Strategy – Cambodia

Switzerland aims to reduce poverty, support equitable and sustainable development, and foster democratic governance in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. Switzerland is active in three sectors: social development, local governance and citizen participation, agriculture and food security, as well as vocational education and training.

Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam have achieved strong economic growth rates and significant prorgress in poverty reduction in the past 20 years.  They remain, however, among the poorest countries in southeast Asia.  Inequalities are growing and democratic participation remains weak.  Poverty is most widespread among the rural population and in ethnic minority groups. Agriculture provides livelihoods for approximately 80% of the population.

All countries face huge challenges such as improving social and environmental development, diversifying the economy and strengthening inclusive growth.  As they seek to enter the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, the social and economic gap with the other six ASEAN countries will have to be narrowed.

All stakeholders within the federal administration coordinate their activities using a common approach.  Switzerland's activities in the region all include the cross-cutting themes of gender equality, participation of marginalised groups and non-discrimination, adapting to climate change as well as disaster prevention and risk reduction. Key partners in the development cooperation are:

  • Swiss partners: Helvetas Intercooperation, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), Nestlé, Allianz Re, MeteoSwiss)
  • Ministries and provincial or district authorities
  • Local NGOs
  • International NGOs such as Care International, CORD (peacebuilding organisation), the WWF
  • Regional partners (The Centre for People and Forests, Mekong River Commission, Mekong Institute)
  • Bilateral donors such as Germany and the Nordic countries
  • Multilateral organisations such as the UNDP, World Bank, Asian Development Bank

Focus of Swiss Cooperation with Cambodia 2013–2017

Fishing girl in Kampot, Cambodia
A fishing girl in Kampot, Cambodia. Photo by Nathan Horton

The focus of the Swiss cooperation with Cambodia responds to the key development challenges identified above and is fully in line with the Rectangular Strategy III. SDC’s Cambodia Cooperation Strategy was informed by broad consultations and briefings with relevant government agencies, donor partners and civil society organizations; and by various studies and analyses conducted by Cambodian and international experts.

Switzerland will support Cambodia’s poor and marginalized women and men, especially in rural areas, in equitable access to economic opportunities, improved livelihoods and participation in decision-making. SDC aims to contribute to re-building trust and confidence to support reconciliation as key elements of stability, peace and sustainable human development in Cambodia.

SDC will focus on promoting local governance and citizen participation, on agriculture and food security, and on employment and skills development (detailed results frameworks for each of the three domains and can be found in Annex 2). The Swiss cooperation program with Cambodia is part of the Swiss Mekong Region Cooperation Strategy (2013-2018) and draws also on SDC’s achievements in Laos and Vietnam (see Boxes 3-6).

Local Governance and Citizen Participation

Strengthening local governance and restoring the social fabric destroyed by years of civil unrest is a prerequisite for inclusive and equitable development. SDC will contribute to inclusive and equitable development through a two-pronged approach: i) strengthening equitable, efficient and responsive public services; and ii) promoting citizens’ voice, rights and participation in local decision making. This will complement SDC’s interventions in agriculture and skills development. Building and supporting platforms for exchange and dialogue and building trust at the commune level is essential for addressing trauma and the need for reconciliation following the genocide and long­standing civil war.

Program Goal

Enhanced local governance mechanisms contribute to improved public service delivery and inclusive and equitable development.


Poor and vulnerable women and men use equitable and responsive public services (health, education, water and sanitation).

Citizens, in particular women and vulnerable groups, can voice their needs, exercise their rights and participate in local decision making.

Agriculture and Food Security

Seller at Sag Kandal Market, near riverside Phnom Penh - Cambodia
Seller at Sag Kandal Market, near riverside Phnom Penh - Cambodia. Photo by Nathan Horton

About 90% of Cambodia’s poor people live in rural areas, with a high incidence of food insecurity and malnutrition. SDC wants to contribute to inclusive and equitable growth of the agricultural sector as a driver of change for poor rural female and male farmers. The program will have two closely interlinked focuses: i) improving the livelihood resilience of smallholder farmers, including female-headed households and ethnic minorities, through enhanced production capacities and improved market access; and ii) supporting women and men, in particular communities making a living from forests and fisheries, through secured and equitable access to community resources, as well as market access for non-timber forest products.

