A group of Cambodian girls will compete for the first time in a global technology competition in Silicon Valley after the mobile app they created was selected as a finalist out of more than 1,000 entrants.
The team of five girls, aged between 11 and 12, will attend the Technovation World Pitch Summit at Google’s California headquarters from August 7 to 11, where they will showcase their “Cambodia Identity Product”, a mobile application that promotes traditional Khmer products.
The Technovation challenge is a global initiative from non-profit group Iridescent that aims to raise interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects among girls between the ages of 10 and 18 around the world.
This year 12 finalist teams were selected with six competing in the junior category including the Cambodian team, who will compete against teams from India, Canada, the United States and Hong Kong.
In preparation for the competition, the entrants underwent a 12-week training course in coding and entrepreneurship before creating an app that addresses at least one of the areas covered by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Tes Putthira, the Cambodian team’s mentor, said the Cambodian girls had worked hard to make it to the finals.
“On the day we learned about the results, no one could focus on work. We were very pleased and proud of them that this year, in 2017, Technovation Cambodia had made it into the finals in the United States, in San Francisco,” she said.
“We were very excited and thrilled that young Cambodians can succeed thus far, and we will do our best to support them in the finals.”
The girls’ app will promote traditional Khmer products such as kramas, hats and souvenirs, generating income for craftspeople, who would be able to sell their products directly to customers internationally.
The creators, students of the Ligar Learning Center, an NGO-run school for promising students who can't afford international-standard education, could not be interviewed for this article, pending approval from the school.
The Technovation project, which first launched in the country in 2014, is organized by USAID in partnership with Cambodia’s education ministry, NGOs and the private sector.
Sotie Heidt, the wife of the current ambassador to Cambodia, who visited the school, said she was pleased that a Cambodian team had made it to the final.
“When they are interested in this early on, they will be good at it from a young age. So we should remove any barriers and encourage them to develop expertise in the field and they can be as capable as children in other countries,” she said.
The winners of Technovation this year are expected to receive a total of $145,000 in awards.
Putthira is optimistic that with strong support at home the Cambodian team can take home the top prize, but whatever the outcome, she says the girls will become young role models for other Cambodian girls who want to get into technology.