The world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, centered around the theme “Press for Progress” – highlighting women everywhere using their influence to enact positive change in their workplaces, communities and the world. To continue the conversation throughout March, we are highlighting a few Visa women who are taking action driven by their own personal passions. We talked with Monica Chum, Country Manager for Visa Cambodia about access to education and what drives her to inspire others.
Can you share a bit about yourself and your experience at Visa?
I started at Visa as a contractor in July 2012. At that time, I was the only Visa representative on the ground in Cambodia. I worked from home, client offices, hotel lobbies, even from my car. Since then Visa opened an office in Cambodia, where I now work with a team of four as the Country Manager. The beauty of my job is I get to learn something new every minute of every day. I have a wonderful family and proud to be a mom of three kids, ages 10, 8 and 5.
In what ways do you “Press for Progress” in your community?
One initiative I am working on is the Women Bright Program. As part of the program, we developed a mentoring platform to encourage and inspire female high school students in rural areas to plan for their future and believe in themselves. Mentors from different sectors coach and guide female students to pursue higher education and help them select a suitable career path. In addition, we are involved in a research project in rural areas to understand current perceptions about higher education from school administrators, parents, and young girls themselves. The research is being carried out in partnership with the Ministry for Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Education. The results will help guide us on where we should focus work with the mentoring platform.
What challenges have you experienced?
For my generation, as a woman in Cambodia, we were born with a pre-conceived social stigma. Being a woman means you are supposed to be a good mother, a good house wife, and your role is to support your husband in his business and career. However, for myself, as well as my friends throughout high school, university and work - we wanted to be different and win at both. We want to be a successful housewife, as well as successful in our own career. It can be quite a challenge to change the perception. To do this we must prove we are capable and we need to make sure our husbands are supportive in that journey, which fortunately is true in my case.
How did your early career experiences shape your desire to “Press for Progress”?
In my career journey, I have not been alone. I have had great mentors, supporters and coaches. I started my career as a recruitment officer for a garment factory. About 80% of the factory workers were women with many between the ages of 18-22. What struck me was seeing the hope these young women had. It was moving to see them pursue their dream of working in the city to earn money and support their family in rural areas. I realized how fortunate I was in my career as a woman. This motivated me to inspire them and contribute back as much as I could. Through my career I have been lucky to work in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and have always pursued volunteer opportunities to give back.
Who has inspired you the most?
The person I admire most in life is my late grandmother. During the Khmer Rouge war, she lost her entire family, including her husband, my grandfather. Despite that, she raised her six children alone and kept moving forward amid adverse beliefs about the limitations of women. She put all six children through higher education, including her three daughters. She always shared a wise saying, “if you give a child a fish you feed her for a day, if you teach a child to fish you feed her for her entire lifetime.” I believe the fish is the education. Training and experience will open the way to progress in life.
What advice do you have for men and women looking to “Press for Progress”?
To women, no matter how many times life knocks you down, you must remember you are not alone. As women, we need to work together to help each other grow. We must lead by example, so our daughters can follow in our footsteps and our sons will learn to advocate for gender equality. There is a saying that if you want to change the world, you must start at home. So, for men, being a supportive husband and father, and showing respect to your wife will help your son show respect to women he encounters. This domino effect has tremendous impact.