Mr Ouk Navann completed his Masters in Environmental Management at Victoria University in Melbourne, in 2003, after earlier completing his undergraduate degree at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC) in Phnom Penh.
Born in Kratie Province in the upper Mekong area – home of the Mekong Dolphin, Mr Navann’s early years were spent with his parents who were subsistence farmers, and his six younger siblings.
In school, he loved Mathematics, and for many years learned French language in secret, as the Government at the time did not allow the study of foreign languages. When foreign language teaching was finally allowed, most of his lessons were taught in French, not English.
“It all depends on fate”, he said. “”I may never have learned French if I had started off at a school that taught in English.”
After 12 years of learning in French at primary, secondary and high school, followed by five years’ study in French at ITC, he started working at the MoE where the language of communication was English.
“So I soon committed to learning English as well, and had prepared for this by paying for hourly English lessons at night while still at University”, Navann said.
Two years after he started working at the MoE in 1998, he applied for and gained an Australia Award scholarship, and following six months’ formal Academic English lessons at ACE/IDP, Navann departed for Melbourne.
In Australia, Navann worked on farms as a fruit picker to earn extra money to support his scholarship stipend.
“It was hard work and paid around $100 /day – plus, I could eat as much fruit as I liked”, he laughed.
“But, apart from gaining my Master’s degree, the best thing of all about Australia was meeting my future wife, who was a self-funded student doing her MBA at a different university in Melbourne.
In his current role at MoE as Deputy Director General of the Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection, Navann uses the skills he gained in Australia on a daily basis.
“I also like to use my skills to help my colleagues compare what we are doing here in Cambodia with other countries’ policies and practices.”
“And my scholarship has also helped me gain promotions in the Ministry”, he explained. “To advance, you have to be able to show you have the right skills and are using them… that you are the right person for the job.”
In December 2015, Navann travelled to Paris with the Cambodian delegation to the CoP 21 - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to debate what can be done to counter the negative impact of climate change.
“In Cambodia, our biggest challenge is non-sustainable use of our natural resources.”
“Climate change is making our people poorer, and this, combined with often poor use of available resources, results in the major problem we are facing currently.”
Navann is keen to become involved in more project activities – especially on the topic of climate change, which is where he started his career with the Ministry.
This early expertise was strengthened further in 2007 and 2008 when he was awarded a Chevening Scholarship to study climate change at the University of East Anglia, in England.
Navann believes that developed countries have a responsibility to support poorer countries’ responses to managing effectively the challenges of climate change.
He argues that rich countries should provide financial support directly to people at grass-roots level (who are living daily with climate change impacts), and not to “highly-paid climate consultants”.
“This will help communities to become more resilient and to find ways to improve their livelihoods”, he explained.
“All Cambodians need to know more about the better and sustainable use of resources; currently, only a few think carefully about the future.”