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A Comprehensive Recap of #TedxPP

February 6, 2011

I attended TedxPhnomPenh yesterday. First, I want to tell you that the organizers hit it out of the park. It was an incredible blend of thoughts & cultures. We entered the conference to Keeda Oikawa, a Japanese artist, doing a live large-format painting while Kung Nai, the “Ray Charles of Cambodia”, sang and played the chapei dang weng (a traditional Cambodian lute). With a kickoff like that, we were bound to have a great day.


(photos from tedxpp blog)

The conference consisted of 13 live presentations & 3 previously recorded Ted talks that were projected on screen. The speakers and subject matter were diverse, but some common themes arose including the importance of sharing information (so appropriate at a Ted event!), engagement (especially of the target community), innovative solutions, and execution of great ideas.


What struck me most about the conference was the strong presence of Cambodians. I’d guess that half of the attendees were young Khmers, many of whom are entrepreneurs & students. Half of the speakers were Khmer, a few of whom grew up outside of Cambodia due to the Khmer Rouge but returned in their adult life.

This event was so thoroughly steeped in Cambodian culture and tradition. Beyond the performance of Kung Nai, there were two other presentation that resonated profoundly with the room. (I feel comfortable making such a strong statement because I was live tweeting the event + had the benefit of seeing the reactions of my fellow participants in real-time.)

One was the Tiny Toones presentation. Tiny Toones is a local NGO that helps kids find their voice, a safe space and release through dance. Their team of teenage dancers delighted us with hip-hop theater: a mix of popping + locking & bboy tricks partnered with passionate storytelling. They opened up their hearts and showed us their struggles – from drug & alcohol abuse, sexual orientation, and being orphaned. These kids have found family + safety, and it was truly inspiring to witness their stories.

Phloeun Prim talked about returning to Cambodia. After living in Cambodia for ten years and working at Artisan’s d’Angkor, Phloeun returned to the spot where he was born and, “realized for the first time that I belong to this land.” Woah. Powerful. Since then, he’s been working at Cambodian Living Arts to find the living masters of the traditional arts (who weren’t wiped out by the Khmer Rouge) in order to pass on these honored traditions.

One of the major themes of the day was the power of the arts. The power of the arts to transform a nation. How release through creativity can empower. And, the importance of preserving tradition for future generations.

Phloeun Prim captured this power when he said, “The Khmer Rouge could not eliminate art; it’s the soul of the nation.”


Yes, the Khmer Rouge was discussed. (As it needed to be.)

Typically, Cambodians do not discuss the Khmer Rouge and when they do it’s in hushed voices and small snippets. The country remains painfully silent, which is surely a barrier to healing and justice.

Sambath Thet, one of the filmmakers behind Enemies of the People, discovered that telling the truth –acknowledging what happened– is cathartic to both the perpetrators and victims of the Khmer Rouge. Enemies of the People is a documentary chronicling Thet’s quest to understand why his family was killed.

Theary Seng argues that the only true peace is that which includes justice. “Peace with justice is a human value with universal yearning.” While the Khmer Rouge Tribunal can offer limited political justice, its true value is as a court of public opinion capable of providing horizontal and restorative justice, which is encouraging dialogue. Cambodians are beginning to break their silence.

Both Sambath Thet and Theary Seng are looking for ways to heal the nation. The Khmer Rouge traumatized everyone, perpetrators and victims, so this push for openness is encouraging.


The need for a more open society was echoed by Kounila Keo and Teac Sachak Reahou (the winner of the Lift essay contest).

Kounila Keo uses blogging to encourage social discourse on topics that previously remained closed to commentary. She’s joined the movement of Khmer Bloggers (Khloggers) who use the medium to drive social change. Her blog is the epitome of freedom of speech in action.

Teak Sachak Reahou dreams of creating an education watchgroup. This is desperately needed here in Cambodia. A place where teachers frequently skip class and charge their students for outside tutoring on the lessons that should have been taught during school hours.


Naturally, there was talk about community. Especially, how to leverage different communities.

Sithen Sun, a passionate advocate (dare I say evangelist?) for self-education, implored the audience to create their Mastermind Club – a tribe of mentors and colleagues who can offer emotional, personal and professional support.

Mike Rios talked about the importance of investing in people to create long-term sustainable solutions. “You don’t need to be a superhero to change people’s lives; all you need to do is invest in people.”

Channe Suy reminded us that no one knows a problem better than the local people. Those directly affected most intimately know the parameters of a problem. They know whether a new technology is accessible. Great technology means nothing if people don’t use it. Those directly involved are invested in finding workable solutions and therefore need to be part of the process.


Ideas and communities are important, but action is everything. Everything.

Chris Brown got to the core of the issue, “An idea is worthless unless you have the capacity to execute it.”

Execution is hard. It can be costly and time-consuming. What can you do to make it easier? Cheaper?

First off, you need to Start With Why. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, watch the Simon Sinek video below  immediately. (I’ll wait while you watch.)

So happy that Chris Noble introduced this to everyone. You need to get very clear and very specific about why you do what you do. Boil it down to the lowest common denominator. Once you know why, you can figure out what (the product or service) and how (marketing & selling).

Now that you’ve figured out your why, tackle the what. What product or service is a natural outpouring of your why? Before you commit to developing the product, Chris Brown recommends testing the market. He argues that customer development should always precede product development. Why develop a product if no one is willing to buy it? Why invest big money on something that may not sell?

So, invest small money in testing. Find the cheapest way to see if a product is viable. Use a website or Google adwords to drum up interest and test response. Ask people to sign up for notification of the product release (even if there isn’t a product to speak of at the moment). Do people want what you hope to sell?

If they don’t, and you haven’t already begun development, then failure is cheap. You spent some money on a website and adwords. Or whatever test you utilized. Fail fast. Fail often. Fail cheaply.

