Sisters of Code is Cambodia's first female coding club empowering young women with coding skills and creating opportunities in the male dominated tech industry.
As the first non-profit female coding club in Cambodia, Sisters of Code got valuable insights into the challenges faced by young women interested in the tech industry. Cultural biases and stereotypes in Cambodia often prevent girls from pursuing technology education. Therefore, it is crucial to establish a supportive and inclusive environment for girls to learn coding. Through our non-profit programme and its growth in Cambodia, we have recognised the significant impact of education and its transformative effect on individuals, communities and society as a whole. We are proud to witness our members learning together, attaining new goals and advancing their personal confidence and professional skills.
One of the biggest headaches faced by the clubs in Cambodia was finding suitable venues to host our classes, which were organised on the weekends. Since we target students from less privileged backgrounds, who do not usually have computers at home, we were trying to partner with local schools. However, many of the schools lacked basic infrastructure like stable internet connectivity and functioning computers. We faced the same issue while setting up online clubs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not every student enrolled in our programme could join our lessons without interruption. Additionally, we had to navigate through cultural norms that placed more emphasis on traditional gender roles. It required a lot of effort to convince parents to allow and then support their daughters to participate in the clubs. Despite these challenges, the experience taught us to be resourceful, flexible and persistent in pursuing our goals.
Sisters of Code is a non-profit programme in Cambodia that aims to empower female students in technology. It is not focused on governance, law or regulation. Sisters of Code targets girls between the ages of 11 and 18 and provides them with free coding and digital literacy courses, mentorship and leadership development opportunities. Our programme’s primary goal is to bridge the gender gap in the tech industry and provide young women with the skills and confidence they need to succeed in the 21st century’s digital economy, which is currently male dominated.
Sisters of Code is a free coding and digital literacy programme in Cambodia that seeks to empower young women in technology and address the gender gap in the country’s technology industry. The programme was initially launched by IT Academy STEP Cambodia Institute and has received funding from various sources, including USAID, the British Embassy and now the Ministry of Telecommunication and Post in Cambodia.
Sisters of Code operates in Cambodia, a country with a growing interest in digitisation and technological advancement. The Cambodian government has expressed support for digitisation projects, recognising their potential for economic growth and development. The country’s national strategy for digitisation, known as the “Digital Cambodia 2025” plan, aims to promote technology industry growth, improve access to digital services and increase digital literacy. However, the country faces a clear lack of skilled talent and the ability to catch up with the fast-developing area of technological advancement. Therefore, growing the capacities of the country’s human capital is critical for its development across all sectors. Unfortunately, the traditionally structured education system, multiple challenges with regard to educational reforms as well as the lack of access to digital infrastructure altogether prevent girls from learning digital skills. This is where Sisters of Code comes in, offering girls the opportunity to learn programming and digital literacy outside of the traditional education system.
The programme provides a comprehensive curriculum, mentorship and leadership development opportunities to create a supportive and inclusive environment for girls. Sisters of Code seeks to create a welcoming space where young women can develop the skills and confidence necessary to pursue careers in technology. Cambodia’s traditional gender roles and limited access to education for girls can hinder their participation in technology-related fields. However, Sisters of Code has been successful in addressing these challenges, creating a supportive and inclusive environment for girls interested in technology. The project has also benefited from the increasing interest in digital literacy and technology in the country.
The governmental and administrative influences on Sisters of Code have been generally positive, with the government expressing support for digitisation and technology-related projects. In 2019, IT Academy STEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Cambodia to collaborate on offering Sisters of Code clubs in public schools. As well as received support from the Ministry of Telecommunication and Post with the CBRD fund for both Sisters of Code Ambassadors and Clubs development on the national level in Cambodia. The programme follows local laws and regulations related to education, non-profit organisations and privacy protection for minors child protection to ensure full compliance and best governance practices.
Making Sisters of Code a reality began with the identification of the gender gap in Cambodia’s technology industry. Women were underrepresented and faced limited opportunities, and cultural stereotypes hindered their ability to study technology. The programme sought to create a supportive and inclusive environment for girls to learn and develop skills in technology. The IT Academy STEP Institute identified the need for such a programme and initially collaborated with USAID and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Cambodia to launch the first pilot project.
The programme started with the development of a comprehensive curriculum that covers various aspects of coding and digital literacy, as well as online security. It was essential to design the programme to be accessible and relevant to the needs of the girls, considering their age and level of prior knowledge. The curriculum was designed to be interactive, hands-on and practical in order to make the learning experience engaging and fun for the girls.
