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Leading IT Company Investing in Cambodia’s Poor


Cambodia has been slow in adopting the IT revolution, which has transformed much of East Asia. But a radical scheme is underway to give technical and skilled jobs to the country's most disadvantaged and break the poverty cycle. Digital Divide Data (DDD) is a nongovernmental organization operating in Phnom Phenh.

It provides career choices beyond traditional handicrafts, where unskilled workers are trained until they can find better paying jobs.

24 year old Treng Kuy Chheng was born into grinding poverty; at the age of two she had polio. Chheng was lucky to survive, but her illness left her disabled, and badly affecting her future prospects. Despite her disability she had to work every day at her family's food stall.

Treng Kuy Chheng: "This is my house. I lived here for about 18 years. Every morning I went to the market to buy vegetables which I sold just here. I never thought that I would have a life like I have today. I really thought I would just sell fruit forever."

Treng is now is one of five hundred disabled and disadvantaged people who have been offered the chance of a better life by Digital Divide Data (DDD). The people who find themselves at this Phnom Penh office arrive for all sorts of reasons. General Manager Kunthy Kann says the company supports socially and economically disadvantaged Cambodians.

Kunthy Kann, General Manager: "We founded Digital Divide Data to provide data entry jobs to some of the most disadvantaged people in Cambodia-- such as orphans, landmine survivors, polio victims and trafficked women."

Over one hundred and fifty people are now employed in DDD's Phnom Penh headquarters, with another one in Siem Reap. DDD doesn't just offer its employees work, it gives them confidence, independence and the opportunity to realize a better life for themselves. Unlike traditional crafts to which many of the unemployed workers have to turn to, they are given skills in a constantly growing 21st century industry.

Lynn Watson, VP of Client Services, Phnom Penh Office: "We've got young people coming on board who have never worked with a computer before; they certainly haven't worked in a large business environment. Part of what we do is to help train and teach what that's about: not only how to use a computer- but how to use it well, how to work in a business environment- skills that they can take and carry on to the next level in their careers."

New employees start by learning to type, and after six months training, they work on professional data entry projects. The staff is well rewarded; they earn about (US) $90 each month, that's double the national average. DDD also has strong market ambitions.

Kunthy Kann, General Manager: "We are competing with international companies in countries such as China and India, which have access to a skilled workforce. We take people with no experience or suitable education and train them to compete."

Even so the working day at DDD is only six hours long-- this is to ensure that its workers are given the opportunity to study at university in the evening. Thlok Srey Nay, 26, appreciates the company's benefits.

Thlok Srey Nay, 26, Employee: "Before I never used computers, but in here I practice on them a lot. I'm learning to use a lot of computer programs such as Word, which I never used before. And most important for me, DDD also provide me with a scholarship to study at university."

The employees say the opportunity give them independence and earning power to take care of themselves and not have to rely on other people. The company's goal is to build up human capital in Cambodia to tackle the root cause of poverty. Sor Sontheary, DDD's external relations coordinator recounts an old proverb.

Sor Sontheary, External Relations Coordinator, Phnom Penh: "We believe that developing human capital is the key to developing the Cambodian economy. We train people how to work because as the proverb says: it's better to teach a man to fish instead of just giving him fish to eat."

DDD plans to increase its work force to 1500 people by 2012. There are high hopes in Cambodia that projects such as DDD can play a key role in helping to reduce the country's poverty and help disadvantaged Cambodians.

Information for this report was provided by APTN.