Pink Phone

Country Profile: Cambodia


14,805,000 (2009)

Official Language


Other officially recognised languages

Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham and Khmer Loe

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day)


Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP


Primary School Net Enrolment/Attendance (2000–2007)


Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)


Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2000-2006)

Female: 67%
Male: 86%
Total: 76%


Programme Overview

Programme TitlePink Phone
Implementing OrganizationWomen for Prosperity
Language of InstructionKhmer
FundingOxfam GB (funds phones and programme costs), Metfone (provides a credit of US $3 for 51 mobile phones per month for one year)
Programme PartnersMetfone
Annual Programme CostsUS $6,000 ($30 per mobile phone plus costs for inviting participants to attend training)
Date of Inception2010

Country Context and Background

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Almost half of its population lives on less than US $2 per day. In spite of its high poverty rate, only 0.2% of the population are unemployed, while, in 2002, Cambodia achieved a GDP growth rate of 7.3%, one of the highest on record in Asia (UNESCO Institute for Statistics).

Cambodia has a troubled recent history. Under the communist Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, the educational infrastructure was systematically dismantled. Vital resources, such as schools and books, were destroyed, and between 75% and 80% of all professionals in Cambodia were killed, including many teachers. This resulted in a long-term legacy of high illiteracy. By the time the Khmer Rouge regime was abolished, approximately 40% of the population was illiterate. Cambodia’s literacy rate has risen, bit by bit, since the regime was overthrown. It stood at 74% in 2009 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). These improvements include progress at primary school level, where gender disparities have been reduced. Although there is no universal right to education, since 2006 Cambodia has maintained a relatively high net enrolment rate in primary education of 98%, with an almost equal proportion of boys and girls. However, attendance at secondary school remains very low, with a net enrolment rate of only 38% recorded in 2008 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). One key reason for this is the direct and indirect cost of education, which most parents cannot afford. This is compounded not only by a lack of quality in education, but also by a lack of access, especially in rural areas (UNICEF Cambodia).

The improved communication and access to information which mobile phones offer can have a significant impact on users’ livelihoods, particularly among the most vulnerable and traditionally hard-to-reach learners. To this end, development organisations began to make use of mobile phones across a range of projects which have helped to reduce vulnerability, improve social empowerment, increase access to health and education services, and to create more and better businesses. In 2010 Oxfam GB and Women for Prosperity (WfP) established a pilot scheme, called Pink Phone, which provided mobile phones to women in or aspiring to leadership positions in their communities, including women commune councillors and women wishing to improve their livelihoods by becoming small producers, for example in farming, processing or trade. The aim was to use mobile technology to empower women and so to support them in overcoming the hurdles they face in becoming agents of change in communities in which they have traditionally held subordinate roles.

Programme Overview

Pink Phone was launched as part of a wider programme to economically and politically empower women. It was structured on the model of WfP’s Women for Leadership programme, in which women attend capacity-building training in order to prepare them for a position as a community leader and to enable them to influence the development and monitoring of public policy. Every Pink Phone participant also took part in WfP’s Women’s Economic Leadership programme.

Initially, the Pink Phone programme approached 45 female commune councillors from 14 districts within three provinces: Kampong Thom, Kratie, and Stung Treng. The aim was to raise understanding of why women need to involve themselves in Cambodia´s economic development, and to demonstrate how economic independence can be a means of moving out of poverty, leading, in turn, to greater political empowerment. In practical terms, the Pink Phone project aims to enable female commune councillors to access information and to improve their knowledge and communication skills through the use of mobile telephones. The women are usually already active in leaderships roles, acting as ‘deputies’ in their communities. The community deputy is the first point of contact for people in the community who have concerns about issues such as health, violence or primary school quality. She also functions as a leader and mediator between community members and government institutions such as health centres, schools and the police. A pink mobile phone is given to each of the participating women. The phones, together with the capacity-building training, which improves their confidence and develops their leadership skills, help the councillors improve their communication with constituents as well as with other commune councillers and stakeholders outside their communities. It also enhances their ability to assist women producer groups in promoting their products and increasing their market power.

The councillors who participated in the programme have supported the development of other women leaders, leading to the programme’s expansion. Mobile phones have now been given to businesswomen to support them in building up their enterprises and in establishing healthy trading relations. As each community group works on different activities to generate income for their families, whether planting organic vegetables, food processing or farming chickens, the pink phone allows them to communicate with each other, sharing information on training schedules, market prices or weather reports, as well as with buyers.

