Remarks by Ambassador-Designate William Heidt at the BarCamp Phnom Penh 2015: Get Ready for ASEAN Integration

(As Prepared for Delivery)
Institute de Technologie du Cambodge (ITC), Cambodia
October 24, 2015

Your Excellency Touch Visalsok, Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport
Dr. Thavarith Chunhieng,Vice Director, Institute of Technology of Cambodia
Mr. Chantra Be, BarCamp organizer and representative from Development Innovations
Mr. Niek Van Venn, Director of Marketing for Cellcard
Mr. Sami Kizibash, Developer Relations Program Manager for South and Southeast Asia for Google
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

Good morning and welcome to BarCamp Phnom Penh 2015! I am so excited to be here this morning. I would like to start by recognizing the organizers of this event who have worked so hard to make this BarCamp happen. I also want to thank the other sponsors including Development Innovations, Cellcard, Google, the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, as well as all of the other private sector, civil society, and media partners who are too many to name. Your Excellency Touch Visalsok, thank you for your continued leadership in preparing Cambodia’s youth for ASEAN integration and beyond.

As many of you know, I recently returned to Cambodia after serving here 15 years ago, and I am amazed at all the changes. Perhaps the most exciting change I have seen is Cambodia’s growing open economy that is fostering innovations that are helping the country move up the technology ladder. One of the reasons why I am so excited to be here is because technology, whether it is mobile, internet, or social media, has become such an integral part of our daily lives. At this moment, how many of you are carrying one or more mobile devices? How many of you could imagine leaving home without one? Technology combined with creativity and innovation can be powerful enablers of ASEAN integration. In fact, each day we see examples of how young Cambodians are using technology to solve problems and to shape the future of their country.

Broadband connectivity has become a key driver of sustainable economic development around the world. The Internet is a powerful tool to support the open exchange of ideas, communications, and commerce, all of which are key components of economic growth. However, the Internet can only be an engine for inclusive growth if it is available, accessible, and affordable for everyone, and open Internet policies are put in place to promote the private sector’s ability to operate efficiently. Take Vanna Kruy, for example. Vanna is a young software developer who was frustrated by the difficulties that he and other Cambodians faced in communicating online in their native language. Most smartphone software did not provide easy-to-use support for Khmer, and the few applications that did exist were hard to use and unreliable. Last year Vanna set out to develop an app that would rectify the problem. He began by joining USAID’s Development Innovations Lab in order link up with other technologists and social innovators who ultimately helped him with writing, coding, and video editing needed to raise funds for development of the app. Due to a grant from Development Innovations to his company, Alien Dev, with matching funds raised through a crowd funding campaign, Vanna was able to further refine a user-friendly Khmer Keyboard. Today this amazing app dramatically improves typing speed in Khmer, helping hundreds of thousands of Cambodians easily express themselves and providing them with a voice online. This is just one example of how young Cambodians like Vanna are contributing to the development of this great country. Let’s give Vanna a hand! Don’t forget to download the Khmer Smart Keyboard app so you can more easily comment in Khmer on the Embassy Facebook page!

Technology is a tool in which the incredible young people of ASEAN and globally can collaborate with each other to address some of the most significant challenges facing the region. In addition to participating in events such as BarCamp, I encourage you all to seek out other opportunities to channel and amplify your creativity and ambition. One such opportunity is the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI. YSEALI was launched in 2013 by President Barack Obama to support ASEAN youth between the ages of 18 and 35 years old who care about economic development, the environment, education, and civic engagement in Southeast Asia. YSEALI members have exclusive access to amazing opportunities including networking, seed money for projects, and even the opportunity to travel in the region and to the United States. Two Cambodian YSEALI members even got to meet President Obama earlier this year. We will have a number of new events coming up this year and in 2016, including an education-themed workshop in Bangkok in December. The only way to access these opportunities is to sign up so I urge everyone here to register online if you haven’t already.

As Cambodians continue to prepare for ASEAN integration, it will also be important to learn from successful companies like Cellcard and Google that have been able to adapt to changing technology landscapes, markets, and customer needs. Engaging with and learning from companies like these can help Cambodia to be even more competitive in an increasingly integrated and interconnected environment.

I wish everyone continued success as you work to prepare for ASEAN integration by networking with and learning from tech savvy individuals and organizations and private sector partners. One of my favorite Cambodian proverbs is: “Tok Tok Penh Bompon” (Literally translates to: “Drop after drop, a bamboo tube fills.”), which means that patience and perseverance pay off over time. Big changes do not necessarily happen overnight, but know that the work that each of you do every day – the progress you make – is contributing to an even more productive and successful Cambodia for generations to come. Thank you and have a great time at BarCamp!