With the surge of non-governmental organizations entering the Kingdom over the past 15 years a new Cambodian dream has come: the NGO salaryman.
Esteem, generous wages, training, meritorious work and the possibility of advancement exceeding what the private sector offers – or so the common view goes – have made NGOs among the most popular of employers.
“They all want NGO jobs,” said Eva Mysliwiec, who has lived in Phnom Penh for more than two decades and is executive director of Youth Star, a local NGO that coordinates volunteer and paid work for recently graduated students.
“They have a tendency to want to work for NGOs because of salaries and benefits. They want to feel valued by the community and the organization they work for,” she said.
But according to Mysliwiec, young Cambodians’ fixation on NGO careers is misguided.
“They think NGOs treat them better than the private sector, but they really have no reason for that. We’d like to see more go into entrepreneurial and private sector work.”
Mysliwiec said students have a shallow understanding of the job market and fail to distinguish between non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
“They know people or friends who work in NGOs. They know NGOs offer training and the opportunity to work in development.”
But otherwise, she said, “they have little understanding of what an NGO is.”
Of about 50 upperclassmen enrolled in various majors at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) and Pannasastra University of Cambodia who spoke to the Post, nearly half said they intended to apply for jobs with NGOs.
Besides offering high salaries and prestige, students see NGOs as addressing most directly their country’s ills by “solving social problems and reducing poverty,” said 20-year-old RUPP student Yan Sopheah.
David Symansky, a recruitment manager at HR Inc., said that as well as high salaries, NGO jobs are prized because of the respectability of the office-based careers they offer.
“Many students would rather take a job with a better-sounding title than better pay-package,” he said.
But Symansky says students have taken notice of the country’s growing private sector and are starting to branch out.
“Perhaps reflecting a growing economy and more confidence in the future, many of the best students no longer seek out work solely with NGOs or a government ministry.
“The best and brightest are looking towards the private sector,” he said.