March is always an exciting time, kicking off with International Women’s Day. Throughout the month, we celebrate BSR’s work to empower women, including HERproject, our collaborative initiative bringing together global brands, their suppliers, and local NGOs to deliver workplace-based programs to workers in global supply chains.
It made sense to us to feature Sethypong Sok, HERproject’s country representative in Cambodia, for this month’s Inside BSR interview. Sethypong works with global brands and factory management as well as multinational and local financial services providers to design and implement financial literacy programs for low-income factory workers, particularly women.
Read on to learn more about Sethypong, his work on HERproject, and his drive to lift fellow Cambodians out of poverty.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, where are you based, and how did you get into working on women’s empowerment and worker well-being?
I come from the Kingdom of Cambodia, or simply known as Cambodia, located in Southeast Asia. I was born in 1993, the same year when the United Nations Transitional Authority administered the first national elections for my country. In 2012, I graduated from high school with an outstanding degree. And despite the poverty trap my family encountered itself, I was persistent enough to pursue a bachelor's and master's degree at Pannasatra University of Cambodia with the faculty of Social Science and International Relations.
I meet and speak with people and workers who face countless hardships due to poverty. My feelings of powerlessness and pity actually strengthen my dedication to the goal of helping them have their voices heard and their rights fulfilled. By being part of driving HERproject in Cambodia, I feel I am a part of the solution.
I have more than seven years of experience working in non-profit organizations and in the development sector in various positions to serve local communities, vulnerable groups, or hard-to-reach populations, including children, women, survivors of labor and sexual exploitation, and low-income workers in Cambodia.
I started working in supply chains and worker well-being as a Trainer with Youth Employment Service Centre (YESC). At that time, I provided support services and training to factory managers, workers (particularly women workers), and young people aiming at enhancing employability, encouraging them to fulfill their potential, and increasing their economic opportunities.
Tell us about your work at HERproject. What is your current role and what does that entail? What are some interesting projects that you get to work on as part of your role?
I am currently serving as an in-country representative for BSR’s HERproject. I have been with HERproject for almost two years. I am responsible for managing HERproject program activities and leading other Women’s Empowerment projects in Cambodia. My main role is to liaison with the multinational financial services corporation, local financial services providers, brands, and factories management to design projects which aim at strengthening, implementing, and ethically enforcing internal procedures and policies in expanding the financial inclusion of low-income workers.
Currently, in Cambodia, we are piloting HERfinance Digital Wages. The project aims at ensuring the poor—particularly women—have the proper knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward financial services and enabling them to participate in the formal financial sector. I do enjoy working on this project because I am always excited to work on programs that aim to promote and enhance financial services in a timely manner through a sustainable financial system. This will help to bring these people—the unbanked—into formal financial services by supporting the development of an efficient and stable financial sector. At the same time, I also can gain extensive knowledge and skills on cooperating with social responsibility, union representatives, and financial service providers in global supply chains.
What issues are you passionate about and why? Does your work at HERproject reflect that?
My motivation to get involved and solve community problems started since I graduated from high school. I could not see myself being in another field not related to humanitarian work. I grew up in a country with a long history of the periodic humanitarian crisis, which undoubtedly affects the majority of the vulnerable population, particularly disrupting their welfare and education, security, the access to quality of public health service, and the shortage in skilled workers.
Another inspiration driving me to address the society complications was from my work experience, particularly from field work activities, where I meet and speak with people and workers who face countless hardships due to poverty. My feelings of powerlessness and pity actually strengthen my dedication to the goal of helping them have their voices heard and their rights fulfilled. By being part of driving HERproject in Cambodia, I feel I am a part of the solution.
2020 was undoubtedly a difficult year. What were the things that brought you joy amid lockdowns/quarantines? What are you most looking forward to when the pandemic is over?
Amid the challenges of 2020, I’m grateful that I can keep up with friends on social media platforms and connect with folks via videoconferencing, even if these aren’t really the same as seeing people in-person. I also enjoy this new normal that I never would have guessed how easy it is to do without so many modern conveniences.
I am looking forward to COVID-19 ending and not having to wear a mask and being able to give hugs to my friends and family again. I can’t wait to be able to high-five and shake hands with my friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. I look forward to seeing all the smiling faces that have been hidden behind masks for years now.