Aligning Award Study with Work Opportunities
Department Manager (Animal Health and Crop Protection) with Jebsen & Jessen (Cambodia) Co., Ltd (JJCB), a subsidiary of Jebsen & Jessen South East Asia (JJSEA), Australia Award graduate Try Piseth has always been interested in improved farming system and sustainable agriculture development.
Piseth grew up in Kirivong district, Takeo province, the south of Cambodia. While studying at secondary and high school, he spent a lot of his free time after school helping his parents herd cattle and grow vegetables, fruits, rice for consumption and supplementary incomes.
After passing high school exam in his province, he wasn’t sure of what study area he wanted to pursue. But leaving his farmhouse and going to any university in Phnom Penh was then the main focus. This would allow him to explore more things and enjoy new life experiences in a bigger, most modernized city of the county, which was definitely his dream since a kid.
However, things didn’t move as his plan. When finishing his local high school in 2001, he didn’t pass any entrance exam to study at university in Phnom Penh, but decided to enroll in a 2-year pedagogy program in Takeo’s town.
Without giving up his attempt, in the following year 2002 Piseth was admitted to the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), recommended by his brother and friends, then also studying there. He chose Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine as the major for his bachelor and successfully completed his course in 2006.
Piseth wasn’t interested in the subject at all while in the university. He used most of his time developing research related skills and learning English instead.
At the university, he learned various overseas scholarship opportunities from his lecturers and friends. Obviously, it was the main reason behind his strong aspiration to get a scholarship for advanced degree in developed economies like Japan, Australia, and the US, etc.
Also, Piseth wasn’t sure of what kind of jobs he really wanted to do. Right after graduation, he eventually got an opportunity to be a volunteer network researcher with Handicap International for three months before moving to an NGO, Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) where he worked for two years in monitoring and evaluation.
As part of this job, he committed a significant portion of his time travelling in rural communities, deeply interviewing hundreds of farmers on various aspects, including key challenges of Cambodian farming system, and the further of agriculture in Cambodia.
From his few years of research experiences, Piseth believed that Cambodian’s farming sector, though important, was poorly developed, unorganized, fragile and weak in-house processing and marketing infrastructures. The production needed to be coordinated, and the supply chain required a greater level of integration, which would then ensure a better market stability, greater supply chain efficiency, better produce quality, higher supply reliability & consistency and especially higher price for farmers.
To further develop his research skills and gain wider experiences, in 2009 Piseth moved to the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC) where he served another two years as a researcher, then to a modern rice miller Golden Rice (Cambodia) Co., Ltd (GRC)- EIC’s sister company.
“Having such investments like GRC is the right way to go for promoting the development of Cambodia’s agriculture. Small producers and the whole economy will significantly benefit from it given a better market access, higher value added and more jobs for the locals. I was enthusiastically motivated to serve GRC and really wanted to see its great success”, he said.
After a year with the company, he wanted to step up and took a business management role in private sector. This led to his application for an Australia Award to strengthen his business management knowledges and capacities. Without solid preparation, he failed in the first year, and was finally awarded in his second year a Masters of Agribusiness at the University of Melbourne in 2010.
Piseth was very impressed with the practicality of lecturing, and the high quality of libraries and other resources available to students in Australian universities. Though not enrolling at the University of Melbourne specifically for learning business development skills, he found that was a significant part of his course.
“During the break, I spent considerable time on trips around Melbourne, to learn more about farm management practices and agricultural supply chain – and to help with this, I rolled up my sleeves and woke up early in the morning to work on Australian farms and in a supermarket.” “I saw these experiences as all part of making the most of my learning opportunities while in Australia.”
Piseth believes that his past experiences with development sector and research industry have provided him with a natural foundation for progression into the commercial sector.
“I see myself as result-oriented, so it is important to use my study opportunities meaningfully and to excel in my job”
When returning to GRC after his graduation, he was given a large assignment - developing commercial livestock farms and feed plant, so as to enable GRC to transform its byproducts into higher value-added products.
