Meet Vongleakhena Heng: Zaman & IFL Grad Creates New Path For Self & Others

Vongleakhena was valedictorian of her 2016 class at Zaman University. She holds two BA degrees, one in Business Administration from Zaman and the other in English for Professional Communications from the Institute of Foreign Language (2017). Today, she is a Senior Associate on Teach For Cambodia’s Recruitment & Selection team.

She first heard about TFC when Monirath Siv, founder and CEO, visited her entrepreneurship class as a guest speaker in 2015. She would hear about TFC several more times, but with her double major, did not have time to learn more. Fast forward to 2017 when she was getting ready to graduate: her friend approached her about sharing TFC’s post for interns on Facebook. “I jokingly asked whether I could apply for the position.” He told her more about the organization and then she started to research about it herself.

She realized that this is not just any new organization starting in Cambodia; “it has more than 40 country partners around the world.” Although she was not confident about her qualifications for the position, her friend convinced her to give it a try. “I have always been passionate about the education sector and contributing back to society. I decided to give myself the chance to try at least. I thought it would be a good challenge for me to get out of my comfort zone and start my first job doing something meaningful.”

Growing up in a medium-income family, Leakhena felt blessed that her family was able to financially provide her the things she needed to complete her higher education from two well-known yet high-cost universities. Since joining TFC, she has become more determined and committed to ensure that less fortunate children in Cambodia can have access to a high-quality education.

What do you do as a Senior Associate on the Recruitment & Selection Team at TFC?

My main responsibility is to raise awareness about Teach For Cambodia, our vision and mission in order to recruit fresh graduates, young professionals and existing teachers to apply for our Fellowship program, a 2-year full-time fully-funded leadership development program combined with a master’s in education.

To achieve that, I engage with various stakeholders ranging from university staff, lecturers, student leaders and influencers, and students themselves to help them understand TFC and our Fellowship program, what they can get out of it and what they can offer to our program and our organization. In addition, I provide support and guidance to those who want to apply. It can be something small such as “I have an issue with the application form”, “I’m not sure what the essay questions mean” to “how much impact can I make” or “how much can I grow personally and professionally from joining this program?”

Why TFC? Why now? 

Nowadays, I think there are many youth who want to do meaningful work and contribute back to the society but not sure what to do or where to start. This is where the recruitment team comes in.

  • We help them see that they do not have to have a teaching degree or have teaching experiences in order to join the program. (If they do though, great.)
  • We help them see the positive impact they can make on other people, on society and themselves.
  • We help them see that they have the power to positively shape other people’s lives and their own.
  • We help them see how the knowledge, skills and mindset they get from the Fellowship program can contribute to their long-term goal.
  • We help them see that everyone can be a leader and everyone can take part in this effort to unleash the potential in Cambodian kids.

Ultimately, the recruitment team at TFC gives passionate individuals who want to give back to society the chance to make real impact on so many people (students, teachers, schools, parents, community). It also gives students in low-resource public schools the chance to meet the one teacher who will support them and shape their life for the better.

TFC’s vision and mission are inspiring. But it’s very ambitious. How do you stay motivated? 

I often think about the positive impact that I have already made and that I am going to make. This ranges from direct impact on the team, the organization, the people that I have recruited to the more indirect impact on the students, the schools and the public education system as a whole. For instance, a Fellow told me that he is grateful that I guided him through the program and the application process. These kind of things are really what keeps me going because I realized that my actions have the power to shape other people’s lives.

Can you tell us about challenges you’ve faced during your experience so far at TFC?

I have been challenged countless times by the team to take on projects and responsibilities to unleash my potential. For example, our CEO challenged my team and I to join a Startup Weekend Competition when we first started to build team work and team spirit. None of the members, except me, were familiar with the pitching or business concept let alone startup components. I was very surprised at how well we worked together since that was the very first time we actually spent time working together. Due to our hard work and support from our CEO, we won first place in the competition.

From this experiences and many others, I have come to learn that I am capable of doing more than I think I can as long as I believe in myself and persevere in the face of challenges.

You are a business major working in an education nonprofit. Tell us more about that.

Studying business does not limit what I can do. The trick is how you can improvise and apply your experience and  skills in different contexts. Doing business and working in the recruitment team share some similarities. In business, you try to promote your product and get people to buy it while in the recruitment team at TFC, I raise awareness about the program to attract the right people to apply for it. I don’t just talk to people about the benefits of the program but I connect their interests and motivations and help them understand why the program might be a fit for them. My business experience adds to the diversity of the team and lends a different perspective to the work.

Anything else people should know about you or TFC? 

There’s a difference between being a Fellow in the program and working for TFC as a staff member or intern. People who work at TFC don’t teach (in the classroom) although the name of our organization is “Teach For Cambodia”; the team and staff are responsible for running the organization that implements the program (and some have taught, like our CEO). Our Fellows teach in classrooms as part of their two-year leadership development journey with us.

Personally, I think the work environment at TFC is quite different from others. We are very flexible in terms of time and scope of work. We don’t stay in the office from 8 to 5. Often, we work where we feel most comfortable and productive as long as we get the work done. We are results-oriented. Another thing is we collaborate across functions all the time, partly because our team is still small. Yet, I think this working style will exist when we expand in the future as collaboration is part of our success. We also don’t just work within our team in Cambodia; we work and share experiences with people and experts from our global network.

Last but not least?

We love to celebrate our wins, especially with food. That is why we always say we have an unspoken value of “constant eating”.

Thank you, Leakhena, for sharing your experience with TFC.