Growing the Digital Economy in Cambodia
The “digital economy” is an umbrella term used to describe markets that focus on digital technologies. It refers to the economic, social and cultural activities supported by the internet and information and communication technologies. In this post, our Cambodia team reflects on how we can rise to the challenge of growing the digital economy in Cambodia
Web Essentials is working hard to improve the digital economy here in Cambodia. Not only through the development of digital tools for the local market, but by investing in and inspiring local communities and staff on how a stronger online community can improve the overall economy of a nation.
Earlier this year, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), a German political foundation closely associated with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), published some research “Preparing Cambodia’s Workforce for a Digital Economy.” KAS has a long-standing history of doing work in Cambodia and I found their research really insightful for this emerging nation.
The Global Digital Economy is Growing FAST!
Currently, the global digital economy is worth $11.5 trillion USD and equivalent to 15.5% of the global GDP. It has also grown two and a half times faster than the global GDP over the past 15 years.
However, when it comes to developing countries, digitalization can pose some particular challenges. This is also true of Cambodia, and KAS’s report shows that the country has some hurdles to overcome when it comes to developing the digital economy.
Firstly, only half of the Cambodian employees surveyed had an understanding of what a “digital economy” entails. It’s hard to educate people on growth potential if those involved in business lack the fundamental knowledge of how the online world works.
Secondly, of those 50%, half of them rate their information and communication technology (ICT) skills are at most “average”. Most staff say they were able to perform basic ICT related tasks but only a few were capable of doing more advanced tasks such as assessing whether the information online is true, fixing basic computer software issues, designing a website/blog, and writing code. My first-hand experience shows a lack of digital know-how or strategy is also prevalent in non-profits. I’m constantly fielding questions on how to update and back up websites, along with “fixing” computers. Most of these issues, I’ve found, arise from not doing routine updates and a general fear of updating computers because of virus attacks historically.
While Facebook use is widespread, the concept of a personal blog – one example of a thriving digital economy in action – is less commonplace. Taking my home state as an example, Cambodia has 16 million people versus Oregon’s 4.1 million. Yet, when it comes to the Wordpress Community, Cambodia boasts a modest 662 members compared to Oregon’s 2,625 members. So with one fourth the population of Cambodia, Oregon the state has four times the amount of Wordpress enthusiasts.
There is some good news, around half of the companies interviewed said digital infrastructure plays a large part in their business operations and rate their existing digital infrastructure as “good”. 83% of firms believe that digital technology will significantly transform their industry in the next ten years.
How to Improve the Digial Economy in Cambodia
Content, social and cognitive abilities need to be mentored, grown and encouraged within the context of Cambodian community and culture. On top of these much needed “soft” skills, there are additional needs within the country that need to be resolved for Cambodia to embrace the digital economy:
Labor market lacking. Foreign language, technical and practical skills, customer handling, oral communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills are in demand but can be scarce in the current labor market.
Managing online information. The ability to search, identify, evaluate and communicate online data.
Online collaboration. The ability to use tools (cloud storage, productivity applications, calendars, web meetings, and learning environments.)
Analytics. The ability to develop, format, modify and represent data using advanced spreadsheet formulas and functions to extrapolate trends and patterns.
The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade is developing an economic environment where the private sector can create enough jobs to handle a growing working demographic. The vast majority of university graduates still lack the technical and soft skills required by top employers, a sentiment echoed in the KAS research by the fact that employees rate their own ICT capabilities as basic.
Web Essentials is working on improving the digital economy here in Cambodia. By creating jobs in the digital sphere, helping to develop the country’s technology sector and presenting an ethical economic and personal model of doing business better.
"The social mission of Web Essentials is to train the digital leaders of tomorrow by providing quality software development jobs and by fostering a community of digital experts. Our slogan 'developing software, developing people' emphasizes the importance of investing in the digital, emotional and leadership skills of people to make a sustainable impact on the digital economy."
