His Excellency Dr. Kann Chanmeta, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology, and Innovation

Mr. Seang Sopagna, President of Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia,  

Representatives from Development Partners, Distinguished Guests, and Entrepreneurs,

I am pleased to participate at this closing ceremony of 2021 Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Allow me to congratulate the  Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia (YEAC), the government, and development partners, for your commitment and efforts this year to upgrade youth entrepreneurship skills and support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to adjust their business model to the new normal of the COVID-19 crisis. I am glad that this event does not take place only here in the capital Phnom Penh, but in 17 other provinces, including Sihanouk, Kampot, Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampong Cham, which are strategic locations to develop and improve MSMEs and to create jobs for young Cambodians. These events are vital to create awareness, partnerships and networks for the development of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, and build an inclusive growth engine to boost the realization of the Cambodia Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

As you know, the COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on socio-economic progress in Cambodia. This has resulted in an unprecedented increase in the unemployment rate to 4.8%[1] and the loss of more than 50,000[2] jobs in the tourism sector alone in 2020.

Working women have been disproportionately affected due to their higher participation in the garment and tourism industries[3]. As you know, women play a  significant role in MSMEs. They own 61% of MSMEs. According to a 2020 survey by the Women’s Entrepreneur Association of Cambodia, 59%[4] of woman-owned enterprises were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have a task at hand to turn the crisis into opportunity, to lay the building blocks during the COVID-19 recovery phase for an inclusive, green and resilient future. To realize the country’s 2030 and 2050 visions of becoming a high-middle income and graduating to a high-income country, Cambodia would need to upgrade its workforce skills and maximize its youth dividend, accelerate digital transformation, and diversify its economy in the direction of green and low-carbon production, to develop its competitive edge in one of the most dynamic regions in the world. Cambodia’s MSMEs sector and young workforce offer so much opportunity to realize these ambitions.

Some of the measures taken by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) in addressing the socio-economic fallout of the pandemic are creditable, including the efforts to strengthen the health system, provide support for workers, and quickly expand its social protection benefits to poor and vulnerable households. We also command recent measures to introduce online business registration platforms, policy and regulations support, and financing and tax measures, to support business recovery and expansion.

The theme of this year’s Entrepreneur Week of placing “Businesses in the new normal for Digital Economy: Digital Platforms and Talents” connects us very well to the realities on the ground, and how we should approach the challenge of digitalization. Digital transformation is a must for competitivenes in gloal and regional trade systems; it is a prerequisite for stimulating the national economy; by facilitating cost-efficiencies in production, marketing and logistics, creating employment, empowering individuals, and spurring innovation and technology transfer. But it also carries the risk of widening pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities that have been heightened by the pandemic not just in Cambodia, but globally.

Studies show that adopting digital technologies helps MSMEs to realize productivity improvements, expand market access, and build a foundation for further digital integration into their business models. When failing to integrate some of these digital technologies, MSMEs are less likely to thrive in a business environment disrupted by a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. A skilled workforce and digital literacy are crucial for the success of MSMEs’ digital adoption and integration in the digital economy.

A recent UNDP assessment[5] indicates that more Cambodian young people have access to smartphones, computers and internet connectivity, regardless of where they live. The downside is that the level of digital skills remains low, with the average digital literacy score being between 47 and 51 percentage points. Rural and female youth have a lower digital literacy level than their counterparts, leaving them with employment disadvantages from the outset.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, partners and colleagues;

Recognizing the important role of a skilled workforce and MSMEs as drivers for economic recovery post-COVID, UNDP has forged strategic partnerships with the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Khmer Enterprise, and the Ministry of Labour and Vocation Training to support a number of initiatives for accelerating the recovery and growth of MSMEs through removing key barriers to the adoption of digital solutions, e-commerce, and exports. In 2021, these programmes have helped up to 100,000 youth access job information, 500 workers affected by the pandemic to secure employment, and more than 500,000 MSMEs and 2,500 young entrepreneurs, both women and men, to transition to digital ways of doing business, including those from key province such as Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong Cham provinces.

UNDP has worked with relevant ministries, in particular the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPTC), and the Cambodia Academy of Digital Skills (CADT), local partners, and Cambridge Industrial Innovation Policy experts, to assess the country’s core I4.0 readiness and digital skills infrastructure.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, partners and colleagues;

In conclusion, we need to act collectively and faster to help Cambodia and its young workforce to prepare for a future driven by digital transformation, and green and low-carbon growth, and to ensure that technologies and innovations are also accessible to the vulnerable and marginalized. It is not just an issue of technology. By their very nature, technological revolutions are also highly disruptive. Policies and actions need to be accelerated to ensure benefits-sharing of digital and Industry 4.0 technologies, and its contribution to realization of the Cambodia SDGs, as well as competitive positioning in ASEAN.

To end my remarks, I would like to sincerely thank our partners and colleagues for their commitment and leadership to prepare Cambodia’s businesses and workforce to fully integrate and benefit from a digital, greener, more resilient and inclusive economy.

Orkun Chroeun!

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[1] COVID-19 Economic and Social Impact Assessment in Cambodia (2020), UNDP

[2] the Tourism Ministry’s Statistics and Planning Department, 2020

[3] COVID-19 Economic and Social Impact Assessment in Cambodia (2021), UNDP

[4] WEAC Survey 2020; and 61% of all MSMEs in Cambodia owned by woman, IFC Report 2019.

[5] Digital literacy skill assessment among Cambodian youths, UNDP, September 2020.

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