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Thursday, 31 August 2017

2nd SRE ASEAN Community Forum – The Collaborative Efforts for Better ASEAN in Another 50 years

“The most useful thing for me is networking with ASEAN member state representatives and with the secretariat team. It is useful that I learned about the blueprints. Some of our work in the community has important links to the ASEAN strategy towards natural resources management and water management,” said Saw John Bright, Coodinator of the Water Governance Programme at KESAN, one of the 2nd S Rajaratnam Endowment (SRE) ASEAN Community Forum participants from Myanmar.

Saw along with the 80 participants from 42 civil society organisations (CSOs) represented all ten ASEAN member states attended the 2nd SRE ASEAN Community Forum in Singapore from 23 to 24 August 2017. The forum was recently held to engage civil society organisations to bring ASEAN closer together and strengthen the ASEAN identity, an apt way to commemorate ASEAN’s 50th Anniversary in August.

The 2nd SRE – ASEAN Community Forum aims to discuss ways to make the ASEAN Community Blueprints 2025 more relevant and responsive to improve lives of ASEAN citizens, specifically in sustainable development, environment protection, and disaster management. Civil society organisations do great work in their communities, so by engaging with them, they can understand how being a part of the ASEAN Community can help them and the people they work for.

The CSOs got acquainted with ASEAN processes and mechanisms to understand how they can better engage with ASEAN, and how the work of ASEAN can benefit the communities they work for. During the plenary sessions, the CSOs shared ideas on how they can work together with ASEAN, and representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat also spoke on the elements of the ASEAN blueprints for environment protection, disaster management, and sustainable development.

The CSOs then considered the impact of the blueprints on the people of ASEAN, challenges to ASEAN integration, and possible ways forward during the World Café sessions. The facilitators of the world café sessions and many participants also agreed that the World Café sessions were lively and they had very good discussions. They learned a lot from each other and got to know what their counterparts in other ASEAN countries were doing. Indeed, the Forum was an opportunity for the CSOs to expand their networks and learn from each other.

Nguyen Thi Kim Que, Vice Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) in Vietnam said, “There are so many things to learn, to hear from the other organisations and CSOs. The strongest feeling for me, is that I have a strong feel with ASEAN. I feel like I’m a part of it, and I am in in it. I think that’s important because once you feel you belong to it, you will want to do more things for it, and more things with it.”

Most of the participants had the chance to exchange views and strategies on how sustainable development, environment protection, and disaster management can better build the ASEAN community. They also discussed ways to make the ASEAN Community Blueprints 20215 more relevant and responsive to improve lives of ASEAN citizens.

The guest of honour at the opening ceremony was Deputy Secretary General Dr. AKP Mochtan. Dr. Mochtan stressed the importance of events such as the SRE – ASEAN Community Forum in his opening remarks, “ASEAN is only truly successful if cooperation and regional integration go beyond the government, policy circles and organisations, and that it also involves civil societies and individuals – students, young people, artists, professionals, vendors, migrant works, men and women on the street.”

He emphasized the need for all of ASEAN to work together in order to prosper, “It is for each and every single one of these individuals that ASEAN must commit to work, and to ensure that the legacy of peace and diversity, a resilient, sustainable and dynamic ASEAN Community (as with today’s theme) lives on while we work towards celebrating another 50 good years and beyond for ASEAN.”

“ASEAN has always been about people. This year we celebrate ASEAN’s 50th Anniversary and there is a greater call for ASEAN to engage people, to feel that they belong to the ASEAN Community. The ASEAN Foundation sees this initiative as a strategic approach to embrace CSOs to deepen their understanding and knowledge about the ASEAN Blueprints 2025 and explore how their roles can contribute to supporting the ASEAN Community building efforts. As an ASEAN body, the ASEAN Foundation has been mandated to perform as a platform to forge more people-to-people engagement outside the circle of the inter-governmental institution,” says Elaine Tan, Executive Director of the ASEAN Foundation.

At the close of the forum, the CSOs presented their ideas and suggestions for ways forward. ASEAN is a biologically diverse region, and it also faces many natural disasters that affect many countries. Thus, only by working together, helping each other in times of need and protecting our shared natural resources can we progress together.

Here is a video that highlights the two-day event:

This Forum follows the first one that was held in Singapore from 9-10 March 2017, which focused on rural development, women’s economic development, and micro-small-medium enterprises. The third Forum, which is to be held by April 2018, will cover the topics of youth, peace building/ interfaith dialogue, and culture and education.