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AIESEC leadership event inspires young crowd

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AIESEC students and members at a youth leadership event on Sunday afternoon at the National Institute of Education. Photograph: Stuart Alan Becker/Phnom Penh Post

People say the number one challenge facing Cambodia is education and the number one social issue is addressing the needs of Cambodia’s young people, the average age of whom is 22.5.

Talk to anyone in the recruitment and human resources business and they will tell you they are crying out for trained staff, people who can perform in a variety of office situations, speak English, make a spreadsheet and deal with customers.

I’ve been thinking about education quite a bit, dreaming up scenarios of how to fill rooms with ever greater numbers of young Cambodians and put the people in front of them who can teach them what they need to know and provide some empowerment tools to charge up this society.

A youth leadership group called AIESEC, which is in its 64th year of operation, calls itself “the international platform for young people to explore and develop their leadership potential”.

Every year, AIESEC offers 20,000 leadership positions and delivers over 470 conferences to the membership of over 60,000 students and runs an international exchange program that enables over 16,000 students and recent graduates the opportunity to live and intern in another country.

Here in Phnom Penh last Sunday at the National Institute of Education complex, just west of the Independence Monument at AIESEC’s Young Leaders Recruitment Fair & Youth to Business Forum 2012, the atmosphere of rapt attention from more than 1,000 young people from schools and universities all around Cambodia was electrifying.

I had been asked to be a panellist in a discussion of entrepreneurship, right up my alley. AIESEC’s Event Manager Pisey Chan had invited me to join a panel consisting of Kho Sarom, HR Manager for Coca-Cola, Longdy Yi, president of AIESEC in Cambodia, Yang Navuth, HR Manager for Smart Mobile, and Kouch Sokly, managing partner at CBM Corp and National President of JCI Cambodia this year.

The panellists engaged with the audience via microphones and participated in an interactive discussion that proved quite interesting, both for ourselves on the panel, and the student audience. Gutsy young people seized the microphones and gave their strong opinions. It was nothing short of inspiring.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report that I’m less in despair than I used to be about the prospects for the young people of Cambodia.

This crowd was energetic, engaged, talented, courageous and vocal. They represented young Cambodians.

These are the most important people in the country, far more important than mere government or corporations or foreigners or foreign multi-national companies. These outstanding, talented people will shape Cambodia, I guarantee it.

Certainly there are still challenges on the horizon. More schools need to be built. More technical training centers need to be organised and more certificate courses in a wide variety of disciplines need to be created. Those are all relevant, urgent challenges.

When I told the group I was looking to hire two additional business reporters to work at The Phnom Penh Post, 25 young people clustered around me after the event, jumping at the chance.

There was so much interest, it was overwhelming. I hope to be hiring them very soon.

This does not mean that all of them are ready for the Pulitzer Prize, but it does mean that there are young people here in Cambodia willing to learn, willing to put themselves into challenging situations and willing to do what it takes to realize their dreams, to take care of their families and to build this small, unique and wonderful country into something they can be proud of, a place where they can realise their dreams.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at stuart.becker@gmail.com

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