Our Perspective

My volunteer experience with UNDP Cambodia opened a lot of doors for me

29 Mar 2017

image Maeve Anne Halpin (center), UN Youth Volunteer with UNV Project ‘Volunteer Caravan’ in Cambodia. As part of the project, Maeve travelled throughout Cambodia to meet with volunteers and their organizations. (UNV, Cambodia)

"Volunteering took me out of my comfort zone.” Maeve Anne Halpin, UN Youth Volunteer in Communication, Outreach and Youth served with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Her assignment was funded by Irish Aid. I had never been to South East Asia nor had I ever worked in the UN System – it was a big change for me, professionally and personally. Volunteering abroad took me out of my comfort zone. It was nerve-wracking the first couple of weeks, navigating the busy streets, meeting new faces every day, and attempting to communicate in Khmer, all while starting a new job in an unfamiliar setting. UN Volunteers are highly regarded in the United Nations system. Our assignment has a lot of responsibility. We are encouraged to take part in and organize activities related to our assignments, to motivate our UN colleagues to volunteer and to create a sense of community. For a UNV project called ‘Volunteer Caravan’, I travelled throughout Cambodia to meet with volunteers and their organizations. We discussed issues affecting volunteers, various projects the volunteers worked on, and the impact of their work. My role involved a steep learning curve as I was thrown in at  Read More

Financing Cambodia's Gender Equality Goals

07 Mar 2017


Today, as we observe the International Women’s Day, let us look back at how far we have come and look forward to how we can overcome the remaining challenges together. Cambodia has undeniably made good progresses toward its gender equality goals in several areas, in addition to the improvement of legal framework, policies, and national plans to protect and improve the status of women and girls. For instance, girls’ access to education has improved, as reflected in the sharp contrast between female youth’s literacy rate and that of the old generations born before the Khmer Rouge regime. The number of female members of parliament and female local councillors has also increased, and Cambodian women’s participation rate in the workforce is among the highest in Asia. These progresses have been made despite limited funding from both state and foreign development assistance, that has always been low compared to other sectors. For instance, an analysis of the 2014 Official Development Assistance (ODA) undertaken by UNDP, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and the Council for Development of Cambodia (CDC) reveals that out of a total ODA resource envelope of US$1.5 billion disbursed in 2014, projects with gender as a principal sector represented only  Read More

UNDP Awarded the Royal Oder of Sahametrei

10 Jan 2017

image (Photo: H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin and Nick Beresford, UNDP Cambodia's Country Director ©RathaSoy/UNDPCambodia)

UNDP was awarded the Royal Order of Sahametrei, Tepidin Class (Commander of the Order) from the Royal Government of Cambodia for its major effort to the country’s environmental conservation and protection. The Order was founded by the late King Norodom Sihanouk in 1948. It is the highest ranking medal conferred to foreigners for their distinguished service to Cambodia. Cambodia is undergoing impressive and rapid development; environmental protection and natural resource management have become indispensable for sustainable development. Over the past two decades, UNDP has been actively engaging with Cambodia’s government agencies, development partners, and civil society organizations in building institutional and legal framework for environment, climate change response, and biodiversity conservation (read more details here). During the 1990s, UNDP was one of the first few partners supporting climate change actions. It began with the support to Climate Change Office/Ministry of Environment (currently known as Department of Climate Change/National Council for Sustainable Development) in building technical capacity and raising awareness of climate change. Since then, UNDP has been working with MoE through valuable financial support from development partners such as the EU and Embassy of Sweden in response to climate change. One of the significant achievements was the formulation of the national  Read More

Creating an inclusive and equitable society for persons with disabilities

02 Dec 2016


  According to the 2014 Cambodia Demographic Health Survey, 9.5% of the Cambodian population experiences at least some degree of difficulty in performing basic functions while 2.1% experience major difficulties and cannot perform basic functions. This figure is consistent with the World Health Organization’s World Report on Disability (15% of the world’s population are living with some form of disability with prevalence rates predicted to increase due to aging populations and increases in non-communicable disease). Persons with disabilities face multiple challenges such as inequality and discrimination in access to education, healthcare services, social and economic social justice, political participation as well as being particularly vulnerable to violence and other violations.  With a predominantly Buddhist population, it is often thought that disability is seen as a result of a sin in a past life. There are however, other cultural norms that impact on people’s perception of disability. Cambodian women with disabilities experience multiple disadvantages resulting from the interplay between gender, disability and poverty. They experience almost five times higher rates of emotional, physical and sexual violence by household members (other than partners). They are considered less valuable and more burdensome within the household and 2.5 times more likely to require permission from  Read More

Escaping the 'Middle Income Trap' by Investing in Human Capital

01 Aug 2016

image (Photo: ©FaniLlaurado/UNDP Cambodia)

Investing in people has essential and direct implications on meeting development challenges now and in the future. In the absence of people’s ability and adaptability, physical assets such as land, capital and other endowments, are not enough to drive economic growth and sustain livelihoods. Investment in education, skills and health, perhaps defined as spending on human capital, is important for a country's sustainable and inclusive growth as it improves citizens’ participation in socio-economic activities. Well-educated and trained citizens would then act capably in their individual, parental, community, and work lives. Cambodia’s policymakers have increasingly recognized the importance of human capital development for inclusive growth and building resilience. The proof is in the recent education reform drive and the doubling of education and health expenditures as a percent of total government expenditure in the current National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP, 2014-2018). Currently, by looking at the education participation ratios, in Cambodia human capital endowment is extremely low justifying government interventions. The Cambodian Government’s commitments in education and health development is yet to be seen in terms of inputs (financial and human) and results by the end of the current national plan. Education, particularly basic nine years’ schooling plays a key role in  Read More

Development finance: how much does Cambodia need and where will it come from?

