The Women’s Empowerment Speaker’s Series features women who have made great strides in a variety of fields, and while their expertise varies, they have the desire to inspire the next generation of women leaders.
The series, which started on July 12, wraps up Sunday with a 4 pm lecture at Monument Books in Phnom Penh with lawyer Chea Veasna, who is also a founder of the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation.
Ms Veasna grew up poor in Kompong Cham, the youngest of eight children to a widowed mother, and through hard work and help from foreigners has studied abroad and now works with Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, according to her biography.
Previous speakers in the series include Lim Solinn, Oxfam America’s regional program coordinator, and Dana Langlois, the founder of JavaArts.
“I do know that while a few of the women come from other countries [the US, Australia, and Laos], all are leaders in their field, be it law, art, business or NGOs,” Elyssa Ford, leadership resident for the Harpswell Foundation, which is sponsoring the speaker series, said in an e-mail. “Because of their position and experience, the women featured on the speaker series this year were chosen, and we feel lucky that they accepted.”
Peou Vanna, Harpswell Foundation country director and leadership center manager, said the speakers have inspired the female university students supported by the foundation to become better leaders.
“We encourage them to listen and learn, there are more experiences and more good ideas,” she said.
Mrs Langlois was the first speaker in the series, and she said her presentation included special guests
—an artist and a writer—to give the audience, and particularly the Harpswell students, more points of view and more personal experiences.
She said she talked about working in the art world but she wanted to share her experiences of living and working in Cambodia for more than 10 years. She added that she focused on three themes: perseverance, opportunity and hard work.
“These are principals that can apply to anyone,” Mrs Langlois said.
The Harpswell Foundation supports promising female university students from the provinces by providing them with housing in Phnom Penh, transportation, resources such as Internet access, and, in some cases, tuition, Ms Vanna said.
Foundation students Heng Limheang and Suon Raksmey said they attended the previous speaker series events and were in awe of the speakers.
“They spoke strongly and did not hesitate. They answered quickly but were knowledgeable,” Ms Limheang said. “They had a strong confidence.”
Ms Raksmey said she was particularly impressed with Ms Solinn’s talk about her past and her accomplishments, which included graduating from college and then becoming head of an organization at the age of 22. Ms Raksmey said the foundation students were taking some similar steps to Ms Solinn, such as internships, and hoped it would translate to similar successes.
“We hope to have the chance to be like that,” she said.
Ms Vanna said the series was a good way to expose the foundation students to more examples of women in leadership roles.
“I want the girls here to compare themselves to these women and know that women are capable leadership,” she said.
She adds that she usually heads a twice-weekly seminars with the Harpswell students and tries to focus on three themes with the first being life skills and how to give back to the community and the less fortunate.
“I want them to have a strong heart,” she said.
Ms Vanna said she also focuses on telling the students about famous female leaders ranging from National Assembly lawmaker Mu Sochua to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to inspire them.
The third component is called “Training of Trainers,” Ms Vanna said. She added it will take time but she hopes the students will learn from each other and then share their knowledge with their communities and in turn, the communities will spread that knowledge.
And the Harpswell students sound up for the challenge.
Ms Raksmey said she aspired to be a leader in the future because there were so few women in leadership roles and because she wanted to show Cambodian society that women are as capable as men.
“As a Cambodian citizen I want to respond to the call to develop our country,” she said. “I want to know, to learn, to be empowered.”