Home People & Planet Using technology for good in Cambodia

Using technology for good in Cambodia

Ravindra Ngo
Technology uptake has resulted in significant benefits for Cambodians, particularly the previously unbanked
Founder, The ASEAN Network and Co-founder and CEO, InvestinCambodia
The Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia

The ASEAN Digital Master Plan 2025 was adopted by member states during the ASEAN ministers’ meeting on 22 January 2021. The plan reinforced the use of digital technologies across the region and supports the post-pandemic economic recovery.

It isn’t just the wealthy countries in the grouping that are benefitting from increased digitalisation. Its benefits are in evidence in even the smaller Southeast Asian economies.

Cambodia, for example, is witnessing how the use of modern digital technologies can make a positive impact on communities.

Smart technology can help farmers

Cambodia’s Kampong Cham province is an agricultural centre, given its fertile land, groundwater resources and farm labour availability. Its proximity to Vietnam provides open trade opportunities, especially for farmers faced with challenges such as increasing production costs and difficulties in achieving and maintaining product quality as volume demands increase.

A survey by the Asian Development Bank demonstrated that one response was to implement an e-agriculture platform, that can address these concerns with four key components: climate smart agricultural practices, farming credits, risk management and the creation of an agribusiness portal.

The e-agriculture platform must use information and communication technology tools and must include the opening of a mobile call centre for customers, radio frequencies and desktop computers, among other devices according to the study funded by the ADB.

In Cambodia, 78% of the population over 15 years of age does not have access to banking services. The use of technology is helping the country overcome the challenge of insufficient financial inclusion.

It must also incorporate smart data management and farm management systems that can connect various stakeholders and help farmers overcome current challenges. This can be accomplished by way of better and faster access to market information and financial support from governments and banks. Financial assistance can be extended to farmers through increased access to microfinance.

Increased access to healthcare and simplified processes

Higher rent and utility costs, lack of skilled professionals and poor digital infrastructure are Cambodia’s main challenges in the healthcare sector. Improved digital technologies are making a difference.

For example, there are only a few health clinics in Cambodia that provide free medical care and serve people living in remote floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake. This is just an example but a significant one. Over 1 million people depend on the lake for their livelihood (fishing mainly for survival) and this is also the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.

These floating health clinics must collaborate with technology service providers to digitise their patient management systems. In what was a positive development, floating clinics worked together to customise a free and secure open-source system called Open Medical Record System or OpenMRS.

This is an existing case. The benefits of having an open-source system is to reduce time for clinicians in writing down all information and data on a paper, and instead to maximise the check-up of patients.

Moreover, in remote areas, paper-based information can be damaged by humidity and natural disasters. It also simplifies the process of health check-ups among different stakeholders.

More than 14 clinicians have used it to deliver outpatient services across five floating clinics in eight villages in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom province. The system has recorded medical details of 5,000 patients, comprising 11,000 visits and 28,000 resolved cases.

Another example of a digital technology that supports the health sector is an operating management system—called Peth Yoeung—launched for private and public healthcare institutions. Established in 2017, their mission is to build the largest healthcare ecosystem in Cambodia by using digital innovation and technology tools.

These comprise hospitals, polyclinics and clinics that faced challenges relating to electronic medical records and hospital operation management. The tech platform’s features include hospital process flows, patient management and biographies, pharmacy and stock management, and it also enables patient data migration.

It streamlines the process of serving patients and saves valuable time for doctors by relieving them of administrative responsibilities. This, in turn, enhances doctors’ efficiency by enabling a higher number of patient consultations.

Improved financial inclusion

In Cambodia, 78% of the population over 15 years of age does not have access to banking services. The use of technology is helping the country overcome the challenge of insufficient financial inclusion.

Serey Chea, Assistant Governor at the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), leads Project Bakong, a payment system that was launched in late 2020. Bakong is a blockchain-based unified platform for banks, microfinance institutions and other payment service providers to provide e-wallet and cash transfer services without the need for a bank account.

The Bakong platform allows participants to transact directly using token transfers. This blockchain-based method speeds up settlements significantly by eliminating traditional business processes such as transfer instructions, liquidation and payment confirmations. In less than six months, the platform has enrolled thousands of users in Cambodia, and has extended financial inclusion to many previously unbanked.

Cambodia still has a long way to go to benefit from the digital acceleration caused by the pandemic. Key challenges are weak digital infrastructure, high price of electricity and insufficient access to the internet.

By using smarter digital innovation to facilitate payments and making them more convenient and secure, Project Bakong is proving an example to emulate. It showcases how regional digital connectivity in the ASEAN region and particularly in Cambodia—through the right government-led and private sector-supported programmes—can yield economic prosperity.

Innovative partnerships among tech companies, banks, governments and education providers can also empower and support small businesses that have suffered due to the pandemic and help them get back on their feet and stay afloat.

Partnering for a better future

Cambodia still has a long way to go to benefit from the digital acceleration caused by the pandemic. Key challenges are weak digital infrastructure, high price of electricity and insufficient access to the internet (only 40% of the population has access to the internet).

Nevertheless, Cambodia has talented and young entrepreneurs in agro tech, health tech, e-commerce, mobile and fintech sectors. This vibrant ecosystem has been supported by government initiatives such as the partnership with UNDP to support talented young entrepreneurs and SME’s – providing them with enabling tools and access to funding.

On the regional level, it is imperative for ASEAN to not overlook challenges such as cyber-threats and regulations governing regional data policy implementation.

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Author profile
Founder, The ASEAN Network and Co-founder and CEO, InvestinCambodia

Ravindra is co-founder and CEO of “Invest in Cambodia” – an investment advisory firm located in Hong Kong and promoting social impact investments in Southeast Asia. He is also the founder of The ASEAN Network, a digital community dedicated to connect like-minded individuals who can inspire younger generation through speakers series, webinars and virtual conferences. He also sits on the advisory board of the Pacific Basin Economic Council and was selected by the World Economic Forum in the “ASEAN Expert” Network.

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