Bridging the Digital Economy Gap in Cambodia
When it comes to companies, the KAS report suggested a few simple steps to help embrace the digital economy here in Cambodia. I believe that Web Essentials is already setting a great example within the context of our own organization.
- Develop a coherent digital strategy. This is relevant for business operation, human resource planning and development and future investment. Which processes could be made more efficient with automation? How can technology improve collaboration and help you to achieve your company goals faster? Is adopting digitalization at the forefront of your company objectives?
This will help your company be prepared and make the most out of the rapid digital transformation. On the marketing side, how can marketing automation tools increase efficiency and drive more leads? This blog post and the resulting marketing automation actions behind the scenes is an example of digital strategy in action at Web Essentials.
- Invest in research and development. Companies must stay competitive and innovative. One of my favorite quotes is “Innovate or die”. Companies need to research new technologies that offer a variety of business improvements, be it decision making, efficiencies, increased worker productivity, and improved products and services.
At Web Essentials, our agile mindset supports and encourages our team to go out and find new solutions to problems they are facing with products or process. It’s so encouraging to see our team challenging the process, and affirms the open and experimental working environment we strive to create.
As Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said: "In today’s era of volatility, there is no other way but to re-invent. The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility, that’s it".
- Utilize government support. Companies should identify and make use of existing forms of government support available for technology transfer and skills development. At Web Essentials, we leverage this by contributing to government-funded initiatives, be that by working on projects together with the ministry of labor, or projects receiving support from international aid organizations, such as USAID.
To collaborate effectively with governmental institutions, it is important as a company to follow fair financial practices yourself. Web Essentials has purposely chosen a business model that generates tax income for the government. We have a strict policy of transparency, anti-corruption and anti-piracy, and lead by example by refusing to pay bribes and using only licensed software.
- Redefine human resource management. Most traditional ways of managing a company’s human resources will not work in a digital economy. To attract and retain amazing talent, firms should consider allowing more flexibility, promote creativity and create an open and conducive work environment for their staff.
This is a big step in an economy where a six-day working week is the norm. However we aim to lead by example by providing a degree of flexibility in our five-day working week, and making space for events that spark creativity such as our innovation days.
We also offer challenging internships as in investment into Cambodia’s digital economy. We provide young graduates with practical work experience and the competitive hard and soft skills they need for their future in the technology sector.
Our personal development program ensures that all team members progress professionally with the support of their manager. We are extremely proud to count some of our ex-interns among our senior technical staff. This progression is also thanks to our flat hierarchy structure, which is opposite to the internal politics of many other local companies.
Web Essentials does all this in hopes of inspiring other companies and individuals in Cambodia to step up and become change-agents themselves.
- Reskill and upskill. More than 72% of the employees say they cannot depend on their company to upskill them. In an ever increasingly competitive job market, existing workers and future workers must take personal responsibility for one’s own lifelong learning and career development.
On top of regular training and skills coaching, Web Essentials supports our employees to get internationally certified, including as TYPO3 integrators and Professional Scrum Masters. Friday morning peer-led training sessions enable the team to explore new technologies and increase their skill stack.
However our team are also big believers in autonomous learning (as a web developer, if you're not constantly learning, you're in trouble!). There are excellent free online resources that everyone can use to improve their existing skills or acquire new ones. A recent poll of staff at Web Essentials for their favorite platforms for continuous education included:
- CodeCademy (www.codecademy.com/)
- Lynda (www.lynda.com)
- Exercism (exercism.io/)
- Coursera (www.coursera.org)
- edX (www.edx.org)
- Udemy (www.udemy.com)
- Udacity (www.udacity.com)
- Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org)
At fist glance at the stats, Cambodia might seem like a digital economy desert, but there is an oasis of companies working hard to change the culture around ICT opportunities here.
Organizations like us are eager to provide hands-on, real opportunities to mentor, encourage and grow young Cambodian professionals to shape their own success and the success of the digital economy in Cambodia.