After six months at GRC undertaking market analysis and related assessments, investment funds were not made available for execution. So, this new initiative could not be further progressed into real feed plant and livestock farms. Eventually his contract with GRC finished.
“It took me a while to align my studies with what I wanted to do in my career. I like to test out diverse opportunities and try something different”.
Finally, Piseth established a new business model for chicken farming in 2013 - locking in the whole supply chain with its own farms, slaughter house, retailing networks, etc.
He saw this integrated model development as “value-adding” to traditional methods. Unfortunately, the startup did not work out as expected, as he “did not have complete ownership of the supply component, and the capital dried up.”
“Quality control is always the hardest aspect of the supply chain approach”, he added.
Before taking his current job with JJCB, a member company of JJSEA, employing approximately 4,500 people across South East Asia, Piseth spent one-and-a-half years in Battambang with United Cambodian Agri (UCA) as a marketing manager.
Piseth stays in touch with his colleagues from the University, and he occasionally talks to his Course Coordinator in Australia; together they published his thesis.
He strongly supports the increasing importance and engagement of Australia Awards with the private sector in Cambodia.
“I wish DFAT could get more people from the private sector completing Business Administration courses, and participating in internship program for six months prior to their return. This will provide them with some practical knowledge, experiences, and skills, related to the area of their study. I think this is quite a useful preparation for them to take on the job they like when back home”.
Nevertheless, in the future, he may get involved in grass-roots development advocacy and, if the opportunity arises, and in professional development trainings that he can share his business development, management knowledges and experiences with younger generations.
Her Excellency Eat Sophea builds links with Cambodia’s neighbours
Senior Diplomat, Excellency Eat Sophea, is keen for more Cambodian women to aim for future employment that makes best use of their skills and studies – and to work consistently to achieve their career goals.
Her Excellency, who is currently Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has recently returned from Bangkok, where she spent the past three years as the Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand.
“When I was growing up, my father encouraged all of his children to aim high, whether we were girls or boys”, Excellency Sophea said.
“And I’ve also been fortunate to have a supportive husband who, from time to time, has been prepared to take family responsibility, so I could pursue my career.”
While not being a house-husband, Sophea’s husband also worked for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia and later the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.
Sophea studied her Masters in Public Policy and Administration at Flinders University in Adelaide, in 2003 and 2004.
Born in Phnom Penh, she grew up surrounded by eight siblings, and her mother – a housewife, and her father - a Civil Servant whose last career before retirement was also with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia..
Sophea has two children of her own – both girls, and now in their twenties and pursuing their own studies and careers.
In high school in Phnom Penh, Sophea did well in all subjects and enjoyed them all.
“For quite a while I wanted to be a fashion designer – until I was about 20”, she explained.
Starting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in 1985, where her role was to prepare news briefings for senior personnel and the Minister, she found that her English Language skills were quickly improving.
Until 1990, Sophea worked in the Information Bureau of the Ministry; where most linkages being established by Cambodia were with Eastern Bloc countries.
In 1994, she was posted to India, as Second Secretary to the Cambodian Embassy in New Delhi.
“The Cambodian Embassy there did not have many staff, so I found myself doing lots of different jobs… - a Jill of all trades”, she joked.
In spite of her full-time job at the Embassy and two small kids to care, Sophea managed to make herself computer literate and obtained a post graduate degree in International Law and Diplomacy. After completing her posting in India in 1997, she returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to work in the Department responsible for European Affairs.
She was soon promoted to the East Asia Desk in the Ministry’s Asia-Pacific Department, and before much longer, to Deputy Director of a Department.
Sophea went to Australia for her study without her husband, who was then working in Indonesia, and looking after their two young daughters at the same time.
“And although I missed my daughters and husband terribly, it was wonderful to experience a whole new environment in Australia and to learn about the Australian way of life.”
“Flinders is an excellent university, and Adelaide was very comfortable - and if I ever had any problems, the Australian Government would help me.”
Back in Phnom Penh in August 2004, she was appointed to the demanding job of Chief of the Minister’s Office – a position she held for almost eight year, and one which, in retrospect, she thinks may have meant being too long in the one job.
