Your Excellencies, distinguished representatives of the Cambodian government, fellow members of the diplomatic corps, members of the private sector, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming! I also want to thank my wife, Angeline, for joining me here tonight, along with my Embassy colleagues, whose hard work made this unique event possible.
The Ambassador and Sotie send their regrets as they are on a personal trip to the United States. I know they wanted to be here tonight.
I would also like to thank our 25 very generous sponsors who have supported this innovative event. I can’t mention all of them, but I encourage you to look at our banners to see who has contributed. Many are serving their delicious products – including the dessert floor upstairs — and offering services, such as Grab, to take you home tonight. But you can’t take the Ford Mustang. Sorry about that.
As you may notice, our Embassy’s celebration of America’s 242nd Independence Day is different this year. For one thing, it’s a little early. I understand that there’s an election coming up next month, and we thought that moving it forward might just be best for everyone.
For another, we’re in a brewery rather than a hotel ballroom. I have to confess I’m thrilled to be around so much excellent beer! As some of you may know, Hops used to be a part of the rambling Embassy compound before we moved into our beautiful facility at Wat Phnom. In fact, the place where we are serving food tonight used to be our motorpool garage! Hops is making much better use of this space than we did.
We’re also emphasizing a more casual celebration this year – something more like the way Independence Day is celebrated in backyard cookouts throughout the United States. As for our theme, we are highlighting something near and dear to our hearts, and our nation’s progress – innovation. All around you tonight you’ll see examples of our national focus on innovation, in the fields of science, technology, business, and the arts.
Why innovation? Because we believe this concept is at the core of the American spirit. But also because we believe the spirit of innovation is animating our Cambodian friends as you diversify your economy, seek out greater educational opportunities, and make space for yourselves on the world stage – to create a brighter, more successful, more just future for yourselves.
Innovation, however, does not always come easily, and the journey to success involves both tenacity and grit. The United States has long embraced such risks, and the people who take them, whether it is Henry Ford – one of the first people to create an assembly line – or Steve Jobs, who has truly altered the role of technology in our lives. But great ideas – and the ability to deploy them – need a good ecosystem and key public goods to come to life. Government can help provide this by ensuring that entrepreneurs and other creators have the education, infrastructure, policies, and the freedom that allow their dreams to come to life. Cambodia is already choosing to make these investments today. For example, the government is trying to re-invent education through its New Generation School system that incorporates greater autonomy, better technology and more parent involvement.
But innovation is ultimately not just about creating an enabling environment; it’s about persistence, creativity, and passion– all characteristics that I have seen aptly describe Cambodia’s people.
Just one example: We’re proud that last year we sent seven Cambodians on an exchange program to the United States where they visited Silicon Valley and met and brainstormed with other entrepreneurs. These Cambodian innovators are now developing apps that will help travelers in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand book transportation; find ways to finance startups; and spur the growth of digital animation studios. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it doesn’t happen alone. It happens when people with skills and dreams have the chance to interact.
Cambodia already is known as a cradle of innovation. The temples of Angkor Wat represent a high point of human achievement, using engineering and design techniques that would be hard to replicate even today. This same innovative spirit flowed through Vann Molyvann, one of the worlds’ great architects. And then there’s the creative energy of Sinn Sisamouth who gave Cambodia, and the world, his unique form of rock ‘n’ roll.
This affinity for innovation is one of our greatest shared values and remains at the heart of our best partnerships. Supporting innovation, science and technology, and research will remain central to our programs and partnerships in Cambodia.
Next month, America will be 242 years old. But like many of the innovative companies today in Cambodia, the United States too was a startup back then – inventing a system of government that had never been attempted. Sure, we stole ideas from earlier thinkers, but what we came up with – our Constitution, our separation of powers, and in our institutions – was original, and still relevant today. We were true 18th century disrupters, forging forward with an experiment that might not have worked – but did. Certainly, we had flaws then, and we still have flaws today. However, over the last few centuries, our people have regularly revitalized the democratic processes that continue to lead us forward. The involvement of ordinary people, providing constant feedback on the way we are governed has given us resilience – and the hope that our nation can continue to innovate, adapt, and thrive for centuries more.
So, tonight we will be little less formal, and a little smaller. And maybe – just maybe – a little more fun. Please join me in lifting a glass of beer – or some other drink if necessary – to toast the spirit of innovation, in all our countries. Cheers, and Happy Independence Day. May the force be with you!