17 Jul 2016

image Meeting between UNDP and Development Partners (Photo: ©UNDP Cambodia)

Cambodia has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies over the last decade. This growth has been translated into reduced levels of poverty and impressive progress towards reaching the Cambodia Millennium Development Goals (CMDGs). Average annual incomes now exceed US$1,000 per person. CMDG Goal 1: The number of people living in poverty has fallen from 55% in 1990 to 18% in 2013 as seen in the attached Graph 1 (Source: World Bank).  The World Bank has recently upgraded Cambodia’s economic status to Lower-Middle Income group. How then, will the transition affect its access to development finance, particularly as Official Development Assistance (ODA) declines? As Cambodia is presented with new opportunities from regional integration and prepares to take on new challenges, such as the implementation of its new Industrial Development Policy, where will financing come from? To find the answers, it is important to reflect on the wider development landscape over the last decade. For one, many other developing countries have moved into the Middle Income group over the last 20 years and are now expected to mobilize more of their own domestic resources to support socio-economic development and improve public service delivery. Cambodia's domestic revenue has now reached 18% of  Read More

Leaving UNDP in Cambodia on the right pathway to relevance

06 Jul 2016


As it often happens in our work, we familiarize ourselves with relevant data on the country we are going to work in when we are assigned to a new UNDP office operations. Amidst the impressive accounts I read about Cambodia prior to my arrival, I only came to appreciate the profound economic and social transformation the country had gone through once I arrived. Economic performance had positive statistics telling of an average GDP growth of 8.2% between 2000-2010, and 7.4% from 2011-2013.  Cambodia is home to people where 65% of its population are under the age of 30 and will remain so until 2038, creating an unprecedented demographic dividend. Given these premises, I was eager to see for myself the world’s 15th fastest growing economy perform during the period of my stay. Most importantly, I was interested to see how UNDP would contribute to make this growth more inclusive and more conducive to human development. As we know, while poverty may decline in absolute terms, it is seriously challenged by a wide range of vulnerability threats. These can come through shocks embedded within a narrowly based economic structure, through climate change or climate-induced calamities, and within an unfinished agenda over the  Read More

Water: Fewer Drops for Increasing Different Demands

22 Apr 2016

image (Photo: ©UNDP Cambodia)

In the Royal Government of Cambodia’s ‘Policy Document on Promotion of Paddy Rice Production and Export of Milled Rice,’ rice is referred to as “white gold.” This is due to the role of rice in economic growth, poverty reduction and improved livelihoods of the Cambodian people. But the term ‘gold’ should also be used for another important resource in Cambodia — water. Water is central to agricultural production including paddy rice, through the expansion of irrigation. Water also plays a key role in the energy sector in Cambodia through hydropower development. Therefore, it is fairly sensible to regard water as “liquid gold.” Currently, over six million people in Cambodia do not have access to grid-quality electricity. The government aims to provide electricity to all villages by 2020 and to 70% of all rural households by 2030. To realize this goal, Cambodia must diversify its energy sources to include renewable energy. Hydropower is a cornerstone of Cambodia’s renewable energy development. Being a water-rich nation, Cambodia is blessed with hydropower potential, which if fully exploited, this naturally extracted power could fulfill the electricity demand of its population. However, by making energy development a top priority, investments in building hydropower dams are seen to  Read More

Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality! Voices from the field: investing in women in farming

08 Mar 2016

image (Photo: ©UNDP Cambodia)

Today, March 8, the world  observes the International Women’s Day under a global theme, Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality. Planet 50-50 is a time-bound goal in which women and girls have equal rights and opportunities by 2030 At the 2015 ‘Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen made a national commitment to end gender inequalities by increasing investments in gender equality, ensuring the protection of women’s rights and their equal participation in decision making, strengthening accountability mechanisms for gender equality, and promoting women’s involvement in the economy. What does this commitment mean for women from family farms? Family farm remains a core agricultural production unit in Cambodia which has about 82 per cent of its population living in rural areas and close to 71 per cent engaging in agriculture for their livelihoods. While there are almost equal numbers of men and women in the agricultural population, the national data records more men taking up the leading position in agricultural households and farming. According to a report by the National Institute of Statistic that bases its analysis on the latest General Population Census, men lead 80 per cent of agricultural  Read More

Supporting inclusive and sustainable economic growth in Cambodia

27 Jan 2016

image Photo: ©ILO Better Factory

Cambodia has made great progress in economic growth, poverty reduction and human development and is poised to become a Middle Income Country (MIC) soon, and aims to achieve Upper MIC status by 2030. The ongoing challenge is that a significant proportion of the population remains vulnerable to slipping back to poverty. While labor participation is high and the employment-to-population rate in Cambodia is among the highest in the world, if this vulnerability is to be addressed, there is a need to expand opportunities for decent employment particularly for women. To these ends, there are a range of challenges that UNDP is collaborating with Royal Government of Cambodia to address. One challenge is improving incentives to invest in human capital. Completion rates at lower secondary education are too low if Cambodia is to take advantage of its demographic dividend. Households spend far too little on education given that private returns, while not negative, have steadily been declining. Moreover, because of the Khmer Rouge period, Cambodia does not have the critical mass of middle-aged parents that can finance the education of the youth. While the current reforms in the education sector are vitally necessary, these must be complemented by larger economic reforms. The  Read More