Phnom Penh City/Photo: Manuth Buth/UNDP Cambodia

A Quick Glance

Cambodia continues to  modernize, with its economy shifting from an agricultural base towards industry and services and its economic performance translating into poverty reduction rapidly. As the country aims for upper-middle-income country status, it faces critical challenges, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure this growth continues and results in shared prosperity, environmental preservation and improved governance.

The ‘Policy and Innovation Hub for Sustainable Development’ aims to assist Cambodia in attaining these sustainable growth aspirations. The project supports the preparation of a national plan that integrates the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, development of policy research, expands the base for development financing, and promotes innovative solutions across three pillars of UNDP’s Country Programme 2019-23: prosperity (inclusive and sustainable growth), planet (environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation) and peace (opportunities for all to contribute to and benefit from Cambodia’s transformation). It further supports government policies and innovative measures that can respond to the new challenges presented by COVID-19 in order to build resilience during and after the pandemic.

Key areas of intervention include driving improved productivity and competitiveness through research and policy work on the national development plan, human development, Industry 4.0 and pilot initiatives to digitalize small and medium enterprises; combating inequality and eradicating poverty through gender research and social protection models; tackling climate risks and sustaining Cambodia’s natural resources and biodiversity through policy and programming support and sustainable financing;  promoting green growth through research and policy support for a circular economy and renewable energy; creating space for accountability and civic participation through support to monitoring and reporting of the National Strategic Development Plan and CSDGs, development financing, building social cohesion, gender-inclusive policy and alternative media; and building resilience in the face of COVID-19 through policy support and COVID-19 socio-economic response initiatives. 

Project Focus

The project focuses on the following results:

·    Formulating government policies and innovative measures/initiatives in support of sustainable and inclusive development;

·    Developing government policies and innovative measures/initiatives in support of the preservation of national environmental endowment and combating climate change;

·    Formulating policies and innovative measures/initiatives to foster greater participation and accountability;

·    Supporting government policies and innovative measures/initiatives to respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to build back better; and

·    Initiating small-scale pilots to drive digital transformation and e-commerce uptake to support resilient livelihoods and sustainable economic activities.

Project Results From 2019-2020

Supporting Inclusive and Sustainable Growth:

Since 2019, the Policy and Innovation Hub has provided important policy support, research and advocacy to encourage Cambodia’s more inclusive and sustainable growth. This has included support towards the development of Cambodia’s National Strategic Development Plan 2019-2023, which ensured the integration and monitoring of the Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals (CSDGs) into policymaking. Under the project, new funding was received from the Joint SDG Fund to develop an Integrated National Financing Framework for Cambodia that can support the achievement of the CSDGs using innovative financing options.

A social protection scheme that pilots a poverty graduation package, comprised of assets in addition to cash, for poor and vulnerable populations was developed through the project in 2019 and secured funding from the Russian Federation for its implementation. Key policy research has also been conducted through the project, including the 2020 Meeting the Costs and Maximizing the Impact of Social Protection in Cambodia report, which estimates the cost of implementing a comprehensive system of social safety nets to address economic inequality and exclusion. The findings provided empirical evidence of the affordability and efficiency of tailored social protection interventions for the Royal Government of Cambodia. In addition, the pilot aims to generate evidence to demonstrate the actual implementation of the model and delivery mechanism for potential adoption in the national social protection programme.

The Hub has further supported Cambodia’s policymakers and the next generation of workers and industry in the transition towards Industry 4.0, with the Adaptation and Adoption of Industry 4.0 in Cambodia scoping report published in 2019 and the establishment of two Industry 4.0 centres of excellence and a digital economy lab set up at one of Cambodia’s prominent universities. These initiatives are critical to prepare youth for the future of work and to increase industrial value-added, diversify exports and strengthen small and medium enterprises.

Two policy dialogues were held through the project’s support in 2019 to stimulate conversations on the Belt and Road Initiative, economic diversification and sustainable development among policymakers, development professionals and academia.

Enhancing Environmental Protection and Combatting Climate Change:

To support the preservation of Cambodia’s natural resources and combat climate change, the National Human Development Report Sustaining Natural Resources for All was developed through the project in 2019, providing key recommendations for national planning to manage resources more effectively. Actioning one of the report’s recommendations, the Hub worked with Cambodia’s Forestry Administration to launch the digital platform KjuonGo, which supports the production of sustainable charcoal to reduce forest pressure from the demand for wood fuel. KjuonGo was piloted in five community forests, where 10 hectares of land was also reforested with the project’s support. The government took up additional recommendations from the report through initiatives covering payment for ecosystem services, sustainable financing and an environmental management and information system for Cambodia.

Through research and advocacy efforts with policymakers on the transition towards a circular economy, the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) established a special task force on plastic and adopted a “4Rs” framework (Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle) to lead plastic reduction action within the ministry.  At the municipal level, a circular economy model was incorporated into the municipality of Kep’s 3-year rolling plan in 2020 as a pilot initiative. The project also supported formulation and funding for new initiatives to tackle waste in Cambodia, including the Combatting Marine Plastic Litter in Cambodia project funded by the Embassy of Japan and a regional initiative to manage COVID-19 medical waste with support from China’s South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund.