“Our neighbouring countries are very important to Cambodia”, she said. “So I was pleased when I was appointed as Ambassador to Thailand in 2014.”
Returning to Phnom Penh from Bangkok in early 2017, Sophea is not in a hurry to take up another overseas posting for a while – and is currently responsible for Central, South and East Asia and Oceania section of the Ministry, which includes Australia.
For other Cambodians considering applying for an Australia Award, she advises them to think carefully before they do.
“You may miss your family, but at least you can focus on your studies and more easily achieve your post-graduate degree objective.”
Sophea continues to use the skills, contacts and increased confidence in herself that she learned in Australia “every day” in her work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
And what has she planned for her future when she decides to eventually retire from being a diplomat?
“The idea of being a fashion designer is still at the back of my mind”, she said.
“Perhaps I could use my Award skills and my own experience to establish a fashion business that can employ Cambodians fairly, and contribute in another way to my country’s development.”
Award graduate helping to combat human trafficking
Australia Award graduate Sok Sokunthea’s “dream vision” is to set up a public-based business that offers members of a local community opportunities for working and earning money – opportunities that did not exist before.
Sokunthea, who completed his Masters in Professional and Organisational Communication, graduated from Victoria University in Melbourne, in 2015.
Born into a large family in Kampong Cham Province, he and his brothers are the only ones in a family of seven siblings who live in Phnom Penh. The others have remained in Kampong Cham with their widowed mother. Although his mother is not highly educated, she has valued education and encouraged him to move forward his education goal.
A conscientious student in primary and secondary school, Sokunthea did fairly well in all subjects but developed a love of language and literature.
Sokunthea won a scholarship for his Bachelor in Media Management at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) and the program was sponsored by the German Government. “I was pleased to get the scholarship”, he said. There were only 30 awardees selected each year. “I was one of 29 who gained a scholarship - and we had to go through three levels of very tough assessments and interview before we found out if we had succeeded.”
Later, completing his studies at RUPP, he graduated with two degrees – Bachelor in Media Management and Bachelor in Education.
After working for a few years as a Communications Officer with local and international NGO, Sokunthea had heard from a friend about the opportunity to apply for an Australia Award and decided to apply, “so I could contribute to Cambodia’s development”.
In Melbourne, Sokunthea soon experienced many “ups and downs”, but persevered and eventually gain two awards while at Victoria Uni – an “Outstanding Student” Award and a “Creativity Award” for his work with the International Students’ Association.
“I also had a great opportunity to experience an Australian workplace, when I completed an internship with an “Australian Greens” Member of the Victorian Parliament, Coleen Hartland, MP.”
Sokunthea believes that, as well as the positive outcomes from his Master’s studies in Australia, he has also gained many new skills and increased his capacity, simply because of the practical experience and demands of living, studying and working in a different country and culture.
Currently working as the Knowledge, Learning and Communications Manager for USAID’s Cambodia Countering Trafficking-in-Persons program implemented by Winrock International, Sokunthea uses his Award skills and knowledge every day. Apart from managing program’s internal and external communications, he coordinates a Behavioral Change Campaign that uses holistic approaches including IEC materials, media, and social mobilization to raise awareness and reinforce the target people particularly potential, current, and returned migrants and marginalised people to have positive attitudes and behaviors in preventing themselves from being trafficked and migrating safely.
“My boss is very supportive of me using my new skills and she encourages me to be fairly independent… I am lucky to have such a positive supervisor.”
Sokunthea is often asked for advice about living and studying in Australia, by people thinking about applying for an Australia Award – and he always answers that they should not be too individualistic.
“I say: ‘Look at the bigger picture to see how your studies can make a positive difference in Cambodia’,” he explained.
Although busy with his work with Winrock International, Sokunthea finds some time for his favourite hobbies, discussing current national and domestic issues, running a social issues blog, and even has time for the occasional game of table tennis.
Sok Sokunthea has a mobility disability. He was supported by Australia Awards Cambodia through the Equity Pathways Program (EPP), before he commenced his studies in Australia for his Australian scholarship.