Program Goal

Improved rural livelihoods and food security, especially of female-headed households


Women and men smallholder farmers (including female-headed households and ethnic minorities) improve their livelihood resilience.

Women and men, in particular those belonging to ethnic minority communities, have enhanced production and secure and equitable access to and control over community resources (forests and fisheries).

Employment and Vocational Education and Training

Basket weaver in Udong, Kandal - Campbodia
Basket weaver in Udong, Kandal - Campbodia. Photo by Nathan Horton

Employment generated by recent economic growth has been insufficient to catch up with the rising number of youth seeking jobs in Cambodia or abroad. People urgently need more vocational education and skills development if Cambodia is to remain competitive in the context of regional integration, and to address the mismatch between market needs and the available skilled labor force. Protection of labor rights will also be addressed.

SDC’s program will focus on skills development for men and women in rural areas, enabling them to benefit from upcoming potential employment opportunities, in particular in the booming tourism sector. At the policy level, SDC will support the Government in: i) implementing action plans for the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policy, ensuring the match between the TVET policy and private sector needs and the promotion of basic rights; and ii) including migrant workers rights in national development strategies.

Program Goal

Young rural women and men acquire vocational and life skills allowing them to increase their incomes.


Women and men who participate in TVET programs earn increased incomes in decent employment.

Strengthened national TVET system, regulatory frameworks and delivery systems oriented towards ASEAN integration.

Support to Maternal and Child Health

The Kantha Bopha pediatric hospitals were established in 1992 on the initiative of the Swiss medical doctor, Beat Richner. They make a major contribution to the improvement of the health of children and to public health generally in Cambodia. SDC began supporting five Kantha Bopha hospitals in 1994. Since then, the Kantha Bopha hospitals have treated more than one million children requiring hospitalization and more than 10 million children as outpatients.

SDC’s contribution to the Kantha Bopha hospitals is one of the largest financial contributions of SDC worldwide to a bilateral project, totaling almost CHF 40 million since 1994. SDC will support the Kantha Bopha Foundation to develop a sustainable financing scheme for the services provided by these five hospitals.

Cross-cutting Themes

Responding to need and aligning with major efforts undertaken by civil society and government actors to ensure long-term sustainable and inclusive growth, four cross-cutting themes will be mainstreamed in all programs and projects:

Gender equality: While the Government, civil society and international agencies have worked hard to advance the well-being of all Cambodians, women continue to face pressing concerns, many of which relate to poverty and its impact on them. The Ministry for Women’s Affairs (MoWA) has prioritized strengthening capacity to support the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and mainstreaming gender equality into the general policy framework as platforms for realizing women’s human rights. Addressing gender-based violence and the sexual exploitation of women is also a top priority. Gender equality is thus reflected in all three domains in the outcome level indicators. Specific key results will be formulated through affirmative actions that align with the Government’s national action plan on promoting women’s empowerment. All project data will be sex disaggregated.

Good governance will be mainstreamed with a particular focus on the principles of accountability and transparency, participation, non-discrimination, efficiency and effectiveness. These principles of good governance will be approached from a human-rights-based perspective, with a view to strengthening the capacities of rights holders and duty bearers.

Conflict-sensitive program management is crucial in post-conflict contexts, such as Cambodia. Conflict sensitivity and the prevention of violence will be included as key elements of all programs and will be based on ‘do no harm’ risk analysis, the ‘right to know’ and the potential for conflict transformation and dealing with trauma. Promoting platforms for dialogue and exchange between different communities, civil society organizations and local authorities will be an important means to support the re-building of trust and confidence.

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction will be included as a cross-cutting theme, particularly in agriculture and food security programming, using existing instruments to analyze the risks and integrate preventive or mitigation activities.

Culture is at the heart of development. Recognizing that, SDC promotes cultural understanding and cultural diversity with the aim of consolidating the processes of development in the countries in which it is active. In line with SDC's overall policy to promote diversity of cultural expression in partner countries, the SDC Cambodia Country Program will dedicate approximately 1% of its total budget to promoting culture.