Already a dynamic and rapidly changing region within broader Asian and global trends, the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) will experience more change beginning 2016 when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has already taken into effect. The challenge is that there are wide disparities within the GMS and ASEAN. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam (CLMV) are at much lower levels of development and need to move forward quickly to benefit from integration. Global and regional changes therefore offer many opportunities for the GMS countries. Mekong Institute (MI) is well and uniquely positioned to help the GMS leverage its influence and integration with ASEAN and beyond by becoming an important regional hub providing capacity development services and the facilitation of cooperation and knowledge sharing initiatives for governments, private sector businesses, and civil society actors.
MI’s current strategic priorities will enable the greatest contribution to regional development over the next five years, and those priorities are now set out in the ‘Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020’. Building on its strong program history and expertise, MI is working on capacity development in three major regional development themes that have considerable synergy and overlaps between them: Agricultural Development and Commercialization, Trade and Investment Facilitation, and Innovation and Technological Connectivity.
There are three cross-cutting issues of particular importance:
- gender equality
- environmental sustainability
- labor mobility
MI will ensure that these issues are appropriately addressed in all its activities.
Just as there are important cross cutting issues that are essential for MI to address in its programming, so there are some implementing strategies that are relevant to all three regional development themes and these are: enhance private sector; develop strategic alliances; implement development projects; and, promote good governance. This section briefly sets out the rationale for why these strategies have been identified as important for MI to achieve success in all its program themes.
Private sector development, particularly SME in the agricultural sector and public-private partnerships, is essential for ongoing economic development in the region. Yet at present the capacity to support and develop the private sector and to engage in public-private partnerships remains limited and uneven across the GMS. Governments do not yet have all the capacity they need to facilitate and regulate private sector activity in a rapidly changing global context, and private sector entities also need enhanced knowledge and skills in order to become fully profitable in national, regional and global markets. The list of issues that need to be addressed includes, but is not limited to: creation of the enabling environment; support for trade and transport facilitation; SME development; generation of business opportunities; and access to global markets.
In order to address the needs MI will incorporate the following approaches into all work on program themes:
- Enhancing the development of SME and SME clusters;
- Promoting dialogue between public and private sector entities that contribute to creating an enabling environment, which also appropriately protects natural resources and vulnerable groups;
- Supporting the development of networks that can create business opportunities and support private sector capacity development; and,
- Contributing capacity development support and other relevant services to public-private partnerships.
MI already has strong strategic relationships with the six GMS countries, with several bilateral and multilateral development partners, and with other entities concerned with GMS development. Some of these relationships have been in existence since MI started, others have been formed more recently. The relationships with the Coordinating Agencies in each member country are, of course, of critical importance, and MI will continue to give all the necessary time and resources to maintaining those relationships, both through the formal mechanism of the Governing Council and through any other relevant means. Similarly MI will continue to engage with the priorities of the bilateral and multilateral donors with which it already has partnerships, and with other agencies and institutes where synergy of purpose has already been established.
However, for MI to move forward most effectively during the next five years it will not be enough to maintain existing relationships, there is also a need to develop new ones. The need is not only for partnerships that provide financial support, but also for alliances that can help to extend MI’s technical capacity, resource availability and networking reach. Such partnerships will help to strengthen MI internally and extend the scope of its influence and impact. The range of possible partners is large and includes: academic institutes; private sector groups; SME cooperatives or associations; civil society organizations; south-south cooperative initiatives; development partners; and international organizations.
In order to develop its strategic alliances MI will:
- Maintain and strengthen existing relationships and partnerships:
- Periodically map the region to identify the priorities and activities of development partners and other key actors;
- Seek to develop and formalize new partnerships that will be of mutual benefit to MI and others; and,
- Engage in networking and dialogue to promote the Institute’s role in the region and share MI results more widely in the GMS and with ASEAN.
A major intention of MI Strategic Plan 2011 – 2015 was to move beyond providing capacity development services in the form of training to also implement projects that have a more holistic approach to addressing capacity needs, in partnership with international and national agencies. This was achieved with the start of the Local Economic Development project along the EWEC, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) regional office based in Vientiane. The first three-year phase of the project was intended as a pilot for both SDC and MI to learn more about the needs and challenges across the EWEC, and the most effective approaches for creating relevant and sustainable change within and across the four countries involved. This was a large, innovative undertaking for MI, especially as it required the establishment of field offices in other countries for the first time. Since inception of the project MI has sought to learn as much as possible from all the start up and implementation activities, and has documented the lessons learned.
Contributions from some GMS governments have increased and other development partners have also supported a variety of short to medium term projects. The GMS will continue to be a dynamic region and many agencies are interested to support initiatives that will help to strengthen it. Many are looking for a viable partner to facilitate or implement their intended projects, and MI is well positioned to be that partner.
In order to expand its portfolio of development projects MI will:
- Continue implementation of the current SDC project, and adapt its approach and activities in response to the ongoing lessons learned from implementation; and,
- Identify and engage with new opportunities offered by governments, development partners, and any other relevant entities.
Since the development of MI’s previous Strategic Plan, there has been some progress in the GMS on governance but many issues identified then continue to persist. For example, investor confidence in the region is still constrained by weak governance on trade in several countries, which is a major block to substantive economic development. One particularly important area of focus under the governance theme is therefore to support the move towards well legislated and managed market-driven economies that are regionally integrated and coordinated. Enabling environments are essential, not only at the regional level, but also at the national level where regulations and frameworks will ultimately be implemented. Thus the governments of the GMS must continue to foster national reforms to support opening up their own economies and putting in place the necessary regulatory frameworks to create an environment conducive to trade.
MI recognizes the importance of continuing to integrate good governance principles into all programming, and to offer services that help to develop the capacity of key actors. The specific areas of focus will be:
- Facilitation of policy dialogue for the creation of an effective enabling environment in terms of legislation, followed by the development of implementation mechanisms, policies and procedures for enactment;
- Services that support hard and soft capacity development on governance principles; and,
- Research and knowledge sharing on needs and good practice examples.