Entering its third decade, the Kenan Institute Asia is ready to step up its efforts to assist the sustainable development process in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
The non-profit organisation is set to play a key role in three areas – ageing, urbanisation and climate change – convinced that these "mega-trends" would define any country’s future.
"The mega-trends are affecting very country," said Piyabutr Cholvijarn, vice chairman of the institute. "Any society will thrive if these three key challenges are addressed."
The challenges are grave for Thailand. Longer life span plus lower birth rate is pushing the elderly population, aged 60 and over, towards 12 million by 2020. More health services will be needed, while most of the elderly will not be able to support themselves financially.
On urbanisation, a study by Mahidol University showed that urban population increased rapidly from 36.12 per cent in 2011 to 47.57 per cent in 2015, leading to safety, poor accommodation, infrastructure shortage, health and economic inequalities. The trend is similar in Asean, where urban population is expected to rise to 64 per cent in 2060.
The region is also prone to natural disasters influenced by climate change, requiring all countries to cope with economic and social impacts.
"Our focus is linked with SDGs [United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals], but we just cannot extend our reach to cover all the 17 goals. We will put emphasis on what we are capable of," said Jada Wattanasiritham, the institute’s chairperson.
She added that assisting this is a focus on education, aimed at equipping the younger generation with knowledge to adapt to technological changes.
"The mega-trends must be addressed. But everything needs to start with education. We need to begin this with youth. With good education, they will have the right mindset about what they should do for others," she said.
Two decades of operations and networking with academic institutions, including the University of North Carolina, convince the Kenan Institute it has extensive knowledge and expertise in helping public and private donors’ missions to do good deeds for society.
Founded in February 1996 by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, the institute was set to be a catalyst in regional development. Its operations have been mainly focused on Thailand, mostly on health, education, financial literacy, SME capacity building and women’s entrepreneurship.
Overseas operations started just a few years ago, covering Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia. To date, the institute is carrying out five projects in Vietnam with the focus on health, education and women’s entrepreneurship. There is one project in Indonesia, focused on SME capacity building. There is also a project in Myanmar, aimed at a franchise value chain.
What the institute has accomplished in Thailand can be replicated in these countries which are now experiencing challenges due to rapid economic development. Opportunities are abundant, but the development brings about problems like environmental pollution, uneven development, the emergence of health threats, and an inadequate education system.
Piyabutr noted that the institute would further explore the areas it should focus on in Indonesia and Myanmar. He said that the influx of foreign investment into Indonesia would change the country and spark needs in vast areas. The situation is similar in Myanmar, where rapid development would drastically change the country in the next 5-10 years.
"It is vital to ensure that such development is sustainable," he said.
Throughout the past 20 years, the institute’s projects –over 900 in number – have directly benefited 158,404 people in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. They include students, teachers, businessmen, government officials, entrepreneurs, workers and community members. This year, 25 projects are ongoing.
According to Jada, reaching out and empowering the people would have been impossible without partnering organisations that have injected funding worth US$200 million or about Bt7 billion. She admitted that the structure of partnership has changed through time, especially after Thailand was declared an upper middle-income nation in 2011 by the World Bank. Since then, global funding for health projects in Thailand has dwindled.
Funds from other multi-lateral partners like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Asian Development Bank and United Nations have also declined. Taking their places are large-sized corporations in Thailand and overseas like Citibank, Microsoft, Boeing and Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production as part of their corporate social responsibility drive. The enterprises now constitute 80 per cent of total funding, compared to 30 per cent years ago. This is boosted mainly by Chevron’s Bt1-billion budget for the "Enjoy Science" project. Coming with them is the demand to replicate the empowering projects in other countries.
"We want to be the institute of choice, for any partners who want to tap into our extensive knowledge for the benefit of people," Piyabutr said.