Rebuilding Cambodia: Cultivating a New Generation of Women Leaders

Posted in Conferences, Companies, Science on November 18, 2008

In the 1970s, essentially all of the educated population of Cambodia were murdered in the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia today, despite its rich culture and stunning temples, remains a devastated country, suffering from poverty, lack of education, and corruption. The best hope for Cambodia lies in improved education and new leadership. To that end, Lightman and Smead have been working to empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia. (Studies by the U.N. and World Bank have repeatedly shown that the most effective method of helping third world countries is through education of its women.) The critical obstacle to higher education for women in Cambodia , remarkably enough, is housing. Universities in Cambodia do not provide housing for their students. Male students can live in the Buddhist temples but not females. Seizing upon this weak link in the chain, in 2006, Lightman and Smead's nonprofit organization built the first dormitory for female college students in the country. The Harpswell Foundation Dormitory and Leadership Center for College Women in Phnom Penh not only provides free room and board and medical coverage to its 36, carefully selected residents. The facility also gives them English and computer classes, leadership training, and critical discussions of national and international events. After two years of operations, these young women are at the tops of their classes at the 7 different universities they attend and are committed to leading their country into a new era of hope and transformation. In another two years, a new crop of 36 outstanding young women will enter the mentorship and cultivation of the Harpswell facility, and in ten years, we will have a powerful force of over a hundred women dedicated to revolutionizing their country. This is a story of how a small, highly-targeted nonprofit organization can potentially change an entire country.

In this illustrated lecture, Chenda Smead, who escaped Cambodia in 1979 at the age of 18, will describe her family's experience living under the Khmer Rouge. Alan Lightman, founding director of the Harpswell Foundation, will discuss the work of the Foundation, the strategy of leadership training and maximum social impact for minimum investment, and the challenges facing modern Cambodia.

Speaker: Alan Lightman
A physicist and novelist, graduated from Princeton University and received a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology. Lightman has served on the faculties of Harvard and MIT, where he was the first person to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities. Lightmans novel Einsteins Dreams was an international bestseller, and his novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the National Book Award. After a life-changing trip to Cambodia in 2003, Lightman founded the nonprofit organization The Harpswell Foundation, which has been working to empower a new generation of leaders in Cambodia.

Speaker: Chenda Smead
Chenda Smead is a Khmer Rouge genocide survivor who escaped Cambodia in 1979 as a refugee to the U.S. and later graduated from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln with degrees in computer science and mathematics.

She has helped build a school in Siem Reap and a Learning Center near Phnom Penh, as well as contributed significantly to the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory and Leadership Center for College Women in Phnom Penh. Ms. Smead is on the Board of Advisors of the Harpswell Foundation.

Google Tech Talks
November 6, 2008

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