When At Sotheavy visited a beach in Kep province on holiday in 2019, she couldn’t help but notice the discarded plastic floating in the ocean and blowing around the shore. It bothered her so much that she took out her smartphone and started recording. Her first vlog on plastic waste went viral and the next day she created a digital environmental advocacy campaign on Facebook titled Think Plastic to raise awareness about the issue in Cambodia.
“Three years before that, I was at the same beach and it was super clean. In just three years, it went from a beautiful beach to a pile of plastic. I could not comprehend it,” she says.
On January 29, Sotheavy was presented with the 2020 Women of the Future (WOF) Award for Southeast Asia in the media and communications category at the British embassy, an award she won partly due to the positive impact created by her campaign, which now has over 121,000 followers on Facebook.
The United Kingdom-based organisation rewarded her for her work at DAI – an international development firm – where she oversaw programmes created to increase opportunities for women in the tech industry by offering training in coding and mobile app development.
She also collaborated with civil society organisations and NGOs to offer courses in social media, photography, videography and storytelling as part of a Development Innovations project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Sotheavy says: “It’s a huge honour. To be able to be recognised internationally, it means a lot to me. At the same time, it’s a good opportunity for Cambodian women like me to get exposed internationally and show the potential of what women can do.”
Sotheavy now works as a freelance videographer and continues to post videos on her Think Plastic page exposing plastic waste and offering solutions to solve the issue.
One of the types of vlogs she creates is highlighting communities that have found an effective way to limit their plastic pollution to inspire other communities to do the same.
She says most people are aware of the plastic problem but motivating them to change is a challenge. Sotheavy’s noticed her supporters and followers continuing old habits of overusing plastic, but rather than try to force people to live plastic-free, she takes a more research-based approach.
She says: “I’m not the plastic police. It’s a really interesting journey just to learn: What does it take to make people actually want to understand [the issue] and change their behaviour?”
Currently, she’s focusing her efforts on leaders in managerial roles who have the power to influence a group of people by installing plastic-free policies.
She plans on meeting with ambassadors in Phnom Penh and has already scheduled an interview with British Ambassador to Cambodia Tina Redshaw – the first-ever female UK ambassador to Cambodia – to discuss how the British embassy disposes of plastic.
On the WOF front, Sotheavy was also nominated as one of three local representatives for the programme and she manages the Cambodian WOF Facebook page, where she promotes the initiative and encourages young women to nominate themselves.
There are 11 different categories for the award, ranging from business and sport to entrepreneur and arts and culture. Women under the age of 35 are eligible and the submission deadline is April 21, 2021.
“I really encourage young Cambodian women to break out of their comfort zone and start to show their potential. I believe that there are a lot of Cambodian women that have done amazing things and really have done good for society,” Sotheavy says.
She adds: “I believe that everyone can do something based on their own ability. You don’t need to be Wonder Woman to save the world. Whatever you do, if you think that it’s useful for you and others around you, that’s a good thing. Everyone has steps, if you don’t start with a small step, how will you get to the top?”
She also encouraged institutions and businesses to nominate young women for the award. Sotheavy was nominated by a prior manager at DAI named Kate Heuisler.
“I think one way that institutions can show true appreciation and support for women is to nominate them. You know them better, you’d be able to support them. Put them out there,” she says.