Be Chantra is one of the foremost digital strategists in Cambodia. He’s organised dozens of events to gather like-minded people. Last week, he ran Barcamp ASEAN, which drew people from around the region to brainstorm technology and startup investment. He sat down with Vandy Muong to talk about the places he likes to geek out
I received my bachelor’s degree in computer science from Norton University. It was very famous for this subject, and most students studied computer science at the time. I decided to study it because a lot of people were talking about it, that the country would develop [with technology]. But then, there was no mentor [outside of the university], or events to participate in and share knowledge. We were all trying to do the same thing, but without guidance. Afterward, I taught students about Word, Excel and Photoshop at different centres for little salary. I felt ashamed, like I wasn’t good at computer science. Now, I return to Norton University to host my events.
In 2005, the Open Institute [then Open Forum] led a project to create Khmer Unicode for computer software [to standardise a Khmer font for the web], and to promote the concept. I started working [with them]: it was easy for me to help share with the people, especially on Khmer Unicode. Over two years, we organised workshops in 36 schools. Open Institute conducts training in all provinces on how to type in Khmer Unicode, to create blogs and to use social media. We worked with lots of young people to get them to make blogs. They didn’t need to learn how to write a program, because there was a website already coded in Khmer and free to use. It was important to be able to write in the Khmer alphabet for a personal blog, and Cambodian people were proud to have their own websites.
Bun Tharum and Hor Virak organised the [first] event, and I was a volunteer. Barcamp is a gathering of tech people in order to solve problems: what they don’t know. They meet and share knowledge – we want to have ideas spread between teachers and students. [Last week], we engaged with people at the regional level – from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, even India – to do something bigger on tech and startups. It was the first time we had held a parallel event [like this]. Thousands of students and employees came. We had two days of speakers. I am so happy to work with Barcamp from the beginning until now.
Emerald Hub is an open space for people – especially students – to work, and to meet other skilled and talented people. It opened this year at Phnom Penh International University. In 2016, I’ve been involved a lot in startups. I organised this space for young entrepreneurs, so they can discuss with mentors and business partners all in one place. Sometimes, a startup businessperson is a failure, and sometimes he or she is a success. You need to have an ecosystem; Emerald Hub gives people an opportunity to start their own business from [something small]. Investors come to visit, and people can show their ideas and sell them.
I like travelling, either alone or with family, and I like to host events [outside of Phnom Penh]. For example, I organise events in Siem Reap, where I can travel and also spend time [relaxing] with family. I was excited to organise an event in Ratanakkiri province, which is far from Phnom Penh, but many people were interested in technology and in supporting my work. I always like to explore something new in Cambodia and in other countries, to open my mind. I will travel to find something related to techs and startups: Thailand and Vietnam have a lot of events related to this. I travel to explore and get back benefits.