Award Graduate Mey Vannak is ready for the next step upwards
Mey Vannak’s Australia Award helped him move from the local to the regional to the international business sector.
And although Vannak completed his Master of Global Food and Agribusiness at the University of Adelaide in 2014 and 2015, his current and previous jobs have been more about the broader world of trade and agricultural financing.
“I use my Australia Award skills very regularly”, he said.
“Even though my Award Master’s has a course title that seems to emphasise agriculture, my studies were more about finance, accounting, economy, and trade”, he added.
Vannak was born in Kandal Province, about 30 km west of Phnom Penh. He came from a very large family – of 10 people: four boys, four girls and their parents.
“Although my father was a primary school teacher, my parents were mainly farmers”, he explained.
“My father was very innovative; he had to be - otherwise they could not have fed and clothed eight children.”
And as there was nowhere else to hold such events locally, his parents set up a small catering business, for weddings and other special events in their area.
Understandably proud of the achievements of his siblings, Vannak explains that four of his family’s eight children hold domestic degrees from Cambodian universities, that one of his sisters became a nurse, and two brothers now also work in banks.
In school, Vannak excelled in Mathematics and in English language, but admits that he was not very good at Khmer literature subjects.
“I remembers that I always wanted to be a businessman when I was going through school. I knew also that I never wanted to be a primary school teacher”, he said
Nevertheless, Vannak’s undergraduate degree was in Education (Teaching) from the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).
“I didn’t really want to study teaching at all, but that was the only scholarship I could get, and my parents certainly could not afford to pay the $US400/ year it would have cost them for me to study at university if I had not gained a scholarship.”
So Vannak studied for his Education Degree at RUPP from 1998, and graduated with his undergraduate qualification in 2002.
“After I graduated from RUPP, I tried very hard to pass the national exam to become a teacher, but even after only one week I knew that teaching was not for me, so instead of applying for a job at a school, I joined an NGO called ‘Action for Children’.”
He worked with ‘Action for Children’ for two years in the role of Project Coordinator, which has responsibilities similar to those of an NGO Country Director.
As Project Coordinator with ‘Action for Children’, he supervised 15 local staff, and because his English was good, he also had a lot to do with the international directors of the program.
In 2006, Vannak left the NGO and started working with the ANZ banking organisation, moving upwards from his first position there as Operations Support Officer.
“I was promoted to Business Development Manager, and again to Branch Manager - at two branches in Phnom Penh and one in Sihanouk.”
In 2011, Vannak joined the Advanced Bank of Asia (ABA) where he had similar responsibilities to those he undertook as Branch Manager with ANZ.
He worked with ABA for almost two years, where his main clients were farmers and others in the agriculture supply chain – in the Cassava, Rice, Rubber, and Beans sectors.
“But I had been thinking seriously about applying for an international scholarship for 15 years”, Vannak said.
“And although I applied for a Japanese scholarship for many years in a row, but wasn’t successful, I really wanted an Australia Awards Scholarship.”
“Unfortunately, for most of that period Australia Awards were only available for Cambodian public service applicants.”
Eventually, however, private sector employees could apply and after three attempts, he was successful in gaining an Australia Award.
In 2014, his wife and daughter both joined him in Australia, after he spent three months settling into his course, university and new home.
“I really liked Australian society very much; in fact, I dream that one day we may have a society in Cambodia as inclusive as Australia’s.”
“We were made to feel very welcome; I felt very warm and loved by the people I met there’, he added.
Once in Australia, Vannak signed up for the “Experience Adelaide” program which put him in touch with an Australian volunteer whose role was to help international students settle into the Australian lifestyle.
“My host person in Adelaide was Kate Duffy”, he remembered. “And I still stay in touch with her even now. “It was a very positive experience.”
Vannak’s eighteen-month old daughter was enrolled in child care in Australia, so she soon picked up English, and he feels that she now sees it as her native language, rather than Khmer.
“Study opened my own eyes to a much bigger world… big numbers, big land, big business,” he said.
“In fact, for example the South Australian Government’s budget is bigger than Cambodia’s GDP.”
He believes that studying overseas gave him a lot more confidence in himself, and he now finds it much easier to communicate with other people.
After being back in Cambodia for three months, Vannak was offered his current job with Vattanac Bank, where he is Branch Manager at the Bank’s main office in Phnom Penh.
He uses his Australia Award skills very regularly - with its particular focus on financial analysis, risk assessment, client service and relationship management.
“I have moved from understanding the national business sector to the regional business sector, to the global sector”, he said. “My Award has opened my eyes to a whole new world.”
“Management sees me as a person who is ready to take on a bigger and harder jobs and challenges.”
“After ten years in the industry, it is time to move up”, he said. “My next step is to become a Bank Director – at the Senior Executive level.
In his limited spare time, Vannak helps potential Australia Award applicants and Awardees with English language practice and with IELTS preparation.
“Anything I can do to help future awardees I see as a moral obligation.”