Jolyda Sou is a financial management and investment specialist working in Cambodia. Jolyda is the co-founder of Project Inspire, which builds the capacity of young Cambodians on businesses, start-ups, and soft skills. She has a master’s degree in law and diplomacy with a business focus from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a certificate in negotiation from Harvard Law School.
[Below is the transcript of the interview that is slightly edited for clarity.]
Sotheary: Some young people face challenges deciding what to study or work on. How do you draw your career path in the financial sector?
Jolyda: For me, exploring a career is not about doing it because of loving it. I have been through many things; in the end, I decided to pick up the career path in the financial sector. I want to share with the audience that all of the experiences you have been through, love it or not, would help you understand the world better and help us make a better decision.
I think it is crucial for all of us. It is not easy to be an expert in the field. People have many choices; you can be whatever because there are many opportunities. Sometimes, we don’t know what we like because we have not tried other jobs. What I did for myself is have tried many things. I traveled abroad, joined exchange programs, and taught at RUPP. When you have done all of these, you can explore whether or not you like it; you can feel if the job fits you. Then, you should be able to understand what you want to do in life.
Sotheary: You are the co-founder of Project Inspire. Can you tell me about the project?
Jolyda: We started the Project Inspire in 2016. I had just returned from abroad at that time. I observed that Cambodian youth are as potent as other young people in other countries. Cambodian youth, at that time, had not had an opportunity to unlock their potential. We didn’t have enough training to equip youth’s capacity. There was a lack of opportunity to intern or volunteer for young people. So, we created the Project Inspire to allow young people to initiate or implement a project. We had around 30 people when we first established it. We allowed young people to carry out new initiatives. We conducted conferences and workshops and produced digital content. We provided training on soft skills to young people, start-ups, and business owners. Since its establishment, we have provided volunteer opportunities to more than 230 young people. We have reached thousands of people through our programs. I am proud that youth who engaged with the project could get great opportunities after volunteering. Some youth get a scholarship to study abroad. Some youth has promising career. Some young people initiated their projects.
Sotheary: As a young woman working in finance and investment, what challenges do you face?
Jolyda: I think I am lucky because I have supportive family and friends. I don’t think I face as many difficulties as other women. But I am also a woman; thus, sometimes, I receive discouraging words or criticism. We need to know ourselves, what we want to do, and our capacity to do something. I have seen many female role models who have high capacity. Regardless of your sex, you can do whatever if you commit to doing it.
I would like to encourage women in a less supportive environment that doesn’t support their initiative, that it is just social expectation. We should not let this expectation block our ways. If we have high commitment and capacity, we can do whatever we want.
Sotheary: What motivates you to continue working in the field of finance and investment?
Jolyda: I have internal and external motivating factors. For the external factor, I have a supportive family. They support me in whatever I do. I have mentors and seniors who support me. The most crucial factor is the internal factor. I will always have an image of myself in the next 5 years. When we face challenges, we know where we want to be in the future. I know what I want to achieve. Thus, no matter what happens, I will continue my journey. Sometimes if we are unsure about what we want, we lose focus because of our surroundings. You should ask yourself if you’re going to give up because of other people’s words. We need to stay focused. When I receive criticism, I always ask myself, ‘is that correct?’ If it reflects the reality, I take it. If not, I will let it go. Criticism is not all wrong. Sometimes it is a tool to improve ourselves. We listen to people but don’t discourage yourselves because of their words.
Sotheary: How do you balance your mental well-being?
Jolyda: I take it easy. When we hear feedback or criticism, we think about it. If it reflects the reality, I take it. If it is not helpful, I don’t keep them in my head. I don’t waste my energy and time on it. I don’t overthink. If I decide to do it, I do it. I don’t complicate the situation.
I eat selective foods. I know some people don’t have many choices. If we can, we should pay attention to what we eat. For instance, I eat organic food. I eat what my body can tolerate. This is how we respect our guts. We need to understand our body’s needs. If we eat food that our body can’t tolerate, it will react to it.
Sotheary: How do you manage your time?
Jolyda: I try to be efficient at work. This is how I work on many projects. For instance, Project Inspire has many programs, including conferences and digital campaigns. What I love most at Project Inspire is I have a good team. I delegate tasks to them. I supervise them. It reduces my workload, and at the same time, they can learn about the work. And we can reach the same result.
My work at the financial institutions depends on our knowledge in the sector. Therefore, I spend time reading documents relevant to my work. We research more and learn more about our sector, it can help us work more efficiently.
Another point is our way of working. For instance, we need to take notes when we have a meeting. Sometimes, we do not note it; we record the meeting and make the note later. I don’t do that. When I have a meeting, I pay attention to the meeting. I commit to having a good note after the meeting. I don’t want to delay my work. This is just a small example. There are many other tips that you can do to improve your efficiency.
Sotheary: You got a scholarship to study abroad. How have you prepared yourself to get a scholarship?
Jolyda: It depends on each scholarship. For Fulbright, you need to understand what they need; do you meet their criteria; do you know how to write a good application? First, they need TOFEL, 2 years of experience, good grades, and contribution to society. If we have all of that, we are qualified.
If we are not qualified, we need to ask ourselves, ‘what should we do to meet the criteria?’ For instance, if we don’t have good English, we need to study English. If we have one year of working experience, we are not eligible. So we need to go through the criteria again to see if we meet the requirement.
Third, I would like to talk about writing an application. A good application is a short and concise statement that makes people understand you immediately when first reading it. When people select the scholarship, they don’t have time to read everything. Outstanding people have good statements. I want to encourage young people to dig deeper into their personal life when writing statements; why do you want to study that subject, why do you need that scholarship, how do you give back to your society? I encourage young people to be authentic when writing the application. You should not copy from other people. Each person has their own story; be yourself; be authentic; share your personal story.
Moreover, we need to understand why you want to study and for what. For the Fulbright scholarship, they ask us to choose our major, for instance, law, finance, art, etc. If we don’t know each major clearly, we can’t write a good application because we can’t find a reason to explain the selecting committee.
In short, we need to read the scholarship requirement to strengthen our capacity and know how to write a good application.
Sotheary: Do you have any messages for young people, especially young women, to do what they love?
Jolyda: Don’t be afraid of opportunity. Don’t think that you can’t do it. If you can’t do it today, you can make it happen tomorrow.
If you are interested in volunteering, I encourage you to do it. I want to share my perspectives on volunteering. Some people just do many volunteering works and do not focus on one thing. I don’t encourage young people to do that because when you do many things at a time, you can’t do it excellently. You can’t benefit from it. You should be selective; choose one thing you want to do, and do it. You will place your energy and spirit into it when you do only one thing. Then, you will get a good result. Then, you know what you have learned from your volunteer. When you apply for a job, the employer will screen us. If we have not delivered good work in an organization, it will affect our career. You should maintain your reputation. You should focus on one or two things; don’t do many things at a time.
You should maintain a good relationship with others. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people we would like to talk to. We can send them messages via social media and introduce ourselves to them. Don’t be afraid. Those types of conversations would extend our network that we can benefit from. When you make a connection, don’t ask if they can provide any benefits to you; instead, ask yourself if you can add any value to them.
Lastly, you can achieve anything if you commit to working hard on it.