After developing the curriculum, the programme identified the participants and began the recruitment process. The programme was primarily targeted at girls between 11 and 18 years of age, and participants were selected based on their interest in technology and digital skills. The recruitment process involved outreach efforts to schools, communities and social media to reach as many girls as possible. The programme team also held information sessions for potential participants and their parents to ensure they understood the programme’s objectives and the benefits it offers. It was important to work with parents, so they would support their daughters while attending Sisters of Code clubs, which took place on weekends.
Once the participants were identified, the programme provided them with the necessary equipment, including laptops and internet access, to facilitate learning. The programme also identified and recruited mentors who had the technical expertise and experience to guide the girls through the learning process. These mentors played a crucial role in ensuring the girls received the necessary support, encouragement and guidance to succeed in the programme.
The programme’s execution faced various challenges, including cultural stereotypes that hindered girls’ participation in technology-related fields. The programme team had to create a supportive and inclusive environment for the girls and overcome cultural barriers to ensure their success. Another significant challenge was funding, which was essential to ensure the programme’s sustainability and growth. The programme team had to identify and secure funding from various sources to ensure the programme’s continuation.
Despite the challenges, Sisters of Code has been quite successful in empowering young women in technology and digital skills. The programme achieved its objectives of creating a supportive and inclusive environment for girls to learn and develop skills in technology. It also provided girls with leadership development opportunities, empowering them to pursue careers in technology and other fields.
The stakeholders involved in Sisters of Code were the programme team, parents, donors, governmental institutions, such as the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, as well as the Ministry of Telecommunication in Cambodia, schools and NGOs, working with female students and media.
Surprises during the programme’s execution included the level of interest and dedication shown by the girls in learning and developing their skills in technology. The team was impressed by the girls’ enthusiasm and the progress they made in the programme. Every time we have announced accepting applications to join Sisters of Code clubs, we would receive 3 to 4 times more applications than open slots.
Sisters of Code programme’s curriculum covers various aspects of coding and digital literacy, including fundamentals of cyber security, web development, game development and animation. The programme also utilised online resources (such as code.org and Scratch, as well as WIX), creating educational videos and materials in Khmer, Cambodia’s national language.
Reflecting on the programme, there are several lessons that can be drawn from its development and impact.
When it comes to impact and efficiency, Sisters of Code has made significant strides in addressing the gender gap in Cambodia’s technology industry. By providing free coding and digital literacy education, the programme has empowered young women across Cambodia to pursue careers in technology and acquire skills that can benefit them in any field. Some of our Sisters admitted that by attending the programme, they’d developed their confidence and a broader understanding of technology and trends. Some of our students even got selected for international scholarships in Korea, Japan and Scotland. That was a life-changing experience for them. However, it is important to note that the impact of the project will take time to fully measure, as the programme is still relatively new. In terms of cost-benefit ratio, while the programme has received some funding from sources such as USAID, the British Embassy and the Ministry of Telecommunication and Post in Cambodia, there is still a need for more resources to sustain and expand the programme’s impact. The funding is especially essential for reaching out to students in the provinces where access to computers and internet connectivity is limited.
In terms of added value, Sisters of Code has had positive side effects beyond its primary goal of addressing the gender gap in the technology industry. By creating a supportive and inclusive environment for young women to learn coding and digital literacy, the programme has also helped to increase overall digital literacy and interest in technology in Cambodia. Additionally, the programme has benefited from surprising synergies with other non-governmental organisations and institutions, such as schools and universities, which have provided additional resources and support for participants. We are very proud of having a long partnership with the New Generation School in Phnom Penh and the Happy Chandara NGO school, who now have included Sisters of Code clubs as a permanent educational opportunity for their students.
Overall, Sisters of Code can be considered a success in addressing the gender gap in Cambodia’s technology industry. The programme has empowered young women to pursue careers in technology and acquire skills that can benefit them in any field, as well as increased overall digital literacy and interest in technology in Cambodia. While the programme still faces challenges in terms of resources and funding, its impact and potential for future growth are clear.
In terms of measuring success, Sisters of Code has used several metrics to evaluate the programme’s impact, including the number of participants, the skills acquired by participants, and students surveys before and after the programme to measure changes in perception regarding female students abilities to learn technology, as well as to measure net promoters score, which is actually 100% – all our graduates would recommend Sisters of Code.
In conclusion, Sisters of Code has provided a valuable lesson in the power of education and the transformative effect it can have on individuals, communities and society as a whole. While there are still challenges and room for growth, the success and impact of the programme are clear, and it serves as a model for other organisations seeking to address similar issues.