Host Christian Pearson discusses sustainable development, social impact theory, and Southeast Asia with student researcher Kyli Fox Soug. Kyli shares her research experiences both abroad and in her community as they evaluate Cambodia within the context of global SDGs and data-driven interventions. They tie it all back to a quote from a BYU Ballard Center for Social Impact keynote address by Felipe Queipo, UN Communications Officer.

Inside the Cambodia Project Episode 3 Podcast Transcript: Sustainable Development

with Kyli Soug

[00:00:00.410] – Christian Pearson
Hello, I’m Christian, and you’re listening to inside the Cambodia project, an educational podcast where we discuss cutting edge research on sustainable business in an emerging market. Today we will have the opportunity to talk with my co worker and student researcher, Kyli Fox Soug. Kyli Fox Soug is a senior at Brigham Young University studying sociology with minors in international development and global and community impact. Kyli works at the Ballard Center for Social Impact on the Homelessness Social Impact Lab. She has program evaluation experience working with female artisans in Rwanda. In her academic pursuits, Kyli studies immigration among asian groups and refugee settlement and recently published a paper on immigration policy at the southern border. Kyli plans to pursue a master’s in public administration to become a social impact consultant and evaluator to help organizations maximize their impact. So, Kyli, I’ve recently been reading Hans Rosling’s groundbreaking book called factfulness, where, without going into too much detail, Hans describes how the world is actually getting better. He says it’s improving more than we imagine. In one of my favorite quotes from the book, he says, remember, things can be bad and getting better. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this idea of bad and yet better within the context of the global south or Southeast Asia.

[00:01:42.600] – Kyli Soug
Yes. Yeah. I love that because we have progressed as a society you think of in history, like the 18 hundreds where our entire lives are raised. Everyone is, but they’re still not solved. Right? Like, we still have poverty, we still have homelessness, all of these problems, and we just have a bigger population on the globe, so they’re on a bigger scale. But I like that quote because it’s hopeful. And dealing with social problems, it’s hard to be hopeful a lot of the time when you’re in the weeds of problems. But it is important to remember that things are getting better. They have gotten better, but they’re not solved yet for sure.

[00:02:27.150] – Christian Pearson
Yeah. I do feel like there’s kind of, in the media especially, things are always skewed towards the negative.

[00:02:33.420] – Kyli Soug

[00:02:34.120] – Christian Pearson
And the reality is that things aren’t as bad as we make them out to be, although we do focus on the bad. Things are bad and they’re also getting better. That’s just really cool to think about, especially in a field like the one we’re talking about today, humanitarian, social development, all of that. What are some of the specific challenges, talking more about what is bad before we get to the better. What are some of these challenges that people face specifically, like, in Southeast Asia more than in some other parts of the world?

[00:03:12.000] – Kyli Soug
Yeah. Southeast Asia particularly is one of the, we call them an LDR less developed region, and they’re one of the poorest regions in the world besides from Central Africa. So they have a lot of different problems. They have rampant poverty, they have problems with their government, and because they’re in a tropical region, they experience a lot of diseases like malaria and malnutrition. And that’s from a lot of different reasons, but that’s probably their main problems at this point.

[00:03:46.560] – Christian Pearson
So just to reiterate, their main problems, you’d say, are like, extreme poverty issues at the government level, maybe with regulatory forces. And then you said, just with the tropical climate, I don’t know, is it like climate change?

[00:04:04.290] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, it’s just because malaria is very prevalent there from mosquitoes. So that’s a big problem.

[00:04:10.940] – Christian Pearson
So almost like there’s a medical disparity there.

[00:04:13.680] – Kyli Soug

[00:04:14.350] – Christian Pearson
Disease is a lot more common and a lot more difficult to deal with. Awesome. And I asked you this question because I know through your experience you are a lot more familiar with that part of the world than most people. And so I really appreciate your insights. As to southeast Asia specifically, though, when we’re talking about the bad, I want to turn the page and talk about the better for a second. What do you think we could do to overcome some of those challenges you just mentioned? How can we work to overcome extreme poverty in Southeast Asia, in the global south? How can we work to overcome things at the government level and issues? Even know malaria, things like that?