WfP organized training sessions for the 45 women commune councillors, holding one in each of the three provinces. Each training session lasted two days. The instructors, drawn from WfP staff, gave support to women who struggled with technology in general and with mobile phones, in particular. A large billboard was used to explain the features of the phone, illustrating each and every key and its meaning and function. Participants learned the alphabet and how to use the keyboard, enabling them to use mobile phones with ease. The pink phones were specially programmed to allow SMS text messaging in the Khmer language. Class presentations, role plays, brainstorming and facilitation, group discussions and games, were all used to encourage the active participation of the learners.

Pink was chosen as the colour of the phones to show that they belonged to the women and so that men would be deterred from using them. The decision was inspired by a project that provided pink bicycles for women to enable them to travel more easily. Moreover, in Cambodia pink is regarded as a symbol of empowerment – an appropriate colour for a project aiming to support women to act as strong leaders in their communities.


Aims and Objectives

The main aim of the programme was to promote women’s participation in public affairs.

Its objectives to achieve this were to:

Programme Implementation

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The capability-building sessions are organised in the form of ‘train the trainers’ workshops, with class presentations, role plays, brainstorming and facilitation, group discussions and games, to encourage the active involvement of participants.

Programme Content and Teaching Material

WfP provided capability-building workshops for 45 commune councillors, demonstrating how to use SMS text messaging in the Khmer language and providing each participant with a pink mobile phone. The workshops taught participants about the role and responsibility of facilitators, how to identify and categorise issues and how to develop strategies to resolve them. They also learned how to make reports, to ask questions and to develop their listening skills. Participants had the opportunity to share their experiences, to learn facilitation techniques and to participate actively in group discussions. Participants were also taught how to conduct assessments of economic needs and preferences and how to analyse the results of these assessments. They acquired skills in writing concept papers and preparing budget plans, and learned how to assist village women in forming community groups and how to manage a community group. They also received training in writing project narratives and finance reports and guidance on how to seek assistance from relevant departments and stakeholders.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The women who take part in the programme also participate in the WfP’s Women’s Economic Leadership programme, attending regular meetings with the other participants. The training of participants is provided by two members of WfP staff, funded by the WfP’s wider programme supporting women’s economic and political empowerment.

Enrolment of Learners

The female councillors were selected by Oxfam GB and WfP staff. Initially, 45 councillors from 45 communities in three different provinces received a pink phone. With the expansion of the programme, and the high demand from women working in leadership roles in their communities, women in other positions also received a phone. Oxfam GB continues to raise funds in order to provide more phones to women leaders. Women participating in the programme must meet certain criteria. They must be proficient in the Khmer language, and should be in a leadership position or have leadership potential. There are no economic criteria – many of the participating women are poor – but they should be in position to coordinate work among council members, the community, the police and other authorities. The women must be available around the clock to provide an immediate response when receiving a call. This is especially necessary at night, when it is difficult to leave the house to seek help in cases of emergency. Participating women come from different political parties, from communities nearby and far away, and from provincial towns.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

At the end of the training, each participant is asked to come to the front of the class and demonstrate how to use the phone, particularly how to use the letters on the keyboard and how to write and send SMS text messages. More advanced learners have the chance to help participants who have difficulty in memorizing the keys. This represents not only a great opportunity to learn the alphabet by using new technology, but also raises the self-esteem of participating women.

Monitoring and Evaluation of the Programme

For monitoring, a system was set up by WfP through which all participants receive daily SMS text messages from WfP staff. The women are required to answer the message, with their response appearing in the WfP system. Participants can, furthermore, send text messages to anyone else they wish. They must communicate by text at least three times each week. If a participant does not respond or responds less often than required, WfP will follow up with a phone call.

All participants meet twice each year to review the project, and three times each year, as part of WfP’s Women’s Economic Leadership programme.


Programme Impact and Challenges

The greatest achievements of the project include:

  1. Women leaders now own a pink phone, representing the network;
  2. Women leaders at grassroots level are able to communicate through SMS (two-way communication);
  3. Women leaders have improved their work performances, as well as their communication skills, are able to take action in a timely manner (reacting, for example, to issues of domestic violence, child birth or disaster warnings), and are informed about market prices, weather reports and so on;
  4. Women have begun to realize that technology is for everyone, and not just for men and young people;
  5. The pink phones have helped the women to develop processes for decision-making, for instance regarding work and time management; and
  6. The phones are saving women time, as they no longer have to cycle long distances to speak to other councillors or community members. This allows them to spend more time on monitoring different projects in the community.