And, trust that small gestures can turn into big movements. Chris Noble founded The Footprints Network, technology for ecommerce businesses that allows their customers to make micro-donations of $2 to fund community development projects. $2 seems like peanuts, right? Well, over 418,000 people have made small donations to raise more than $1,000,000 to fund 65 projects. In my view, that’s a big deal. That’s a movement!


Central to all of these ideas and techniques is the need to innovate and experiment.

It’s what Colin Wright articulated so clearly: a willingness to envision your perfect lifestyle or solution then putting in the work to make it happen. It’s a way of looking at an ideal end result, then working backwards to plan for it. A strategy that focuses on measurable results.


TedxPhnomPenh was a full-day intensive on leadership. An immersion into creating and working for meaning. A lesson on intentionally impacting others in sustainable and helpful ways.

We talked. We rallied. We dissected. We challenged each other.

Channe Suy stunned the room when she asked, “are you willing to give one hour to pass on your expertise and inspire the next generation?” Who can say no to that?

The event was courageous and humbling. Heartfelt and provocative. Intimate and expansive.

I’m already looking forward to next year!

30 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011 4:48 pm

    Leigh, I’m no evangelist! I’m just a strong advocate after I discovered how important self-education several years ago. By the way, I was a Buddhist monk one year and a half ago. I purposely became ordained just to immerse in to more self-education;)

    • February 7, 2011 7:29 pm

      Scroll down to find my post on how to be an evangelist without religion. An evangelist can be a passionate advocate and I think you qualify for that title Sithen! It’s clear you’re passionate about self-education.

  2. February 7, 2011 11:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve heard SO much about Ted talks lately — they’re really going viral, it seems.

    • February 11, 2011 10:54 pm

      I hear you; Ted is going viral. I think everyone is thirsty for ideas – especially those we might not readily find in our own workplaces + communities. Happy to have been able to share with you!

  3. February 8, 2011 1:03 am

    Couldn’t make it to the TEDx PP but now I feel as though I had been there. Thnx for supplying the good text and great photos of the event. 🙂

    • February 11, 2011 10:55 pm

      That’s an awesome compliment. I hope the videos will be up soon – then you’ll truly get to experience it all!

  4. February 8, 2011 10:44 am

    Thank you, Leigh! This is such a fabulous and thorough recap of the day! I will be passing it on to everyone I know who have asked how the day went! MANY thanks for doing this!

    • February 11, 2011 10:55 pm

      big thanks to YOU + the planning committee for organizing!

  5. February 8, 2011 5:29 pm

    thank you, this is the wright brothers of thought and action. next to napoleon hill and his book think and grow rich , a MUST !

    • February 11, 2011 10:56 pm

      i will check it out! thanks for the recommendation.

  6. February 8, 2011 6:41 pm

    Do you really think dwelling on the past is cathartic? I don’t speak for the perpetrators but for survivors. I would have thought reliving it would be hard. Besides if it is only about Sambath Thet’s quest regarding his family, isn’t that kind of devaluing the tales and experiences of others affected by the Khmer Rouge?

    • February 9, 2011 1:07 am

      I do think examining + coming to terms with the past is cathartic. Most of the people who were alive during the KR -perpetrators + victims alike- are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so yes I really do think that catharsis is needed. While recalling the event is hard, it’s part of the treatment for PTSD. Eventually I hope that those who lived through it can recall the time period without reliving it. And, I don’t know how that will happen if people don’t talk about what happened.

      While Sambath Thet started as a quest regarding his family, the movie explored much larger questions. He eventually did get the party’s ideological leader, Brother Number Two to his silence and own up to the role he played in the mass killings. I’d urge you to click the link and learn more about Enemies of the People before you dismiss the movie.

  7. February 8, 2011 6:46 pm

    Simon Sinek’s speak is very good, kind of remembers me Seth Godin and his call to be a tribe leader. Thanks for sharing this, Leigh

    • February 11, 2011 11:03 pm

      Yes! Simon and Seth are in my virtual mastermind club. I devour everything they write!

  8. Watch Raising Hope permalink
    February 8, 2011 7:14 pm

    Hello, i enjoy reading your website. Finally, i collect some ideas for my website or blog. Thanks for the information.

  9. February 8, 2011 8:14 pm

    Great post – TED talks are amazing! I recently went to a TEDxBrighton event in the UK. Here’s my post about it and TED talks in general:

    • February 11, 2011 11:06 pm

      currently waiting for the jill taylor talk to load! can’t wait to watch it.

      • February 12, 2011 2:54 am

        It’s an awesome talk, I hope you enjoyed it!

  10. February 8, 2011 8:17 pm

    I have developed a healthy obsession with TED Talks recently… it’s great to hear from someone that was there!

    • February 11, 2011 11:07 pm

      if there’s a tedx near you, RUN! seriously, you’ll have a great time.

  11. humanitarikim permalink
    February 8, 2011 9:15 pm

    I love the TED talks. I’ve been a fan for a while now. How luck you are to have been able to attend! I’m intrigued by your move to Cambodia. I will check back for more on that. 🙂

    • February 11, 2011 11:08 pm

      haha, yes indeed. moved here a little over a year ago. let me know if you have specific questions. 😉

  12. February 8, 2011 10:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Great resources and list of ideas. As someone who has worked in international development it is great to see the power of social media reaching the everyday person.

    • February 11, 2011 11:08 pm

      i’ve been seeing a huge trend of development workers and organizations harnessing social media. it’s very encouraging!

  13. April 7, 2011 4:41 pm

    Simon Sinek’s speak is very good, kind of remembers me Seth Godin and his call to be a tribe leader. Thanks for sharing this, Leigh


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