Outsourcing with a heart: Cambodia’s success story

Today, 16 May 2007, was observed worldwide as World Information Society Day – it marks the establishment of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 1865 and used to be called the World Telecommunication Day.

The UN-sponsored day was dedicated this year to making available the benefits of the digital revolution to young people everywhere. As the ITU noted in its media release:

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) recognized the young as the future workforce and the earliest adopters of ICT, and called for their empowerment as key contributors to building an inclusive Information Society. World leaders stated their commitment at the Summit in Tunis to actively engage youth in innovative ICT-based development programmes and widen opportunities for them.

Yesterday I wrote about a TV service in Pasadena, California, outsourcing some of its reporting work to journalists in India.

Outsourcing is a worldwide trend, fuelled by the rolling out of Internet access and encouraged – at least in part – by the lower salaries that equally skilled persons still command in the less developed parts of the world. So much has been written and spoken about outsourcing in the IT industry, which has created multi-million dollar businesses in recipient countries such as India.

The outsourcing industry employs tens of thousands of young women and men in developing countries, especially in Asia, which receive the outsourced work. Most of them are from urban backgrounds with English-speaking ability and reasonable levels of education.

But this business-driven process can also benefit young people who haven’t had such advantages in life.

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A story in TVE Asia Pacific’s Digits4Change series illustrates this potential. It came from Cambodia, and we called it Compassionate Data.

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We went to Cambodia in late 2005 to find out how business process outsourcing (BPO) is benefiting one of the poorest countries in the world.

Emerging from decades of conflict, Cambodians are now trying to find their place in the global village. But lacking in English and computer skills, many find their opportunities limited.

Digital Divide Data is a non-profit organisation run like a business. Started in 2001, they outsource data processing work from the west.

As the world goes digital, thousands of old, paper-based documents need to be digitised. These tasks take time, effort and quality control. Digital Divide Data (DDD) provides this value added service.

Among its clients are universities, companies and organisations in North America.

But what’s special about DDD is their staff. They employ young men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds – orphans, those with disabilities, or from very poor, rural backgrounds. A few have been trafficked for the sex trade.

Sith Sophary Nhev, DDD’s then Cambodia manager told us: “Many companies outsource this kind of service to international clients by using educated and skillful people, but DDD use disadvantaged people who have low skill and low education but we still provide like a good service, quality, time turnaround and a competitive price for the clients.”

Young people come to DDD with a basic education and virtually no skills. The company trains them in computers and English. In fact, all staff are required to continue their education. The company provides scholarships – and pays them an above average salary.

In the hard-nosed ICT industry that’s usually driven by financial bottomlines, DDD has demonstrated that it is indeed possible to do well and do good at the same time. They are a social enterprise, a growing trend worldwide.

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Watch the full story on TVEAP’s YouTube Channel

Digits4Change TV series website

Digital Divide Data website