Like every other nation on Earth, Cambodia was severely affected by the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic not only claimed lives, but also put pressure on sources of growth and had grave negative consequences to economic activity.

The disaster has demanded that the Kingdom reconsider and redefine a new economic model that is agile enough to respond to future changes in economic and international relationships – especially in the context of the post-Covid-19 economic recovery.

In the midst of this crisis, the government sees opportunities in the digital sector. They believe that not only does it have the potential to become a new source of economic growth, but that it will boost productivity in all areas of the economy. Technology also plays an increasingly important part in promoting economic diversification and creating jobs, further enhancing social progress.

In light of the enormous benefits of the digital sector, the government, through the Ministry of Economy and Finance, has introduced the Cambodian Digital Economy and Digital Society 2021-2035 policy, which has the vision of building a vibrant digital economy and society. It will lay a solid foundation to encourage digital adoption and transformation in all parts of society, including the state, private enterprise and members of the public.

Maximising the benefits of this policy framework will require the active participation of all stakeholders, in particular those with sufficient digital knowledge and skills, as well as creativity and flexibility.

The state-run Techo Startup Centre (TSC) is a public administration institution established in July 2020 under the auspices of the finance ministry. The centre has the important task of providing internships and skill training cooperation to drive practical research in the search for innovation in Startup training.

TSC executive director Taing Nguonly, said the TSC has implemented four key programmes: New Startup Support, Community, Digital Platform, and Research and Policy.

He said the centre has faced three main challenges. Identifying human resources and potential startups has been difficult, as has been the search for trainers and mentors. Finally, there is currently a lack of infrastructure and regulations for the digital economy in general, and startups in particular.

“That bring said, in the past five years, more and more people are partnering to make the startup ecosystem come alive,” he added.

In an interview with The Post, Seng Bunthoeun, vice-rector of the National University of Management, said the Faculty of Digital Economics at the university has three departments, one each for digital economics, smart city management, and financial technology. There are more than 1000 students studying across the three departments, mostly A and B grade high school graduates.

He said preparation of the faculty took almost four years, and was an initiative of the economy ministry. All three majors are taught in English.

“We are providing our students with the digital know-how to meet future market demands – in line with the growth of our country. Our students are strong self-starters and are excellent problem solvers. They are the equals of any graduates,” he added.

Hean Samboeun, vice-president of the Cambodian Academy of Digital Technology Academy, said the academy is also working to develop human resources and provide digital expertise. In addition, it promotes innovation and digital startups.

He said the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications awards the “Techo Digital Talent Scholarship” to 100 outstanding students each year to pursue digital technology engineering courses.

The academy also offers scholarships to women, in an effort to encourage their participation in the tech sector. Currently, about 40 per cent of the academy’s students are female. He felt that not enough young men and women were aware of the potential of the digital economy, and as a result, skill levels were still low.

“Cambodia has long been ready to embrace the use of digital technology, but still faces some challenges. Our people lack digital technology skills, so there is a shortage of outstanding human resources. In addition, the Kingdom’s digital ecosystem is still limited. These factors mean it will take time – and careful planning and investment – to get to where we want to be,” he said.

Bo Sotheara, a junior at the National University of Management, has chosen to major in the digital economy. He said the youth of Cambodia are adapting to this global change, and are ready to embrace new things in this field.

“I want to learn about the new technologies that are emerging –Blockchain, AI and IOT. After I graduate, I will look for opportunities with the government, it pays close attention to the digitalisation of the Kingdom. My skills will be useful in that capacity,” he said.

Loy Linhour, a third-year student majoring in smart city management, said her passion for analytical, balanced planning work – and especially the study of people’s lifestyles – encouraged her to choose the major, one of the core courses of the faculty.

She said she aims to contribute to the development of cities and provinces in Cambodia – as well as the world. The momentum of digital uptake among the people of the Kingdom is accelerating, she added.

“I am firmly committed to developing my knowledge, skills and experience to achieve my dream of becoming a smart city expert. I intend to be a real pillar of the nation and contribute to the transformation of Cambodia into a digital economy by 2035,” said Linhour.

According to the government’s digital policy, the Kingdom has approximately 50,000 specialists in the digital field. The abilities of the rest of the ICT workforce remain limited as they are not specialised. The government wants to prioritise three specific areas – digital leadership, developing a digital talent human resources cluster, and encouraging digital citizens in both the public and private sectors.