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Phnom Penh - DDD Bridging The Gap of Have and Have Nots
Looking up to the future in CAMBODIA Digital Divide Data's general manager Nhev Sithsophary (L), Iv Sovannary, staff supervisor; Rotha Khive, key employee; Jeremy Hockenstein, cofounder - NR photo

 

James Loving National Radio Text Service

 

A nonprofit organization organized to create technology-related jobs for those who have not - New businesses that involve the Internet are emerging in Cambodia providing jobs for some of its 11 million people. One such company Digital Divide Data (DDD) was created to bridge the digital gap. It is a situation where the DDD haves are bringing work opportunities to the have not Khmers

 

Monday April 8, 2002

Cambodia's Internet explosion this past year has enabled new opportunities for its people. New businesses that involve the Internet are emerging in the nation providing jobs for some of its 11 million people.

More importantly foreign ventures are emerging and utilizing the Khmers interest in education and the Internet. That recognition has enabled one such company Digital Divide Data (DDD) to be created. It is a situation where the haves are bringing opportunities to the have not Khmers.

Harvard and MIT educated Jeremy Hockenstein helped form Follow Your Dreams (FYD) with its President Kathryn Lucatelli. FYD is a nonprofit organization organized to create technology-related jobs for those who have not. DDD was the first project derived from that endeavor; in effect they were positioned as the haves.

Technology is just a part of the DDD story and the way it came about.

The seed that helped germinate its creation was when a friend of cofounder Hockenstein recommended that since he was traveling in Asia he should see Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap. Hockenstein saw what he came to see but he saw more.

"Angkor Wat was impressive but… what was more striking to me was the (Cambodian) people and their real dedication to creating better futures," he said. "It was just very clear that… people were working so hard here, harder than I've ever worked, that with some of the connections and friends that I have that we could help to bring some work to people here who were striving so hard within their context of learning English and computers but… didn't have the capacity to find work from it."


Jeremy Hockenstein

 

Hockenstein returned to the United States and assembled a group of five young entrepreneurs that included Lucatelli and the to be DDD President Tim Keller who possessed the same ambition.

"We wanted to contribute our business skills for a social mission," said Hockenstein.

Keller had visited Cambodia prior to Hockenstein. He enjoyed it so much that he intended to move there. His intentions helped set the DDD plan into place.

"I was thinking about moving to Cambodia," said Keller. "Then we looked at it from a business angle. There are a lot of things going for Cambodia now. There is political stability, labor costs are still low but labor standards are very high, there are good labor laws.

"Technology is here, that was a big thing for us. We really could not exist without Telesurf (wireless service to the Internet). Those were some of the big factors (in addition to) all the computer schools and English schools on every corner… perfect for us,"

Hockenstein and his executive partners/team came to Cambodia in February 2001 to see what needed to be done to launch the company. They spent a month and a have brainstorming with NGO's, government officials and King Sihanouk.

In their research and observations they recognized the problems of the disabled finding work opportunities. There are estimates that 300,000 Cambodians are disabled. Many being landmine victims from the nations nightmarish past. DDD decided to do something about it.

"Once we created these jobs (we found) that there were so many people who have needs here it was hard for us to sort it out," Hockenstein noted. "We thought that once we were at it and we were doing this in both a philanthropic as well as a business perspective, we might as well see if we could help the most disadvantaged in the country."

DDD developed a relationship with two local NGO's, CVCD and Wat Tan who supplied many of the DDD employees.

"Wat Tan is a training program for polio and landmine victims," Hockenstein pointed out. "Twelve of the original twenty people we hired came from Wat Tan. Most are amputees who have graduated from that program.

"The rest of the workers have come from CVCD which provides English and computer lessons for some of the poorest of Cambodians who wouldn't have access to the regular private English and computer schools.

"We felt that since once we were creating 30-50 jobs we might as well see if we could direct them to some of the most needy.


Tim Keller

 

Keller elaborated, "There are so many individuals who are physically disabled or human trafficked or orphaned, and it's even harder for them to get a job. It's a rough job market.

"In particular, universities won't even admit individuals with missing limbs or things like that, for whatever reason. So basically once we heard that we said, hey there is no reason why they can't do data entry. Because there was an ample labor pool we decided to focus on this specifically.

DDD opened their doors for business July 2001 just eight months after the idea was first conceived. Their first project was to enter the 1873-1899 editions of the Harvard Crimson newspaper into a database.

Computer spell checking technology enabled DDD to hire non-English speaking employees. Lucatelli found that their employee's interest in learning English was a high priority.

"The greatest need that people verbalize is their desire to become fluent in English," she said. This is something that they keep saying over and over again. This is a big hope of theirs, that they want to improve their English."

To help them develop DDD offers English language classes. They also provide their staff with health insurance, above average salaries for entry-level data entry positions. The additional perk is DDD offers their employees reduced working hours.

Some DDD employees come from backgrounds where they have worked 10 hours a day six days a week for US-$45 a month in a garment factory. When DDD launched they paid their entry level staff $50 a month for a six hour day, six day work week. They have since increased salaries to $60 a month.

To those employees the DDD job translates roughly into a 144-hour work month compared to 240 hours that they previously endured for the same period. Now they have more free time to pursue continued education, help their families or simply enjoy life. DDD employees now have more choices.


Kathryn Lucatelli

 

Since Lucatelli joined Keller in November 2001 at DDD's Phnom Penh office she recognized some employee needs.

"The things that I think are great needs are exposing people to more people possibilities, she noted. "In Digital Divide Data we are really trying to help people further their education and to think about their future and to identify goals that they want to strive for.

"In talking to people, those goals they have identified are pretty limited in scope….which is natural because that's all that (they) have been exposed to. There are very limited options.

"We've set up programs where we get speakers to come in where they talk about their jobs that they currently have or talk about things that will open up peoples perspective that will have them thinking about the future in different ways."

DDD employees with physical handicaps have returned to NGO's that gave them training. They helped raise hope for opportunities for those now in training that it can pay off with the benefit of obtaining a decent job.

Lucatelli pointed out. "(NGO's) see them as role models for those other people in the organizations that are getting trained and hope to go on to something better."

The benefits are immense for management as well. DDD sent three of its management team to India for training.

Nhev Sithsophary, DDD's General Manager in Phnom Penh recently returned from a week in America to meet with the DDD partners and to speak to Massachusetts Institute of Technology students. It was his first trip to America that also afforded him to briefly meet friends and family during a twelve-hour layover in Los Angeles.

According to Sithsophary, after meeting with DDD partners, they have ambitious plans to employ 100 people by the end of 2002 and 1000 within five years.

Next: DDD EMPLOYEES PEER INTO THE NEW FRONTIER

© Copyright: National Radio. Any use of these materials, whole or in part, is prohibited unless authorized in writing by National Radio. Contact: nationalradio@yahoo.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

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