By Robbie Corey-Boulet '07 (photos by Elena Lesley '04)
It takes 10 minutes via motorbike
to get from the office of The Phnom Penh Post, the most
recent stop in my journalism career, to the office of the company that
produces digital archives of The Brown Daily Herald, where my
journalism career began.
That company is Digital Divide
Data, which launched in 2001 as a social enterprise teaching Southeast
Asians the ins and outs of digitization and other tasks -- such as
data entry and records management -- required by many technology outsourcing
On a recent Friday, I visited
the company's Phnom Penh office with Elena Lesley, who is in Cambodia
on a Fulbright and who was The Herald's editor-in-chief in
2003, three years before I assumed the same role.
The office employs 238 people.
During our visit, those assigned to the afternoon shift were busy converting
old documents and media publications into digital files and then scouring
the files for errors. They sat in rows in the air-conditioned office
and stared quietly into their desktop computers. Above them, a sign
read, "Vision: To create a better future for disadvantaged people
in the developing world."
Many of the company's employees,
around 40 percent of whom are female, had finished high school but had
no IT training when they were hired, said our guide, Sontheary Sor,
an external relations officer. Digital Divide encourages them to pursue
higher education. They work for just six hours each day, meaning they
have time to attend classes and study, and they are also eligible for
the company’s scholarship program.
In 2007, the company signed
a contract with The Herald to work on a pilot project to create a digital archive of the newspaper's entire history, from 1891 forward. Over 15,000 pages have been digitized so far, some of which can already be viewed and searched at the Brown Daily Herald Digital Archive.
Khieu Rotha, 28, the manager
of the Herald project, has been with Digital Divide since 2001.
Before that, she said, she spent four years working at a garment factory
25 kilometers outside Phnom Penh.
In her old job, she said, she
was getting a paycheck to help support her large family -- she has
four brothers and two sisters -- and little else. At Digital Divide,
she said, she is getting the skills that can lead to a stable career,
one not susceptible to union politics or the fashion preferences of
people living half a world away.
Sor Sontheary said the company
follows closely where its employees land after they leave. Human resources
staffers guide departing employees through the job application process,
helping them to craft CVs and cover letters to market the skills they
Most employees stay at the
company for five or so years before moving on to make room for new applicants.
This institutionalized turnover, Sor Sontheary said, reflects the fact
that Digital Divide was not set up to be a final career destination.
"Once the employees leave
here," he said, "they have a long way to go."
Additional years of The Herald's archives will be digitized as funds are raised. Read more about The Herald's digitization project here.