The community values the programme, recognizing that the mobile phones make possible speedier interventions, thus strengthening the connection between community members and commune councillors. More efficient time management means the deputies have more time to monitor different projects in the community. This has resulted in a decline in crime rates and violence, as well as better access to health centres and improved primary education.

The pink phones also support women´s livelihoods by providing them with current market prices of agricultural commodities or warnings concerning weather conditions, such as floods or storms. The phones are also helping support community members, expecially women, for instance in intervening quickly in cases of domestic violence.

People, of course, use telephones primarily for verbal communication. However, because of the the programme’s monitoring system and the fact that text messages are perhaps safer when it comes to conducting business transactions, the project uses mostly written communication. This requires the women to improve their literacy skills by remembering the alphabet and using the keyboard. Participants report their pride at being up to date with new technology and say that it gives them confidence in their capabilities and reinforces other learning.

Because of these impacts and the positive feedback of participating women, the programme plans to expand, provided funding can be found.

Impact on Literacy Skills

Before they could learn to use a mobile phone, some of the women had to learn how to read and write Khmer. They were supported in this by the Women’s Economic Leadership programme, but they also had to follow up their learning in their own time and on their own initiative.

Some of the women were taught how to read and write in Khmer with the use of the mobile device. A billboard was created to show the women how to operate the phone, with a section using Khmer characters. Photocopies of the billboard were printed out and distributed to participants so they could continue to practice them on their own. The use of modern technology in the learning proved a good way of engaging and encouraging the women to overcome their problems with literacy.

It is hoped that this work will raise awareness of the importance of literacy skills, not just for women but for all members of the community.

Economic Impacts

The Women’s Economic Leadership programme has improved the employment prospects of many participants, including poor women with few resources, giving them the opportunity to work in leadership positions. Women who have used the phones in their business have found it has helped them to expand and improve their trade networks. The information they receive each day on farm product prices means they know whether or not the price they are paying is fair. All participants receive the same information.

Impact on Primary Education

The phones help to assure the quality of community pre-school and primary school provision so that access to education is improved. Rather than travel to the schools to monitor performance, councillors can now connect with the teachers via phone, saving time which they can invest in other projects.

Impact on the Role of Women

The programme gives women the opportunity to step out of the traditional role of housewife and to become engaged in social and political issues. This has opened up a dialogue about gender roles and the support available for women in changing their traditional roles as well in connecting with other, like-minded women.

Since the programme began, the mobile phones have come to be seen as essential in participants’ communities, sometimes leading to larger-scale, systemic changes in those communities. There is, for example, greater acceptance of the leadership role of women who were recognized for the role they played in their communities and for the good working relations they had developed. As a result, the women have become more self-confident. They are proud of what they have accomplished, as are their husbands and families. They have also gained the respect of male colleagues who have heard them report on their work at commune meetings. This newfound respect has, in turn, encouraged the women to work harder, to take more responsibility and to become more effective in their work. This benefits the community, as the women are better able to help men and women in need through effective communication.


Impact on the Community

The female councillors were able to build good, trusting relationships with individuals in their community, because their use of mobile phones enabled them to solve problems quickly. Trust is essential in building solidarity within a community and empowers people to develop sustainable solutions for everyday problems. One example is the decrease in domestic crime which resulted from a more efficient flow of communication. Before, victims could be reluctant to report domestic crime to their village chief, who, in most cases, would not take appropriate action. This is no longer an issue since most cases are now reported directly to female councillors. Neighbours are also reporting incidents to the deputy, who is able to inform the police immediately. Overall, the mobile phone has proved an important and time-efficient tool in increasing security within communities. It can help save people’s lives, for instance through flood reports that help to evacuate villages faster or in getting immediate help for women in labour. Testimonials from commune chiefs, councillors and deputies acknowledge the success of the project.

