|Volume 9, Issue 2||Spring 1999|
A Forum Conference Overview
by David Elder, Forum Convener
The first conference held in the region of the Forum on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam took place in Phnom Penh January 25-28, 1999. Plenaries, panels and sectoral groups involving 450 international and regional participants met in the shadow of Wat Phnom at the Council for the Development of Cambodia compound and in the Sunway Hotel.
Personal comments to staff and to volunteers suggested a great success. Evaluation forms were completed by 179 persons, 40% of participants. The overall assessment was favorable: Excellent 13%, Good/better than average 52%, Satisfactory 30%, Poor 5%, Terrible 0%.
A number of people wondered why such a gathering had not been held sooner in the region. The primary criticism was that three sessions of one hour did not provide enough time for most of the sectoral groups. We also received many thoughtful suggestions for future improvements.
We were especially gratified that staying with the Phnom Penh venue proved to be a sound decision, despite the many costs and frustrations of three postponements. The 50% of the participants who came from outside of Cambodia were impressed (and often surprised) by what they saw of the country, including the vibrancy of local NGOs.
They were also moved by the dynamic and open presentations of
most of the Cambodian government officials who spoke. Holding the conference after formation of the CPP-FUNCINPEc coalition led to strong representation by Ministers, Secretaries of State and Undersecretaries of State of both governing parties. The ministers who spoke were Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, Minister for the Council of Ministers Sok An, Co-minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, Minister of Information Lu Lay Sreng and Minister of Environment Mok Mareth.
The 450 registrants do not include people who came just for the session at which they were speaking. Our rough analysis of who attended follows:
Country where currently living: Cambodia 216, Vietnam 90, USa 45, Laos 38, Canada 8, Thailand 8, UK 6, Philippines 3, China (including Hong Kong) 4, Australia 2, Malaysia 1,Nepal 1, Switzerland 1.
Nationalities: Australia 14, Belgium 4, Cambodia 134, Canada 19, Denmark 2, Netherlands 4, France 6, Germany 5, Hong Kong/China 2, India 2, Italy 4, Japan 2, Laos 21, Norway 2, Philippines 3, Sweden 5, Switzerland 2, Thailand 5, UK 19, US 97, Vietnam 52
Government and semi-government (mass organizations, universities): Cambodia 30, Vietnam 22, Laos 16
INGO expats: Cambodia 100, Vietnam 25, Laos 9
Local staff of INGOs: Cambodia 40, Vietnam 40, Laos 11
Local NGOs from Cambodia: 50
Bilaterals and multilaterals: 25 (plus about 5 more who showed up for one session.)
In terms of sectoral interests, community development was the largest group, dividing itself into three sub-groups to facilitate work. Education also was divided into three sub-groups, but the total number from this sector was not nearly as large as at conferences in the US.
Our dilemma, happily enough, is what to do with success. It is abundantly clear that holding the conference in the region meets a felt need both for expats and for local people, whether working in INGOs or national institutions. This was the largest of the nine Forum conferences and certainly the most diversely representative in terms of host country people and non-American INGOs and bilateral donors. Discussions were probably more substantive than at other conferences since so many participants were active practitioners. The potential for ongoing cooperation was demonstrable, even without a structure to facilitate it.
The predominant view expressed in the evaluation forms was that we should hold a conference in the region every 12 or 18 months. However, there was surprisingly strong sentiment for also continuing with some form of conference in the US.
Now we need the input of readers of Indochina Interchange to the discussion. Our working plan at this point is:
A. A full international conference held every eighteen months in Indochina, rotating among the three countries. Sufficient advance notice of a date certain should allow more home and field offices the option of being represented from Europe and Asia as well as from North America. Our plan is to gather next in Laos or Vietnam in June of 2000. June may make it easier for university exchange representatives to attend.
B. A mini-conference in Washington based on an annual meeting with the three Foreign Ministers during their Fall visits to the UN. This offers the ministers a good platform to address policy
issues and allows higher level and program staff from home offices to update themselves and to meet colleagues from other agencies. Subject to further consultation in the US and in Indochina, we plan the first such meeting will take place October 1-2.
Following is a very preliminary conceptual agenda for the mini-conference:
Friday afternoon: Presentation by a foreign minister with questions (Cambodia?)
Friday evening: Reception
Dinner together by constituency (e.g. NGOs, Universities, Business. Foundations, Overseas nationals)
Saturday morning: Second country, same pattern (Laos?)
Lunch: Speech by high ranking State Department official, overview of US policy toward each country
Saturday afternoon: Third country, same pattern (Vietnam?)
Evening: Tri-country reception at one of the embassies
There are two options under consideration for the panels which will follow the Ministers. One is to invite speakers from each of the constituencies listed above (see Friday dinner) which are working in the country whose minister has just spoken. An alternative is to make panels of representatives of US government agencies with programs in Indochina.
Also under consideration if funding is available is to invite one person from each country who has primary responsibility for relations with NGOs and other US not-for-profits.
We believe that meeting Friday afternoon and Saturday would be most convenient, but are open to Thursday afternoon and Friday. If you think you might want to come, please use the form below.
Mail to Forum on Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 727, NY, NY 10115, fax to 212-367-4366, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am interested in the mini-conference with the Foreign Ministers in Washington. The best dates for me are
Thursday afternoon-Friday (9/30-10/1) Friday afternoon-Saturday (10/1-2)
In addition to the Foreign Ministers, the program should include
representatives of the participating sectors (NGO, university, foundation, business, overseas nationals)
representatives of US government agencies
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