[00:05:01.250] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, those are all very complicated questions, and they all have different solutions, but it’s important to remember that these problems have always existed and that it’s important to incorporate the people that are experiencing them. They know what they need, and it’s important to remember to work with them. But particularly with malnutrition. We have the technology to solve malnutrition. It’s just getting those resources over there. But I think in any intervention, it’s important to work with the people that you’re actually trying to help.

[00:05:40.210] – Christian Pearson
Yeah. Almost like this, working from the ground up instead of the top down. I know that our professor, Ben, he’s very passionate about this bottom up instead of top down approach, where we’re starting at the level of change, which is with normal, everyday people struggling with the consequences of these huge, seemingly insurmountable challenges, like poverty, like government issues, and like disease and a lack of proper medical.

[00:06:17.990] – Kyli Soug
Yes. Yeah. And that’s what we do at the Ballard center as it. There’s a lot of different names for it, but we call it human centered design. So it’s like designing from the bottom up, and then it spins all the way to the top and hopefully solves it.

[00:06:30.010] – Christian Pearson
That’s awesome. You seem, you know, very passionate about the Ballard Center. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that. Specifically, how has working at the Ballard center here at BYU informed your perspective on sustainable development and on our research in Cambodia?

[00:06:54.220] – Kyli Soug
Yes. Yeah. Thank you for allowing me to plug the Ballard center in this, but, yeah, it’s awesome. I transferred to BYU to work at the Ballard center, actually, because I love their mission. We’re actually the largest student run social impact center in the US, and we focus on kind of that human centered design that I mentioned. It’s not just our slogan is do good better. And so we use data and research to drive interventions instead of just walting into a community and being like, oh, they don’t have water, let’s build wells. That might not actually be what they need. And I think it’s a very humble approach and an approach that’s needed. Like I mentioned before, you have to build solutions from the people that are building them or they’re not going to work.

[00:07:44.810] – Christian Pearson
That’s fantastic. Yeah, I totally see what you’re getting at here. We, the outsiders looking in sometimes don’t know we think we know, but sometimes we don’t know what they actually need and we’ll just throw resources at them. I remember studying a case study in Haiti where we actually inundated the country in rice, so much so that rice actually has no value anymore and the rice farmers are out of a job, which it sounds counterintuitive, but giving people free food isn’t always the best solution. I feel like that’s very applicable as we’re trying to make a meaningful, sustainable difference in these parts of the world that we’re not super familiar with. Although I will say you’re pretty familiar with Southeast Asia for a number of reasons, but I’d love for you to share maybe one of your experiences in Asia. And how has that shaped your passion for what we’re trying to do here in.

[00:08:49.850] – Kyli Soug
Yes. Yeah, so I’ve always been interested in Asia. I served a mission for my church in Mongolia, but even before that, I have been interested in asian culture and things like that.

[00:09:01.280] – Christian Pearson
So you speak any languages?

[00:09:03.620] – Kyli Soug
I speak mongolian.

[00:09:04.850] – Christian Pearson
Mongolian? Yeah. Wow.

[00:09:06.110] – Kyli Soug
Super helpful now, but, yeah, so I’ve done that. And my husband, his dad is from Taiwan and his mom is from Korea. And so that’s been really interesting to watch. But even before that, I’ve been studying Asia and my honors thesis is on the differentiation between East Asians and Southeast Asians in what prestigious occupations they get in the United States. And that kind of is stemming from a class I took on race and this theory of the asian american achievement paradox. But that’s kind of a tangent. But, yeah. So I’m just really interested in Southeast Asia, particularly because it is one of the poorest regions in the world, and I have ties there personally, but that’s a region that I feel I do know a lot about. I’m obviously still learning about it, but I know it enough to know what I need to learn, I think, hopefully.

[00:10:02.270] – Christian Pearson
I hope so. Yeah, I definitely don’t know enough. So I’m here to learn from you, and I think it’s really interesting you mentioned that it’s one of the poorest regions in the world. Am I correct in saying. I’m pretty sure it’s also one of the most populous regions in the world? A huge portion of the world population is concentrated in Asia, and Southeast Asia is a part of.