Testimonials of Learners

The success of the pilot project shows that even small innovations in terms of communication can make a big difference and can even help to save lives. The impact of the programme is clear from the extent of the women´s engagement and the work they have been able to do, all of which has led to them being more valued, both as women and as professionals. As the programme has developed, important benefits have emerged, including improved security, a better flow of information and enhanced access to health services. The use of the phones has also allowed well-organised monitoring, for example in the case of schools. Ham Pen, councillor of the Salavisay Commune, says: ‘This phone helps me to connect myself with teachers of the pre-school, police, male colleagues in my commune. At village meetings, I am able to report to the commune chief if the teacher has not been going to work at the pre-school.’

The testimonials of the women reveal a positive impact on inter-community communication. The mobile phones are now regarded as vital to an improved connection between all members of a community:

The phone helps me to communicate better as a leader. It also allows me to lend support to people when I cannot be there to accompany them. Chea Kimhong, councillor, Andong Por Commune

The phone is invaluable, to myself and the community as a whole, because it brings us together and promotes increased communication within the community. Yem Im, First Deputy, Sreng Commune


Some of the women had difficulty participating actively in the Women’s Economic Leadership programme, especially in the beginning when mobiles were yet to be distributed. The phones provided the women with an easier way to connect with each other, making aspects of their work easier, for instance organising meetings. This shows how useful the Pink Phone programme has been in supplementing the Women’s Economic Leadership programme. Combining two programmes can increase the learning outcomes of both. The Pink Phone programme would not work as well without the preparation of a course on women’s leadership. On the other hand, mobile phones proved highly efficient instruments to support the Women’s Economic Leadership programme, enabling participants to arrange and take part in regular meetings.

As they progressed on the programme, the women were often confronted with difficult, unpredictable situations, which they had to deal with directly, with no outside support. Their lack of experience meant dealing with these problems could be tough. The pink phone enabled them to reach out and seek assistance from other women leaders who did have the experience and expertise.

Another difficulty was the conflict that was, at times, created within families by the challenge the programme posed to the traditional view of women as housewives and mothers.

Male leaders, especially male commune chiefs, welcomed the use of phones by female commune councilors, recognizing that it made their work much easier. Most female councillors are involved in the commune’s committee for women and children, and organize numerous related activities. The pink phone helps to improve communication between colleagues, as well as with villagers and other stakeholders.

There were no reports of male colleagues demonstrating jealousy towards the women, either because they had been given a phone or because of the benefits they had gained from taking part in the programme. Typically, in Cambodia, only men own a phone, obliging women to borrow their husband´s in order to communicate with others. Now that women also own mobiles, they can use them for their own benefit and for that of their community – something their male colleagues appreciate.

Lessons Learned

Network Coordination

One important lesson is that the system of providing and receiving information via SMS requires oversight and follow-up where members are unresponsive. There must be an individual responsible for compiling the information, adding it to the system and sending out information to the members in the network. If questions arise a member can pose a query, which, in turn, can be answered by any member of the network. Where members do not respond, it is important that this is followed up and any issues addressed.

Language Barriers

To overcome language barriers, the pink phones were programmed in Khmer. The programme also opted for the phone provider with the best coverage in rural areas to ensure smoother communication. As all members use the same provider and, therefore, belong to the same phone network, costs are kept low.

Role of Women

The programme represents a good example of women’s empowerment through the use of innovative technology in Southeast Asia. Women are equipped with an effective communication tool which enhances their authority and status, as well as improving their capacity at work. The use of mobile phones by women leaders can produce a shift in perception and can help challenge traditional thinking about gender roles. Instead of being regarded as incapable of holding leadership positions, women are recognized as strong actors in the community. The Pink Phone programme has made a significant contribution to the difficult process of changing gender roles and perceptions at personal, social, cultural and political levels in Cambodia.

Community Trust

The programme shows that well-developed communication is based on trust. As the testimonials show, trust has increased within the communities, particularly trust in community leaders. By making themselves available and responsive to the needs and demands of individuals, women leaders, councillors and heads of committee have developed strong relationships of trust within their communities.


The Women’s Economic Leadership programme has been running for a number of years now, which shows that its success is not short-term. Since the introduction of the Pink Phone programme in 2010 the leadership programme has become even more effective, with organisation among groups of women becoming much easier.

Contact details

Women for Prosperity
Address: No. 17, St. 430 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tel.: 023 212 429, Fax: 023 212 447
E-Mail: wfpnp (at)

Address: #13, St. 475, Sangkat Tumnub Tuek
Khan Chamcar Morn, Phnom Penh
Cambodia, P.O. Box 883
Tel.: +855 23 212 353 4 5, Fax: +855 23 211 873