Australia Awards – Cambodia

Ms Leng Thavy, Head of Human Resources, LOLC Microfinance 
Updated: February 2018

Helping to provide economic opportunities for Cambodians 

Australia Awardee Leng Thavy comes from a family of high achievers.

Thavy, who graduated from Monash University in 2014 with a Masters in Human Resource Management, has three brothers – two of whom also completed an Australia Award.

“One of my brothers completed a Master of Public Health at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and is now working with an NGO in Cambodia”, Thavy said.

“And another brother graduated earlier with his MBA from Monash University, and now works with the Ministry of Health.”

Thavy was born in 1982 in the small village of Ba Phnom in Prey Veng Province. The village is in the south of the Province, which is a major contributor to Cambodia’s agriculture and fishing outputs – and is part of what is called the "great green belt" of Cambodia.

However, Ba Phnom is somewhat remote, and for many centuries has been an important spiritual location and sacred place for Ascenti monks; it has been associated with Shiva since the Seventh Century.

“My parents always emphasised with us that a good education meant a better future for ourselves”, Thavy said.

Thavy’s parents were already old and as she was growing up in the early years following the Pol Pot regime. Life was challenging.

Her sister supported her parents with a small village stall, both while they were living in the Province, and later in Phnom Penh where her family had moved in 1985, when Thavy was just a three-year old.

And after the family moved to Phnom Penh, her elder sister and three elder brothers expanded the small stall when they all moved to Phnom Penh. 

In high school, Thavy liked studying Mathematics: “I was not very good at it”, she said. “But then again, I was not so bad either,” she laughed.

At school, she was not sure about what job she wanted to do when older.

“I liked a lot of variety things and subjects when I was young”, she said.

“My brothers had influenced me to love medicine and I thought I would follow that pathway, but after finishing high school I changed my mind and decided I really did not want to study medicine.”

Thavy went straight from high school to study a Bachelor of Business Administration at the National Institute of Management - now the National University of Management (NUM). 

Specialising in Accounting and consistently gaining straight “A”s or “A+”s, Thavy graduated in 2002.

After graduation, she interned for six months at World Vision, in their Internal Audit Department. 

After thoroughly demonstrating her skills throughout her internship, Thavy took up a job as Secretary to the HR Manager.

“That’s where my HR journey started”, she said.

After one year, she was promoted to the position of HR Coordinator, in charge of international staff.

In early 2005, following the late-December Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, World Vision needed someone to go to Sri Lanka urgently to coordinate with international staff and help coach local human resources staff on HR administration for international staff. 

World Vision asked her to go, and Thavy worked in Sri Lanka for three months in that demanding and critical role.

After contributing to the global humanitarian efforts in Sri Lanka, she returned to World Vision Cambodia for a few months when she was offered position of Human Resources Manager with a sister organization of World Vision – the microfinance body (VisionFund), where she stayed for three and a half years.

And in 2010, she joined CARE International (Cambodia), where she worked until she took up her Australia Award to study in Melbourne at Monash University.

 “I wanted to develop myself further, and when I carefully considered my background and studies, I realised I needed an academic qualification.”

“Besides, I always wanted to see what life in other countries was like.”

Thavy had heard all about Australia Awards from her brothers and always wanted to be successful like them – but initially there were no scholarships available for people who did not work in a Government organisation.

But as soon as the Australia Awards application pool opened up to include other employment categories, she applied and was successful, and went to Australia with her husband and her two-and a half-year old son in 2012.

“I enjoyed the overall cultural experience of living away from Cambodia”, she said.

“Especially the different relationship between teachers and students at universities in Australia.”

While at Monash, she got a job in the Payroll Section in Monash University, “to gain international working experience and to support my learning in lectures.”

Thavy’s son learned English while in child care in Melbourne and he has continued building his English language skills after she enrolled him in an international school once she returned to Cambodia in 2014. 

Back in Phnom Penh, Thavy returned to her previous CARE International position, and noticed immediately how her skills and knowledge had grown significantly.

 “During my time on Award in Australia, I increased my confidence and critical thinking skills a lot.”

“In fact, my Director in CARE noticed how much more confident I had become after returning.”

In August 2014 Thavy moved to a new organisation, although still in the development sector - LOLC Microfinance, as Head of Human Resources.

LOLC was originally established by Catholic Relief Services in 1994 to enable rural women to gain access to financial services that they could use to finance their microenterprises.

It is a rapidly growing, regulated microfinance institution with a focus on serving entrepreneurs and families who are at the base of the socio-economic pyramid - providing economic opportunities to improve the quality of Cambodians’ lives.

Thavy is quite definite that the work she does now with LOLC is directly related to her Australia Award studies and learnings. Equally important to her is that her supervisor is very supportive of her using the skills she gained in Australia.

“As Head of HR, I am one of the organisation’s Executive Members, so I get opportunities to help influence company strategic directions.”

Thavy still stays in touch with her Australia Award Scholarship classmates, work colleagues from Monash and academic staff there.

“It was a wonderful opportunity”, she said. “And I would love my son to eventually have the opportunity to study in Australia also.”

Thavy has had two other (shot-term) international training scholarships: three weeks on microfinance in Turin; and a one-week scholarship on leadership in Marseilles.