[00:10:24.660] – Kyli Soug
Yes. Yeah, definitely. With the population of India being over a billion people and China being over a billion people. Yeah, that’s also a reason why I’m interested in Asia.

[00:10:35.360] – Christian Pearson
There’s so many people there making changes in a part of the world that has almost a third of the population. That’s a big deal. Yes. Talking more about just some of your experiences, Ben mentioned that you were actually engaged in a service project or a research project in Rwanda last summer. Could you tell me more about that? What did you do? What did that look like?

[00:11:02.640] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, so I went to Rwanda with the program evaluation and assessment team through the sociology department, and there we were doing a program evaluation of a nonprofit that works with artisan cooperatives, and then they sell their goods to a global market so they’re able to get a fair price for their goods and increase their quality of life.

[00:11:23.580] – Christian Pearson
That’s way cool. But before you go on, could you name drop that nonprofit, if you don’t mind? Listeners can look it up.

[00:11:33.100] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, we worked with ethic collective, and they actually began at BYU.

[00:11:36.950] – Christian Pearson
Ethic collective.

[00:11:37.930] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, they connect that. And then we also worked with their partner, Azizlife. And so they have the female artisan cooperatives, and then ethic is the one that sends the goods on a global.

[00:11:54.530] – Christian Pearson
What did the day to day look like when you’re in Rwanda?

[00:11:57.150] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, we did focus groups and interviews, and basically we were just studying is it, like, do these women have a higher quality of life because they’re able to get a proper amount for their goods? And the answer is. Yes. So that’s good. But, yeah, so we were just doing some qualitative research there.

[00:12:19.770] – Christian Pearson
That’s really cool. What was, like one of the most memorable experiences you had? How long you were there for what, three weeks?

[00:12:28.110] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, almost a month, I think. Yeah.

[00:12:31.200] – Christian Pearson
Do you have just one memory, one experience that sticks out to you?

[00:12:36.530] – Kyli Soug
There’s so many. Yeah, this is kind of like a broader experience, but just after every focus group, the women would kind of just want to spend more time with us, and they would always ask us about our families and things like that, but it would always end up, we would dance with them, and then we at one point were like, we need to teach them a dance. And so we taught them macarena. That was fun, but, yeah, so just kind of like, that cultural exchange was really fun.

[00:13:06.320] – Christian Pearson
That’s way cool. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to getting to experience more of that, hopefully when we have the opportunity to travel to Cambodia. How do you feel like that research in Rwanda differs from what we’re doing in Cambodia because obviously we have different goals, but there are also some similarities. So maybe could you highlight what makes the Cambodia project different from what you did last summer?

[00:13:33.100] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, maybe I’ll start with the similarities and that will be easier. Well, we’re both studying women in different ways in Cambodia, we’re studying domestic violence, and then in Rwanda we’re studying just like, female quality of life. So that’s kind of like the most similar, but they’re obviously different entirely regions in the world. They have completely different histories and people, but they are similar in the problems that they face, like extreme poverty, malnutrition, all the things that consider them both global south or LDR regions. So that’s similar. But I think just in general, studying in a global south country is helpful and it informs how you study other global south countries. But it’s also important to keep in mind that they’re completely different regions as well.

[00:14:27.240] – Christian Pearson
Yeah, I mean, the culture alone is probably just miles apart. Right. Yeah, there’s not much in common there.

[00:14:34.570] – Kyli Soug
Yeah. Interesting about Rwanda and Cambodia, though. They both have a history of genocide. So that’s another similarity that I definitely saw, and something that we’re continuing to see in Cambodia is this remainder of PTSD and anxiety from those areas. So that’s another similarity between those two regions specifically.

[00:14:55.330] – Christian Pearson
Yeah, it’s crazy how that happened in the. It’s multigenerational now. I mean, it’s transpassed the people that really experienced. Yeah, that’s. That’s really interesting. So in some of your research, I know that the Ballard center for Social Impact here at Brigham University has a huge focus on sustainable development goals, or sdgs. Could you maybe give me and those listening an elevator pitch and explain real quick like, what are sdgs and how are they relevant to the Cambodia project? Because they are, but not everyone knows that. So what do you have to say about sdgs?

