SELF-MADE CEO in the technology services sector Sor Sontheary is calling on the Cambodian government to come up with an ICT law that best serves the entire Cambodian population so Cambodia won’t lag behind its neighbours in technological development.
“Government as the policy makers should have an ICT law which everyone puts above themselves. It should ensure fairness, competitiveness. From the government and donor point of view, they already recognise that ICT is very important for pubic and private sectors and development partners because everyone is using ICT now,” Sor said.
Born in Takeo province in 1971, Sor was a young Khmer Rouge survivor at age 7 – he was imprisoned because he escaped from the children’s camp to go see his parents.
“My father was a teacher, but he pretended to be a worker from the field.”
Today, at age 40 and with 62 employees at his company ITM International Corporation, a wife and three teenage daughters, Sor wants Cambodia to leapfrog into the high-technology sector to the benefit of the people.
“We changed our way of life in Cambodia from traditional to modern,” Sor said.
“I can see a huge impact in the transfer to a service economy in the private sector. Now we are changing more toward e-government. We want to reduce the usage of mountains of paper and stop cutting trees to be used as paper.”
The promotion of Information and Communications Technology (ITC) in general in Cambodia can help individuals stay more competitive in the market, Sor says.
He cites a UNDP study conducted in 2009 in which the ICT sector revenue was $429 million in 2008, with a 32 percent growth rate per year. According to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, there are 229 internet cafes in Cambodia with 118 in Phnom Penh and 111 in the provinces.
Sor says there were 7,671 internet users in Cambodia in 2004 and today that number is more than 173,600.
“I want to see strong support from the government on ICT policies and laws. What I want to see change is for the government and policy makers to bring more competitiveness to the free market economy and fairness among ICT players,” he said.
“We have to have more ICT infrastructure, ICT framework and ICT development.”
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Sor returned to his home in the Kirivong district near the Vietnam border, finished high school in 1989 and became an outstanding student in his province.
“I was always number one or number two in class.”
He came to Phnom Penh in 1989 to study at the Royal University of Law and Economics, working as a motodop and sending money home to his family.
“I learned English from my father and that gave me more opportunities.”
In March 1992, Sor passed the UNTAC oral and written interview and went to work as an UNTAC education assistant helping develop Cambodia’s electoral process and providing training until 1984.
“It was a big step moving from a moto taxi driver to a UN officer,” he said.
Sor later worked from 1994 to 1996 for the American Refugee Committee (ARC) doing law and human rights training.
Based on his knowledge of law, human rights and the election process, Sor served as the youngest law trainer to train police, local government and students at the faculty of medicine, training those people to respect human rights and be professional. In 1995 he went to Australia on a 1-year scholarship to study methodology and classroom management.
When he returned, he went to work for the Royal Military Academy as deputy director of curriculum, serving as a captain in the Royal Cambodian Army.
He later worked for the Australian Center of Education, for the BBC World Service Trust as a coordinator for the HIV/AIDS and on a mother and child programme.
“We were able to change the behaviour of men having many sex partners from outside, and reduced the fertility rate,” Sor said.
He later worked for the World Bank in an Inclusive Education project for the Ministry of Education.
“We were trying to develop the curriculum and train district officers that focused on child-friendly methods rather than forced learning. We had good improvements, good results. Every school has a child-friendly policy.”
From 2008 to 2010, Sor served as regional manager for Digital Divide Data and finally founded his ITM International Corporation in December last year.
Some of Sor’s clients include ACLEDA Bank, RACHA, the UNDP, Toyota Cambodia, Green ITC, Westec, Nagaworld and DFDL.
With an office in Tuol Kork and a busy schedule, Sor wants to help Cambodia get a thriving ITC sector.
“My point is to link Cambodia to the outside world; otherwise we are on the tail of the globalisation. Cambodia won’t be able to compete otherwise. You cannot use old styles anymore.”
Another thing the Cambodian government could do, Sor says, is create an ICT Park for the benefit of Cambodia. “The government could support us more with private and public sector partnerships and good governance.”
Sor thinks actions speak louder than words.
“If you stop working, stop learning, stop dreaming, it is meaningless in life. You can do something simple but meaningful to other people around you. Do something either small or large. Actions will speak louder than words. That is how you can contribute to your country and you can help people who live in this society.”