Dispatch from the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia: Sakshi Jain’s second blog from the field

By Sakshi Jain, MIPP Student

Imagine you are at a beach with wonderful, warm, white sand. The water is crystal clear, you have just had a fantastic massage, and you make your way towards the water for a swim. You are in the water, basking in the glory of the beauty of the place you’re in, when suddenly an old, muddy, and disgusting plastic water bottle floats by. Way to ruin the moment, right! My trip to the Koh Rong Island in the Sihanoukville province of Cambodia was one such experience. Koh Rong and its neighboring islands are quite exotic with all the elements of a perfect holiday getaway spot, barring the abundance of plastic trash everywhere. While it is quite disheartening and puts a dent in one’s experience of this otherwise paradise-esque place, it also reinforces the need for some of the waste management programs and policies that UNDP has been working on in Cambodia.

Welcome to my second blog. Let’s pick up where we left off. I have been in Phnom Penh for two months, and life has settled into a pattern. My weekdays are spent working on multiple projects, and I’m extremely grateful to my colleagues for their support and encouragement, and for patiently answering my many, many questions. On the weekends I try to explore different parts of the city. This month’s achievement in speaking Khmer was successfully bargaining with a local vegetable seller. 😊 In this blog, I would like to talk about two projects, one each for the Policy and Programme departments, that I worked on for most of the past month.

This month, UNDP supported a National Career Fair organized by the government. For this event, I had the opportunity to meet and work with members of the 2030 Youth Force in Cambodia. The task force established by UNDP was to spread awareness about the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and engage young people for the same. We worked together to understand how young people described decent work and what they valued in job opportunities (in relation to SDG 8). Our booth also featured a photo booth, an SDG jigsaw puzzle and some free candy to keep things fun. I have organized and run projects like this before, but doing so in the context of Phnom Penh was an interesting experience, as many materials and services we take for granted in Canada are hard to find or unavailable in Phnom Penh, and it was quite fun improvising every time when we hit a roadblock.

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount and quality of responses we got. We talked to and interviewed 150+ youth who had fantastic ideas and a clear vision on what decent work and economic growth means for them. While fair wages seemed to be the most common answer, young people also talked about the importance of opportunities for growth, transparent hiring procedures, and respect for diversity at the workplace.

Most of the Cambodian youth that I have met in Phnom Penh work full time during the day and attend university at night. They are extremely hard-working and motivated. Talking to them and understanding what they value helped me see clearly the importance of the UNited for Youth Employment Join Programme (UNJP) in Cambodia. This exposure has also motivated me to work harder at my job and be extremely grateful for all the opportunities I have been given. It was an absolute pleasure to meet the 2030 Youth Force and hear their ideas for youth engagement in the future. I’m quite excited to witness all the great things they accomplish.

On the policy side, this month I started assisting on two different research studies. Both studies aim to quantify the return on investment in certain sectors on the Cambodian economy. As a part of UNJP, UNDP provides research support to the Royal Government of Cambodia for evidence-based policy making. To do so, we are seeking to quantify the return on investment in education of Cambodian youth, especially vocational training, on the economy at the national household and individual level.

Another study, under the Cambodia Export Diversification and Expansion Programme II (CEDEP II) seeks to quantify the return on investment in Cassava, a starchy root vegetable that has multiple industrial uses in sectors such as textiles, animal feed, food additives, paper etc. Currently Cambodia supplies (mostly informally, and thus, at much lower than average market prices) raw Cassava to Thailand and Vietnam, who then export processed Cassava to other major importers such as China. UNDP wants to predict the gains to the economy if the country invests in the quality of Cambodia’s cassava production, to improve processing and transformation techniques, so the country can become an exporter of processed cassava, which is valued much higher than the raw produce.

The international consultant I am working with is creating a social accounting matrix for Cambodia, which will be used to compute a static general equilibrium model for the country. A social accounting matrix or SAM is a snapshot of the economy at a specific time. The more detailed the SAM, better quality of the image of the economy for analysis. Simply put, given the right amount of data availability and a set of other constraints, we can predict the effect on GDP (and other variables) of a country of investment or other changes in any sector of the economy. As an econ graduate I have had the opportunity to do some econometrics modelling and analysis before, but building such models is very new, useful, and an extremely exciting opportunity!

That’s all for now, tune in next month to learn more about all the amazing things that I’m doing and all the great things happening to me in Phnom Penh.

Until then, Lee hi! 😊

2019-01-11T10:37:50-05:002018, Dispatches, News|