[00:15:40.950] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, so the sustainable development goals are the UN schools that they give out for the world, and there’s 17 of them. And they range from gender equality that we’re working on with the Cambodia project to clean water, clean air. There’s a lot of them, but they’re following the Millennium development goals that I guess you could say ended in 2015. So these are kind of like the next set of development goals. And then the UN tracks indicators for where each country and even each region in a lot of cases are in these goals.

[00:16:17.770] – Christian Pearson
Okay, cool. Most goals have a time frame. Is there a time frame for the SDG?

[00:16:26.230] – Kyli Soug
I think sdgs, it’s 2030. It might be 2050, though.

[00:16:30.560] – Christian Pearson

[00:16:30.900] – Kyli Soug
Might have to fact check.

[00:16:32.910] – Christian Pearson
Cool. I guess you said there’s one that we’re focusing on specifically in Cambodia. Could you tell me more about that one?

[00:16:42.240] – Kyli Soug
Yes. So we’re doing goal number five, which is gender equality, and there’s about ten indicators underneath that goal, and one of them is increasing safety for women or like decreasing violence for women. So we’re particularly interested in that one. And that’s an indicator that Cambodia has struggled with and has yet to see any on track status for at the UN level.

[00:17:10.570] – Christian Pearson
I’m super curious, do you know how one measures that kind of goal?

[00:17:16.750] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, they have different ways that they measure gender equality, but they just measure things like if you use the demographic and health survey data, that’s kind of Cambodia’s census, but they track that and then they track attitudes towards women, the amount of women that report domestic violence, the amount of women that report sexual violence or use of medical care because of sexual violence. And, yeah, there’s just a lot of like. Yeah, I’m kind of like a demography nerd too. So that’s kind of where I’m coming from. But, yeah, they use that kind of data for that.

[00:17:52.810] – Christian Pearson
Gotcha. Yeah. So in terms of that sustainable development goal specifically, and Cambodia, what are some measures that you think should be taken, whether as part of the Cambodia project or just independent of that? How can we remediate that issue? It’s a very real, as far as I understand, it’s not like they’ve achieved that goal yet. Right. They’re probably progressing towards it, but what can we do to reach that goal?

[00:18:28.790] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, and that’s kind of the question of our project. Right. Which is what we’re trying to solve. But just from what we’ve studied so far, domestic violence in Cambodia specifically is what’s considered, like, a family issue. So it’s kept within the family. They don’t really talk about it outside of the family, which means an intervention will be very difficult because if they’re not talking about it to their neighbors, they’re not going to talk about it to an american ngo.

[00:18:55.230] – Christian Pearson
Right. Survey or something.

[00:18:58.370] – Kyli Soug
Yes, but problems with domestic violence, you have to change behavior, and that takes a really long time. So that’s not something that we can just plop an intervention into. We can use interventions to change behavior, but I think it’s important to remember that kind of distinction going into that.

[00:19:19.490] – Christian Pearson
Right. So knowing our limits. Right.

[00:19:21.410] – Kyli Soug

[00:19:21.840] – Christian Pearson
You can’t change a culture in one year, but we can make small differences from the ground up like you’re talking about.

[00:19:30.360] – Kyli Soug

[00:19:31.080] – Christian Pearson
Well, I hope that we can make something happen. Right?

[00:19:35.430] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, no, we’re working on it. We’re doing good. See the bad, but we’re getting better.

[00:19:39.680] – Christian Pearson
Sweet. So it seems like you’ve had a lot of really great opportunities, Kyli, to travel and participate in meaningful research. On behalf of those listening, what advice would you give to any aspiring change makers? I know that’s a term that they really like in the Ballard center. Right.

[00:20:01.200] – Kyli Soug
Change maker.

[00:20:02.150] – Christian Pearson
So for those aspiring change makers out there who want to make a difference in the world, what would you say to them? How can they get started?