The project has developed many key knowledge products to support the uptake of renewable energy and promote energy efficiency. In 2019, the De-risking Renewable Energy Investment Report was prepared in collaboration with the MoE and NCSD, making the case that de-risking measures are cost-efficient and the economic benefits outweigh their costs. To support more widespread understanding and uptake of renewable energy and energy efficient practices, accessible booklets on solar energy and energy efficiency were developed and released with the Hub’s support. The policy brief Building Energy Regulations – Accelerating Low-carbon Development in Cambodia was published in 2020 to provide policymakers insight into fostering green growth in the buildings and construction sector.

A series of pilot programmes have been tested to support the transition towards renewable energy. In 2019, the project worked with EnergyLab Cambodia on the development of small scale, low-cost and innovative clean energy solutions. The Clean Energy and Agriculture Incubator Programme was launched to pre-incubate 10 business ideas, four of which were selected for an incubation programme by an investment committee. In 2020, the project went on to finance the piloting of solar micro-grids, reaching three hard-to-reach villages and providing 140 households with access to electricity.

Fostering Peace, Participation and Accountability:

The Hub has engaged in significant advocacy efforts for inclusivity in access to social security programmes since 2019. This has supported the inclusion of persons with disabilities and the development of an HIV-sensitive screening process for IDPoor cards, which give citizens access to Cambodia’s social security programmes. From 2019-2020, 5,452 persons living with HIV and 2,554 persons with disabilities were able to access IDPoor cards through these efforts.

The project also supported Cambodia’s first Voluntary National Review in 2019 on its SDG advancement and a progress report on the CSDGs in 2020. To actively engage citizens in the achievement of the CSDGs, a new public platform was launched in 2020 with support from the UNDP Accelerator Labs. Five projects were selected through the platform in 2020 to receive grant funds to expand their innovative ideas.

The Hub has further advanced policy research for gender equality and women’s empowerment, with a gender wage gap analysis completed for the Cambodia Gender Economic Assessment in 2019. It has also encouraged participation through building sustainable, alternative media channels. Three media labs were held from 2019-2020 to cultivate space for discussions around media sustainability, freedom of expression and civic participation in digital spaces. An alternative media business challenge that was launched to accelerate five women-led start-ups saw all of the participating businesses report growth in their first six months of the programme.

Building Resiliency During and Beyond COVID-19:

In response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNDP created a portfolio of work under the Policy and Innovation Hub to address the immediate challenges presented by COVID-19 and the opportunity to build back better.

Supporting the most vulnerable through emergency support, social protection programming and economic opportunities:

The project undertook comprehensive modelling of COVID-19’s socioeconomic impact, which was published in a policy brief to support the Royal Government of Cambodia’s development of an inclusive economic stimulus package. The package, comprised of around 4.3% of GDP, allocated 40% of total funding to support the most affected and vulnerable. It further supported the development of an emergency social protection framework for the Royal Government of Cambodia to roll out cash transfers to poor households by providing 1,700 tablets to digitally register IDPoor households. Through the programme, 674,146 poor and newly poor households gained access to  emergency cash transfers.

To generate evidence on the pandemic’s impact on the most vulnerable, survey research on the impact of COVID-19 on MSMEs and informal sector workers was undertaken and made available online with the support of the UNDP Accelerator Labs. As one of the most affected groups, 600 informal waste collectors, including 473 women, received personal protective equipment and food as emergency support. An onboarding programme was also launched to support 1,000 MSMEs to join existing e-marketplace platforms to build the resilience of their businesses during the pandemic and as the digital economy expands. In addition, 1,200 farmers were onboarded onto an agri-tech platform to enhance their productivity and profitability through access to trade credit, real-time information flows on market conditions, and data for yield forecasting and risk management.

The Hub also supported the development of sanitary protocol and supply of sanitary equipment to the General Department of Customs and Excise to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while facilitating the continuation of cross-border trade.

Building a green recovery path from COVID-19:

The project mobilized the new funding through UNDP's Rapid Financing Facility in 2020, which includes environmental initiatives that will support Cambodia’s undertaking of a green recovery from COVID-19. These include the development of innovative solutions to manage and reduce waste produced by plastic consumption in the shift towards e-commerce during COVID-19, along with the development of environmentally sustainable policy options and the piloting of low-cost renewable energy solutions, including the expansion of mini-grids in Ratanakiri province to reach four indigenous communities.

Promoting solidarity, social cohesion and the flow of accurate information through alternative media:

In response to the threat of prevalent misinformation and stigmatization during the pandemic, the project engaged a range of social media influencers and media start-ups to produce fact-based messaging and to promote solidarity. One million people were reached within the first two weeks of the pandemic through the project’s campaigns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, and a media collective was funded to support start-ups with the ability to reach niche communities.

With parallel support from the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre, an assessment of information pollution in the context of COVID-19 was completed. The research revealed the most often consumed information sources, how Cambodians discern between credible and non-credible information, and key means to address disinformation.

Project Duration: January 2019 – December 2023
Target Area: Nationwide
Funding/Total Budget:  USD 13,217,673
Fund Sources: UNDP (Core, Country Investment Facility, Rapid Response Facility, Rapid Financing Facility), The World Bank, British Embassy, MPTF Joint SDG Fund, Interest Fund, Worldbridge, Ministry of Commerce, and Khmer Enterprise


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