Interview with EuroCham Board Member Narath Chheav

1. What motivated you to run for the Board of Directors at EuroCham?

To serve, to learn and to share! I feel very connected to the European community. As a Cambodian who studied, lived, and worked in Europe, and worked with European companies and institutions in Cambodia, I’m very motivated and excited to be a Board Member at EuroCham Cambodia. I am grateful to have obtained support and plenty of opportunities from European institutions that have allowed me to progress in my professional career. In return, I am honored and proud to have the chance to serve the European community and act as a link between the European and Cambodian business communities and government. My goal is to serve, learn, and share with our members.

In my opinion, the European community possesses several great qualities that help strengthen the Cambodian economy and its people. My vision is for EuroCham members to be recognized as a community of great places to work, a business community where all members work together not only to promote business, trade and investment opportunities between European countries and Cambodia but also to create positive social and human footprints in Cambodia.

2. Can you tell us more about yourself? What issues are you most excited to work on with the board?

I was born into an ordinary Cambodian family and my parents were both primary school teachers. My European connection started nearly 20 years ago, when I studied for my graduate degree in Economics and Management under the French Cooperation program at RULE in partnership with Université Lumière Lyon 2 in France. I received the Eiffel Scholarship of Excellence from the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French government to continue my postgraduate degree in Lyon, France.

Until now, I have spent most of professional career working with European companies, as well as governmental and educational institutions in Europe and Cambodia. This has included roles at Decathlon, French Cooperation at RULE, Total, and the Embassy of France in Phnom Penh.

My experience has revolved around promoting investment, business expansion, job creation, people development and European company culture inclusion for Cambodian people. I’ve worked in sectors such as apparel purchasing, manufacturing and export, sport retail, telecom, e-commerce, trade support, oil & gas, and education.

I spent a 10-year journey with Decathlon, from its incorporation in Cambodia to producing and exporting Made-in-Cambodia products worth hundreds of millions of euros to Europe and to the world. I feel proud for having contributed not only to the growth of European businesses in Cambodia, to create thousands of jobs for Cambodian, but more importantly, to have developed people to grow in their own career.

With the Board of Directors of EuroCham, I am particularly interested in Human Resources, Labour & Employment, Career & Human Development, Corporate Social & Environmental Responsibilities, Law, Education, Advocacy, and Trade and Investment.­­­

3. Could you give as an update on the human resources sector in Cambodia? Much is talked about improving human resources and closing the skill gap from a top-down view, but what is it like on the ground?

From my observation, the skill gap is currently still a big challenge for job market in Cambodia. Many companies, both big firms and SMEs, are struggling to find qualified candidates for many types of jobs. For example, the demand for candidates in IT, software development, data analysis & management, vocational skills, and retail, just to name a few, are high and will very likely continue to increase in the coming years, while the supply of these candidates are currently still limited and not yet on par with demand.

One big advantage is the fact that Cambodian workforce is relatively young and therefore they are eager to learn new skills and develop themselves. It’s of utmost importance that Cambodian youth identify and acquire the skills needed for today and future’s job market. For my point of view, digital literacy, problem solving, communication, collaboration and youth entrepreneurship are among the top human resource skills that we should make available to Cambodian workforce and encourage them to develop those skills.

It is important to note that the Cambodian government has been putting effort into strengthening and diversifying its economy since before the pandemic. I see that the government is looking at all possibilities to diversify the economy. Furthermore, government efforts to strengthen the education system from primary education to higher education and vocational training are another important factor in this process. It’s essential to promote the readiness of young Cambodians to acquire skills and knowledge, and help them develop a strong foundation from which to develop their skills to be on par with international standards. This will help to generate more favourable business climates to attract foreign investment into the Kingdom.

The sharing and transfer of knowledge and skills on the job and the jobs created by the European community in Cambodia are among the great examples of how the presence of European community has been very beneficial to the country and its economic and social development.

4. Aside from working in HR in the private sector, you’re also a lecturer for the French Cooperation Program at Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE), where you teach various business management disciplines. What trends have you noticed in students over the last ten years?

Giving back to the younger generation is one of my passions. As a part-time university lecturer for 11 years, I feel fulfilled and proud to come back to the university where I used to study to share my knowledge and experiences with the younger generations. I give lectures to students in postgraduate programs (International Master degree programs in partnership between RULE and several universities in France), teach bachelor’s courses in economics and management under the French Cooperation Program.

Students now have much wider access to information and resources for their learning, thanks to digital advancement that facilitates the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and inspirations. However, I believe that all students need to overcome the challenge of digital distractions. They are tech-savvy and avid users of social medias. They need to stay focused and use technology to serve their learning. Another trend that I noticed is that students now have the courage to be different and to choose a major in line with their passions or with what they love to do, as opposed to simply following their family’s advice or following their friend’s choice.

5. If you were to pitch Cambodia as a trade or investment destination to a European company, what would your sales pitch look like?

I believe that the welcoming attitude of the Cambodian government and its people towards foreigners and foreign investment is one of the unique features that make Cambodia a great investment destination to European companies as well as investors from other countries. There are many incentives offered by the Cambodian government to ensure a favourable investment environment. In addition to a stable political environment and fast-growing economy, Cambodia possesses a rapidly growing consumer class, and is benefits from a strategic location in the heart of ASEAN.

Our Cambodian population remains relatively young, and that make the workforce Cambodia very competitive and dynamic. And I believe the availability of foreign talent and the ease of living and working in Cambodia are also the factors that make Cambodia one of the great investment destinations in Southeast Asia.

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