Prominent women, including a researcher, a singer, a company director and a writer, will speak on Jan 22 in the first in a series of events to motivate female students organized by the Harpswell Foundation.
Leaders from across the sciences, arts, social entrepreneurship and business fields were chosen to speak at the conference, said Alan Lightman, a US physicist, professor and critically acclaimed novelist who founded Harpswell five years ago.
“We thought the first conference should be firmly attached to our mission to empower women leaders,” Mr Lightman said, adding that future lectures and cultural events would be less closely linked.
Talks will take place in a conference room, dubbed the “Hall of Great Women,” which is lined with photographs and biographies of female leaders, at a center that opened a year ago in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. “We want this facility to be a place to help nurture new leaders.”
Mr Lightman said the foundation opened the first of two dormitories in 2006 to give women, who cannot live in pagodas, somewhere to stay while studying at university.
“Once we decided that we would provide that critical need, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity of recruiting the brightest young women in the country, and we decided to give them leadership training and English classes and all the rest of our program,” he said. Most students interviewed for a place at the centers say they want good jobs and high salaries to support their families, he noted. “One out of 10 have a vision of helping the whole country. Those are the students we accept.”
Over the years, students have formed close friendships and absorbed the message to aim for the top, he said. “If one of our students says she would like to work in a hospital, we say we would like you eventually to be director of the hospital.”
Mr Lightman, known as ‘Dad’ by the young women at the center, said he keeps in personal contact with each student, even when writing and teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. “It’s like having 80 more daughters.”