THAILAND has made great strides on its path to prevent a repeat of the 1997 economic crisis and move towards the high-income nation status with balanced growth, according to a sustainable development expert.
Dr Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, vice chairman of the Thailand Sustainable Development Foundation, said the goal of sustainable development is within reach thanks to the support of the public-private sector as well as civil society organisations.
In a speech to a group of 15 foreign correspondents representing Asia News Network’s member publications, he said Thailand has achieved 75 per cent of the goal.
“We see a certain glimpse of hope. There’s possible success of the sustainable development goal. We are in the middle of work… If we continue with our efforts, we have a good chance of success,” he said.
During his speech, on the topic of “Inclusive and Sustainable Growth: Challenges for Thailand and Asia”, Chirayu said the “Tom Yam Kung” crisis in 1997 served as a reminder that the growth achieved in the preceding 37 years could not be sustained if Thailand does not tackle the four main problems that erode the economic foundations: income disparities, urban-rural disparities, environmental degradation, and the deterioration of values and mindsets.
In his birthday speech that year, His Majesty the King promoted the sufficiency economy philosophy, which now serves as the guideline for the schemes initiated by organisations and foundations established in 2014.
Three projects were highlighted to show how close Thailand is to achieving its goal: a project in Nan province to promote area-based community development; an initiative in schools to change the mindset of school children and instil in them sustainability values; and a campaign to encourage people not to dump garbage in canals.
In the mission to promote area-based community development, Chirayu reported on the progress of a project in the northern province of Nan. The community was encouraged to identify its own problems and solutions. Community workers were involved in the process, organising the assistance of outsiders only in areas that had no capacity. This model replaced conventional handouts that failed to strengthen communities in the long run.
“If they don’t own it, they don’t feel responsible for the project. Handouts are not sustainable. Once the handouts are taken away, they will be as weak as before,” he said.
He said the government is in the process of replicating the model in over 20,000 villages across the country.
Another project deals with altering the mindset of children and encouraging them to embrace sustainability values. The project began in 2005 to insert into the school curriculum sufficiency ideas for children from pre-school age to Grade 12. To date, 19,000 schools have been assessed as sufficiency schools.
“The goal is to produce children with a mindset of sustainable, ethical elements in carrying on lives. We have a good hope that our next generation will have the right mindset [not expecting handouts or a quick fortune without taking into account associated risks],” he said.
He acknowledged that as they enter the workforce, these children may be absorbed into a society where the mindset is different. The Thailand Campaign was launched to fill the gap, with the assistance of 86 organisations representing the public and private sectors as well as civil society.
Together, they set about changing the mindset of Thai society to counter four habits that hinder sustainable development: household debt creation, reckless driving, corruption and irresponsible social behaviour.
For example, a campaign was launched after the massive floods in Bangkok to encourage people to stop dumping garbage into canals after it was discovered that this was a major cause of the flooding.
Chirayu admitted that the learning curve of people can differ. He shared a story of man in Udon Thani who fell into debt because of the elusive anticipation of extra income. After a successful year, he expected income to grow faster in the next year.
“Growing from strength to strength with prudence is better. They should understand the risks. It is better to grow slowly but more firmly,” he said.
Chirayu believes that the 1997 economic crisis showed that Thai society must adopt a sustainable way of life at all levels.
“Sufficiency economy philosophy is setting a new course, steering lives accordingly to capacity and sufficiency. It shows that we need an ethical use of resources. It also warns against greed and the mindset that the world is not enough.”Box
Achieving sustainable development
Thailand must address the problems that erode its economic foundations:
1. Income disparities
2. Urban-rural disparities
3. Environmental degradation
4. Deterioration of value and mindsets