LED office in Cambodia underway
«I'm always happy when I come to the old factory building in the morning»
Interview with Pius Frick, LED Country Coordinator in Cambodia since March 2022
Pius Frick, how was the move from Moldova to Cambodia?
Exciting. At the end of almost ten years in Moldova, I realized how little you actually need to live. So I left again with little luggage. At the beginning, I was busy extending my visa, organizing an apartment and a job, i.e. arriving and pitching the tent. This also gave me the opportunity to orientate myself in the city and to get a rough overview. I realized that I need to adjust my habits, not least to cope with the heat. I've already gotten used to the heat in the meantime.
Does the LED now have an office in Phnom Penh?
Yes, that is, not officially yet. But we already have an office in a co-working space. That was the plan from the beginning: to set up flexibly and use a co-working space first. I knew there were quite a number of such more flexible workspaces in the capital. The decision fell on Factory Phnom Penh. The old converted textile factory is a bit out of the center, but it is a popular place for (also development-related) events. We have a small but nice office there in direct neighborhood with interesting startups and projects. There is a small kitchen as well as meeting rooms that we can use if needed. All in all, a cost-effective and flexible solution. I'm always happy when I come to the old factory hall in the morning.
What issues is the LED working on in Cambodia?
There is no shortage of ideas. First, I read up intensively. Fortunately, the LED gave us the instruction to focus our analysis on vocational training and education for sustainable development. These are already very large subject areas. We had to analyze dozens of strategies and guidelines, and we had to go through studies on the situation. And then we set about visiting organizations active in this field, but also government institutions, in order to deepen what we had read with discussions and to put it into a real context. Paper is sometimes patient and some things you don't write in a publication. In conversations, you can raise sensitive points that reports don't answer and you get to hear personal assessments.
Can the topic already be narrowed down concretely at this point?
The picture that emerged is relatively clear. Cambodia has gained a strong economic foothold over the last ten years, primarily through the textile industry. This industry provides jobs, but for many the wages are not enough to cover basic needs. The government therefore wants to create more jobs with higher added value and higher wages. Education and training play a major role in this. The LED's focus on vocational training is accordingly welcome. We will concentrate on certain topics, and we are currently looking at the two areas of IT/digitalization and the environment (renewable energies, energy efficiency, etc.). In my opinion, we can make a valuable contribution here.
What form does the dialog with the authorities take? Who is responsible for vocational training?
At the beginning, it was a bit more complicated than I was used to in Moldova. In Moldova, it was very easy to get in touch with the vocational training department, for example. Cambodia is much larger - the state structures are correspondingly more complex. There are also cultural differences. Hierarchies are much more important here. We are still learning. In the meantime, I have good contact with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor, which takes the lead in vocational training. Keeping track of vocational education and training is challenging, because no less than 14 ministries maintain their own structures that have to do with vocational education and training. The VET department of the Ministry of Labor is faced with a correspondingly large coordination effort. We have to take this into account in our work.
Will there soon be initial project support in Cambodia?
I am already in discussion with both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor about some project ideas. The work is ongoing and the first proposals will be ready soon. Soon they will be presented to our foundation board. As soon as the first projects are approved, I will be happy to report more.