Greater dialogue between partners is essential to accelerate digitalisation
Husain Haider | Khmer Times
Khmer Times, Cambodia (24 August, 2021) - Greater dialogue is needed between government agencies, the private sector and academia, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) said in a report assessing the country’s Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Roadmap 2030.
The STI roadmap outlines how Cambodia will accelerate digitalisation and leverage innovation to become a high-income country by 2050. It includes concrete steps from building museums to teaching science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) classes at younger ages.
In 2018, Cambodia ranked 101 out of 127 countries in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Global Innovation Index. The STI roadmap hopes to address this.
“There do remain significant weaknesses in connections between the private sector and academia which has yielded problems in the labour market,” Bradley J Murg, a distinguished senior research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace told Khmer Times, noting the skills “mismatch” between education and employers’ needs.
“At the same time, we have seen and continue to see significant progress in resolving the issue – one already recognised as a challenge in the National Industrial Development Plan [NIDP] with strong leadership and programming by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in this area,” Murg added.
The Council of Ministers approved the NIDP in 2015. In it, the government committed to “major structural changes” to support industrial development, especially in areas related to technical education, financial sector development, technology and innovation.
Tomas Pokorny, secretary-general for the Cambodian Association of Finance and Technology (CAFT), said that while Cambodia has “tremendous start-up potential” that the country still has to catch up with neighbouring countries in regards to STEM education.
“I believe that associations like CAFT and chambers of commerce should focus on talent and education as a key vertical for the country because it is a symbiotic relationship. At the same time, I strongly agree that the public and private sectors need to combine efforts to support STEM education because we are facing the risk of falling behind to the point that we may not be able to catch up with the rest of the region. However, this is not a reason to panic, but a reason to mobilise towards modernisation,” added Pokorny, who is also a co-founder of technology firm Pi Pay.
Pokorny is also a mentor at Angkor500 and helps budding entrepreneurs form business plans and eventually turn their ideas into reality.
He stressed that “Cambodia has tremendous start-up potential” and that STEM education is critical to the government reaching its 2050 goals.
“Startups and innovation drive national growth for years to come. We are at an inflexion point concerning the digitalisation and digitisation of entire economies across the globe with Industry 4.0, the deployment of 5G and the heightened use of technology to power what were previously everyday tasks like going to the bank to pay a bill,” Pokorny said.
CAFT Chairman and iPay88 Managing Director Remi Pell also agreed that there was a need for increased collaboration to support innovation in the country.
“Cambodia is capable of creating the next generation of disruptive startups and innovators that will shape the entire region and may even become visible globally. However, we are also starting to see that further investment in STEM and capacity building is needed because the private sector will not be able to do it alone,” Pell said.
Richard Yim, who sits on the advisory board for the National Council for Science Technology and Innovation, said: “It is very hard for people to judge Cambodia in the tech startup world because there are many companies that stay out of the public view and thus on the surface it seems a very undesirable place.”
The Canadian-Cambodian’s first startup, Demining Robotics, was founded in Phnom Penh and Yim has now ventured into sophisticated fabrication through the Phnom Penh company Quantum Engineering and Manufacturing.
He said that projects such as Bakong and other “moon shot” ideas were a good example of the public and private sector working to foster innovation that puts the Kingdom on the global stage.
“Bakong is a government-backed initiative that will play a major role in shaping Cambodia’s financial market. With other governments’ hesitation in their process of adopting blockchain payment systems, Bakong can bring Cambodia to the forefront with the right execution. It can be an example that other countries can look at replicating.”
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