Cambodia’s History and the Digital Divide

Posted: February 20, 2012 by lindseydietz in e-marketing
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Lindsey Dietz, MBA Class of 2012

I recently traveled to Cambodia as part of my final capstone project for Portland State University’s MBA program. I was responsible for developing and delivering marketing curriculum for a group of social entrepreneurs from five different countries. The difficulty of this project was creating curriculum that could be applicable across multiple geographies, cultures and economic situations. This was compounded by the fact that each student had a different style of learning and educational background. You can learn more about my work and the reason for the trip here

Lindsey Dietz and Class in Cambodia

I missed two weeks of our e-marketing class on this wonderful adventure including the discussion that covered chapter four of our book. The topics covered that week included global markets, the digital divide and emerging economies. The chapter highlighted Cambodia a few times. In order to understand Cambodia’s current developmental state it is important to know a little more about the history, specifically the last 40 years. Please note that this is unpleasant to read.

History: In 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), commonly known as Khmer Rouge overthrew the Cambodian government and established control. At the time, most citizens didn’t even know the regime change took place. The Khmer Rouge held radical beliefs and wanted to transition the country into a rural, classless society in order to the end economic disparity and exploitation. In order to meet these goals they evacuated the cities and moved nearly two million people in to the countryside to begin farming and manual labor. Most people were taken without anything but the clothes on their back. Many people starved and died during the forced labor.

In order to establish a classless society the new government banned schooling, privet property, money, religion, free markets and anything that differentiated individuals. Public and private transpiration was abolished and all non-revolutionary entertainment was forbidden. Schools, government buildings and religious sights were turned into prisons, death camps or stables. Anyone that didn’t comply was considered a traitor and sent to one of the prisons where torture and death was often a result. About 300 mass graves are scattered around Cambodia where the government executed traitors. These areas called the “killing fields” are a reminder of the not so distant past.

Skulls from the Cambodian Killing Field

From 1975 to 1979 when the Khmer Rouge party was overthrown nearly 30% of Cambodia’s population died from disease, starvation and the government. This is roughly between two and three million people. The surviving population was plagued by mental illness and severe post traumatic stress. In addition, the country was left with millions of mines that had been scattered by the Khmer Rouge party, and remnants from the war between Vietnamand the US. The rebuilding efforts will take generations. To learn more about the history and genocide trial for remaining Khmer Rouge party members please visit

Today: Some important statistics for digital marketing in Cambodia from the CIA World Factbook:

  • Roughly 73% of the population is literate (2009)
  • 358,800 telephone landlines. This is partially due to the danger of unearthing land mines.
  • Cell phone use is about 8.1 million (roughly 60% of population in 2010) and growing. Cellular technology has allowed Cambodia to leapfrog technologies bypassing landlines.
  • 5,452 internet hosts (2010)
  • 78,500 Internet users (2009).  Less than 1% of the population but growing due to cell phone use.

The history of the country plays a significant role in digital development. The impact of the Khmer Rouge regime significantly impaired the economic, educational and digital progress of the nation. Expats and international organizations from around the world have moved into Cambodia to help reestablish schools and facilities. Despite internet being available in the cities, most citizens don’t have enough education or money to use the services.

The digital divide is pronounced in Cambodia. I sat at a restaurant in Phnom filled with international aid workers from developed nations. Most of these expats were typing away on their laptops. When I looked out the window at the river, I could see anglers from a local village that use substance farming and money from the fish to survive. The economic division and digital divide is visible everywhere.

Traditional fishing in industrialized area

Traditional Fishing in an Industrialized Area

One of the organizations helping to close the gap is aptly the named Digital Divide Data (DDD). I was actually at the DDD office during my week of teaching. The organization aims to provide education and IT knowledge to talented disadvantaged youth in developing nations. They currently have facilities in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya. DDD is a social enterprise business that provides business process outsourcing (BPO) such as digitization services to local and international clients. They are a social enterprise because of the recruiting and hiring practices. DDD provides money for higher education to their beneficiaries while employing them to do digital services. DDD is one of the only IT services organizations in Cambodia and is successfully training a new generation of digital users.

Inside DDD

How important do you think education is in the development of digital services?

Have you had any experiences with the digital divide at home or abroad? What were they?

What do you think of DDD’s efforts? 

  1. Jkall says:

    I think you guys are doing a great job and providing an impactful service!

  2. Talal Alswaidan says:

    I like the way you went through the history and the current time, interesting topic.

  3. Karole Convery says:

    Hello Lindsey. First off how lucky you are to be over there and seeing this digital divide first hand. Thanks for your interest and work on this topic. As for an answer to your questions, yes I do think that education will be the key to narrowing this divide. It starts with more people learning about these issues and getting the word out to us lucky ones in the U.S. who might not realize what a world without internet is like.

    I do have a some-what personal experience with the digital divide, my sister has lived abroad for the past 5 years or so. Currently she is living in South Africa working with a non-profit organization called “ABC for Life” which is dedicated to helping children receive education, even if the do not have a family available to help them participate in school. We Skype pretty frequently and luckily we have not had too many problems. Obviously it is not as speedy as it would be if she were in the states, or when she lived in Spain last year, but for the most part we are able to communicate almost instantaneously.
    However, there is still a large divide between racial and social classes, even though the partied has ended recently. Both her and her boyfriend, who is a South-African native, are caucasian and are able to make enough money to have this somewhat stable internet and telephone line connection. However, they are the minority. I am going to send her the link for this blog, and she might have more information on the digital divide then I. I am not sure how much education ABC gives on the internet, or if they are familiar with DDD but this might give her some more ideas for her curriculum. After all education is a good start to decreasing the digital divide. Thanks for sharing!