[00:20:11.810] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, you mentioned that I’ve traveled a couple of places, but my, I guess, change making Persona, I didn’t start out traveling, obviously. I’ve worked in communities, and so that’s obviously the best place to start is within your own community, because at the Bellar center, I work on the homelessness lab, but we’re focused on the Salt Lake area, and so, yeah, that’s not a global project, even though I’m very local. Yeah. So there are problems within your own community. So if you’re like a startup change maker, that’s obviously the best place to start and then just learning about the issue. At the Ballard center, we have kind of a rule that you don’t really start an intervention until you’ve been studying it for at least a year. So that’s really hard if you’re starting out, but there are obviously ways that you can volunteer and things like that as, like a social impact analyst. Like, I want to be. It’s really easy to think of long term interventions and be like, I can’t help them until I know this or until I’ve talked to this person or until I’ve gotten this partner. But I like to remind myself that people are suffering currently.

[00:21:31.150] – Kyli Soug
And so volunteering is one of the ways that even though it might not be the best intervention or be the best long term thing, volunteering still helps alleviate some sort of pain while you’re in the process of alleviating that long term pain.

[00:21:45.360] – Christian Pearson
That’s so cool. If I could just ask one more question. What was your journey like? Because it seems like you’re very rooted. You know what you want to do. This is your passion project. How did you get to that point? Because I think a lot of us, I think most people feel like they want to make a difference. Most people feel like they want to make the world a better place, but everyone has their own little angle. How did you find yours?

[00:22:12.670] – Kyli Soug
Yeah, I’ll kind of give my life story, I guess, really quickly. This is spark notes version, but, yeah, I’ve always wanted to do work in the public sector and to help people. I just grew up with a lot of neighbors that were struggling, and I was like, how can I help this? And then I worked at a couple of nonprofits, and I was like, oh, they’re actually not really helping in the ways that I want to. And I also wanted to make a career out of it. And people were like, you can’t get paid to work in nonprofits. So I was like, okay, I’ll give up on that, I guess. Yeah. But then I served my mission in Mongolia, and then I realized that it’s very necessary, this work. But I still had that nagging feeling that we can do better. And then that’s how I found the Ballard center, which is how they do it better, because I always knew that you had to involve the people you’re working with in solving an intervention. Even when I was being told, no, this is how we’re going to help these people, kind of like in high school and things like that.

[00:23:15.580] – Kyli Soug
So I was really inspired by the data driven aspect of the Ballard center, and that’s kind of where I lie, just as, like, a sociologist as well. But I think there’s lots of different ways we can create change. I’ve chosen to do kind of, like, the evaluation side, because I like to see if we’re actually helping people. But there’s obviously the entrepreneurship side, like creating something from scratch. There’s like CSR. There’s impact investing. There’s a lot of different angles to do good. And I think we need to spread the awareness of different sectors where we can do good. Because growing up, I was like, oh, my thing is like doing good. I’m the do good person. But that is completely prideful and selfish and terrible because we need to be doing good in every sector, which is why I’m excited that this project lies in the marketing department and that we’re able to kind of do good here, which is a place that I didn’t think I would end up as a sociology major, but I’m excited to be in.

[00:24:28.010] – Christian Pearson
That’s awesome. Thank you so much, Kyli. I really enjoyed hearing some of your insights on sustainable development, on Cambodia, hearing some of your, I guess, your plugs for the balance center for social good. Yeah, just fantastic. Thank you so much for coming in today. I do want to say one last thing. One of the things you said as you were talking about making a difference in your community, in every sector, not just in the, I guess, the stereotypical ones. That reminded me of a keynote address that we actually saw at BYU this week. Felipe Gaipo, who is a communications officer for the United nations. He gave a presentation this week on why faith based organizations are so excellent at alleviating poverty. Felipe mentioned an interaction that he had with a BYU employee prior to his presentation, and the employee asked Felipe, how can I get more involved to help in the UN efforts? And then Felipe shared his response, and I’m just going to end with this quote. He said, keep doing what you’re doing in your family, in your home, and in your neighborhood. In other words, lift where you stand.

[00:25:50.450] – Kyli Soug
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