Finally, Michael Lor, CEO of Canadia Bank, suggested there is a great dearth of staff qualified to deal with changes to systems and understand risk profiles – two skills he said were essential to staff in the banking sector.

Words by Steve Noble