    • lindseydietz says:

      Hi Karole. Thank you for your thoughtful input. Where in South Africa is your sister living? Will you have the opportunity to visit her while she is there? I would be interested to hear her perspective on the divide given her travel experiences.

      I actually spent some time in Cape Town after undergraduate studies working for a tour company (not nearly as rewarding as your sisters work). Also, one of my students in Cambodia is from the Maharishi institute in Johannesburg They just opened a call center to try and generate revenue for their educational facility.

  4. Kristine Nguyen says:

    I’ve experienced being in the middle of the digital divide several times. It was definitely hard for me since I grew up having access to technology and the Internet. One of my most recent experiences is when my family and I went to Vietnam. In some places, like Ho Chi Minh City or other tourist areas, Internet is available. At one hotel we stayed at, there was Wi-Fi avalable. At another hotel we stayed at, which was a LOT more luxurious, only a few computers were available to get access to the Internet. Thought this was a bit odd too because it was the opposite of how I thought it would have been.

    Anyway, in the small town where my dad grew up, our family members actually have to travel quite a ways to get access to a computer and the Internet (I think they might have to pay too – not sure). And for them, especially the older adults, it’s a big deal when they get an email from us or when we receive an email from them. It’s like an amazing experience for them. Some of the younger children will learn how to use technology in schools but not have access to the technology at all when they are at home, but for the older adults.. it’s really difficult for them to keep up, especially if they aren’t educated and don’t have access. It’s great to have the education, but what good would it do without access? However, you need to start somewhere.

  5. Ted Baskerville says:

    Hi Lindsey. First of all “thank you” for the insightful information about the digital divide in Cambodia and your recent experience with it. Being an Instructional Support Technician with the Adult Basic Education department at Portland Community College, I have a front-seat view of the digital divide and the importance of education. I think that DDD is providing an exemplary service by implementing education and training in regions of the world that are affected by the digital divide.

    My personal experience with the digital divide entails educating students, both young and old, that don’t have the resources at home to access the internet and therefore lack the education and skills to be in the digital know-how. One of the facets of my job is to bring them up to speed on computer usage. It can be frustrating at times because of the steep learning curve, but it is well worth the effort when I see a student conquer the barrier of the digital divide by unmitigated perseverance. Again, thanks for the very informative post.
    Ted Baskerville

    • lindseydietz says:

      Hi Ted,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. You have more experience with the Digital Divide here in Portland than I do. Thank you for sharing your experiences and providing training to our community.

  6. Kelly Vega says:

    Thanks for the great post. Its interesting to me that two groups can have the “same goals” and have such different ways of going about it. If you look at the CPK (if I am reading this correctly), their goal was to eliminate barriers and divides… they just took a horrific approach to it. Its amazing that through education like that which you provided citizens, same thing goal is being focused on, but in a positive way. Making a level playing field does not mean it has to be with such low living standards. Although technology and the internet can increase divides, it can also decrease them through access to information.

  7. Nazanin Aghaeian says:

    Lindsay, you are so lucky to have had this opportunity to visit Cambodia. It is very interesting to hear about the experiences of your trip. It reminds me a little of my experiences when I go back to the middle east to visit family. Although, it is much different there. For example it is so hard to find access to the internet. Additionally, there are certain sites which users cannot access at all! Facebook being one of them. Some cities have no internet access at all. I believe digital divide is critical to education and learning. When I moved to the states and had unlimited access to the internet my life changed drastically. Everytime I have a question or want to know something one of the first places I go is to the computer. After being spoiled with unlimited internet usage I could never go back!

  8. Jeremy Probst says:

    First of all, thanks for sharing about your trip and the work you were able to be involved in.

    – How important do you think education is in the development of digital services?

    I think education is key. Based on your statistics of internet hosts and users, it’s equivalent to a little more than 14 users per host; very underutilized. I definitely think the people need to be educated first and then user and access will increase. People who are educated will utilize the existing services and many may start their own hosting services. I don’t know about the regulations and laws that are in place or how much/little the internet is regulated. This may need to be addressed as well. If you have access to the internet, but everything is blocked or you are only allowed to see what your government feels is good for you then you aren’t making any headway. Access to free information is the key to the internet and its usage.

    – Have you had any experiences with the digital divide at home or abroad? What were they?

    I haven’t experienced the digital divide as I’ve not been outside the states and anywhere I’ve gone or lived, I’ve had internet. For a short time, I lived in LaPine in central Oregon, where the internet consisted of slow DSL because of the distance to the C.O., but I can hardly consider that a digital divide.

    – What do you think of DDD’s efforts?
    Based on what you’ve shared in your post, I’d say their efforts are honorable and are working for a good cause. I think with the way information access has transitioned into an online format, equitable access to information is a good thing. I also like the business model of the social enterprise in recruiting and hiring.

  9. Mao Shiun Ren says:

    I have had a sort of digital divide experience. When I went back to Taipei, Taiwan during the winter vacation last year, I was happy to find that the wireless Internet has become available for free in public places in the city. I found it convenient while using it with my cell phone at the train stations. The service also worked decently when I tested it at a hospital. However, when I went visiting my grandmother’s place that is in southern Taiwan and a rural area, we could barely find a public place that WI-fi was available. Even though that my grandmother’s place has wired internet access, I found it constantly get disconnected, and the speed of internet was relatively low as well. And my grandmother seemed okay with it though, she was happy enough to use the internet for just playing online games and getting emails, while my sister and I would probably get very upset that if the internet at our home in Taipei was this slow.

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