AGENDA Interview with Cambodian Disability Rights Advocates

Updated: March 2019

In November 2018, the General Election Network for Disability Access (AGENDA) interviewed participants of its "Strategic Communications and Advocacy"  training in Jakarta, Indonesia. The training brought together disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) from eight countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Community. AGENDA, a network of DPOs and election-focused CSOs in Southeast Asia, was founded by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in 2011. An English transcript of the interview with advocates from Cambodia is available below and has been edited for clarity.


Interviewer: We are currently in the middle of the AGENDA training on strategic communication and advocacy for regional disability inclusion in Jakarta, Indonesia, which has been running from November first to forth. We are very pleased to have here with us some of the participants who are willing to be interviewed to share about their knowledge and skills gained from the event and the implementation of ASEAN Enabling Masterplan after this. Could you please introduce yourself first?              


Monica: Yes, good morning. My name is Monica, I am Program Director from CDPO.  


Monea: Good morning, my name is Monea. I am the finance and administrator for CDPO, it’s nice to meet you.


Interviewer: Nice to meet you. I will start with Monica first. Monica, what do you think the most important skills that are needed for the implementation of the Masterplan? Of course you are talking about communication in relation to the advocacy that you are dealing with every day.


Monica: Okay, thank you for your question. First, before I answer the question, let me briefly tell you about CDPO. CDPO is an organization that has advocated for the disability movement in Cambodia and which was established in 1994. In our country, we have 75 disabled people’s organizations (DPOs). And, in relation to your question, I can see that the most important skill that we have to advocate for is communication. Communication should come first in a relationship. Once we have developed a relationship, we should understand better, listen, and observe what is going on, and where there is space for us to advocate. We can advocate one time and at the right time. And the second skill is lobbying. Lobbying is linked with advocacy work. And the thing that we have to advocate for must be evidence-based. For example, with the Masterplan, we could say how and why Cambodia can advocate for this policy. Because Cambodia is a member of the ASEAN Community, we everyone needs monitor policy implementation—not only the government, and not only CSOs and DPOs. And the other necessary skills are soft skills. Why soft skills? Because while we advocate, act, or campaign, we have to keep smiling, not fighting, but we need engagement from the stakeholders. I can see both skills are important as well as public speaking skills. If we have public speaking skills, when we go to meet government officials and key stakeholders, we want to engage and lobby with them to know what we want to do. One thing that is also important is that our Masterplan will launch soon and we can say we have a mechanism to monitor and evaluate it.  Perhaps after the Masterplan is adopted after a year or two, we have to see what our mechanism is for monitoring progress. And the last skill that I think is also important is engaging with stakeholders because we want to meet the right person at the right time - this fits with our goal and objectives. 


Interviewer: How about you Ms. Monea - what do you think are the most important skills required for the implementation of ASEAN Enabling Masterplan in relation to the knowledge that you have gained from this training?


Monea: Like Monica said, communication skills are the most important skills needed to advocate for implementing the Masterplan. During the communication training, we used many tools for advocacy to share our messages through mass media, a meeting or conference, or existing materials. For me, communication is the most important. The other skills we developed related to advocacy are monitoring and evaluation skills.  


Interviewer: It is interesting because I think you are both the first two participants that have mentioned something about mass media. How about your engagement with mass media in Cambodia – do you have a good relationship with the media? Do you conduct press conferences? If so, how many have you had and how often you distribute this information, for instance?


Monica: From our experience in Cambodia, we have done this many times and we have found that conferences are the best way for us. For example, at a conference or forum, we can also make a brief release to the media, and invite the media to come and endorse this. We can discuss or debate disability issues and when is the right moment for disability advocacy. After we have completed the event, we can also make a statement from DPOs and stakeholders to the government and public. I think this is the best strategy for Cambodia. The statement is not against the government but rather what we want to do to engage and support each other, both from the perspective of the government and stakeholders, to make sure we can make the Masterplan happen.  


Interviewer: [to Monea] Do you have any additions? 


Monea: Another way would be for CDPO to have its own radio program so every event that it hosts can be relayed to the public, so all people in Cambodia can listen to our radio program.  


Interviewer: That is a great idea. In this training you have worked with disability rights advocates from across the region to develop messages about the Masterplan. What do you think are the key messages that need to be heard by your government?


Monea: Messages are useful tools for advocacy and, in the training, we had to agree on one key message with the other participants. Our key message is: “Inclusion starts with you, me and the Masterplan.” That message we agree must be for our country, as well.


Interviewer: There is this sense of campaigning or pitching to other stakeholders, as well, so it’s: “me, you and the Masterplan.”


Monica: Yes, it’s about everyone.


Interviewer: Yes, it is about rights for everyone. Monica, do you have anything to add? 


Monica: Yes, I think Monea already said it, but I wanted to mention that we used three methods to agree to a key message. First, we were thinking about innovation; second, about clarity; and third, about impact. We learned a lot from our training that is reflected in this message here. We ensured that our message covered these three points that I have mentioned.


Monica: From my own perspective, we use two approaches in our country—formal and informal. Formal means everything is done through quiet diplomacy and we need a long time for the process. I said we need a long time because we cannot approach the government in one meeting; first, we have to submit a letter and then the process takes time.


Interviewer: For the last question, please share one thing that you want to highlight from this training; one thing that you have learned from other ASEAN participants in this training. 


Monea: Yes, thank you. I gained much experience and knowledge from the training. I learned that messaging is a powerful tool for advocacy, and learned how to create powerful messages for the government and clear messages for persons that cannot read and understand. Good messages can have high impacts in society.


Interviewer: I understand that you have learned techniques, strategies, tools and skills about impactful communication. How about the lessons you learned from other participants?


Monea: I have learned about advocacy and advocacy techniques using mass media. I have gained more experience from other participants about using media that can be applied in our country. 


Monica: During this training, I learned many strategies to bring back to my country. First, this means I learned from the experiences of training participants from other countries—what is going on in their country and their success stories. The other thing that is very important was the last session about creating an advocacy plan. Besides knowing which activities to lobby for, we should develop a plan to cover all of our activities. For example, if we would like to do activity A, we should plan: what we want to do, why, how, when and how this will impact to our project. This session had lots of interesting information for us to bring back to our country and we will make our [advocacy] happen in our countries. 


Interviewer: In terms of the diversity and cross-cultural experiences brought by other participants, what have learned from them? 


Monica: I learned we can say habits, or the way the people do things. This means before they campaign or start the activity or the advocacy work, the first thing we have do is keep smiling; I mean soft skills, like keeping in touch or building relationships with a stakeholder. We are the DPO, so we put pressure to our government. So, I think this point is good, and I think we can bring it back to our country. 


Interviewer: Thank you very much for your time Monica and Monea.