r4d.ch Regional Science Fair South-east Asia

Theme: Role for Development Research During Global Socio-Economic Uncertainty

The r4d.ch Regional Science Fair South-east Asia was hosted by Curbing IFFs project researchers Latdavanh Songvilay, Kinnalone Phimmavong and Rahul Mehrotra in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR on March 16-17, 2023. The event was attended by over 45 participants from Cambodia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Nepal, Vietnam and Switzerland. Representatives from multiple r4d.ch Asian research teams showcased their research focusing on socio-economic challenges in Asian countries in themes sessions and engaged in rich discussions to learn from each others’ experiences. The exhibition room of the science fair was structured as “market stands” to enable participants’ direct presentation of concrete research output, technologies and social interventions with help of demonstration material using laptop presentations, video-clips, posters, policy briefs, publications, handouts, etc. Two r4d.ch documentary films were screened alongside introductions by participating researchers during networking events on both evenings, including ‘Inequality and Conflict’ and ‘Missing Dollars.’ Finally, the event also featured two keynote speeches by Dr Sthabandith Insisienmay on ‘Role for Development Research During Global Socio-Economic Uncertainty’ and Prof Gilles Carbonnier on ‘North-South Research Partnerships for Sustainable Development.’ The complete scientific program can be accessed here.

The science fair is a final event of the r4d.ch programme that creates moments to reach out to relevant target groups by presenting and discussing research and synthesis results emerging from different r4d.ch research projects. This event aimed to create awareness and enable learning about evidence-based solutions to address global challenges and their take-up potential in development projects, business activities or civil society initiatives. The science fair brought together academic researchers, development practitioners, national and international organizations and other groups interested in research results and evidence-based solutions.

This event was held during a critical time for the Asian region. Asia is a diverse and dynamic region that has achieved remarkable economic growth in recent decades, but still faces many challenges such as poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, health risks, geopolitical tensions and global uncertainties. Asia remains home to two-thirds of the world’s poor and Asian countries’ economic growth prospects have dimmed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Covid pandemic has had devastating impacts on the social and economic well-being of millions of people in Asia, especially the poor and vulnerable. Over 80 million people in developing Asia were pushed into extreme poverty last year by the pandemic. The pandemic also worsened inequalities in health, education and work, as well as increased unemployment, food insecurity, domestic violence and mental stress. Moreover, some Asian countries faced additional challenges such as natural disasters, political instability and conflict.

As we emerge from this challenging period and re-focus our energies towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we need cutting-edge research to analyse opportunities for post-pandemic recovery and transformation, such as skills training, digitalisation, innovation, green transition and regional cooperation. The different sessions included in this science fair focused on some of these critical topics which Asian policymakers are dealing with:

1) Employment is crucial in the structural transformation process in developing countries as they transition from subsistence to industrial society. Employment strategies can be defined as a part of development policies focused on finding favourable combinations of economic resources and human capital for higher productivity. There is a triple challenge for boosting employment opportunities in developing countries: First, financial resources are scarce, “modern” market rules are only partly established, physical infrastructure and public services are of low quality. Second, human resources are largely unprepared for the transition to modern forms of a market economy; in many developing countries, 80 percent or more of the population live in a subsistence economy, mainly agriculture. Finally, transition to gainful employment requires changes in the division of labour between the generations and genders. In such contexts, the adaptation of traditional values, behaviour and social structures to the requirements of better employment and higher productivity are as much a challenge as economic questions of development.

2) Social Conflicts in developing countries can be violent but also non-violent. They may range from wars to civil unrest or non-violent social disturbances that undermine state capacities. Conflicts weaken public institutions and produce settings in which political and/or social institutions are highly dysfunctional or have even collapsed. Such settings may range from failed states to war-torn societies in the process of rebuilding a political system to settings characterised by endemic corruption, strong inequality and a high degree of political instability. Research on social conflicts in developing countries is important because it can help us understand the complex and interrelated factors that affect conflict and development in these region. Research lessons from different contexts can help policymakers design and implement effective social policies that can address the root causes of conflict, such as poverty and inequality. Moreover, research help us support the vulnerable groups that are most affected by conflict, such as children, women, refugees and minorities.

3) Public health is central to poverty reduction. It is a global public good and a fundamental element of social security, peace and economic growth. However, the achievements of public health targets are at risk due to rapidly increasing costs for delivering primary health care, weaknesses in health systems, the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, the emergence of new health threats, and rising global inequity.  Research on public health can help us identify key steps toward providing inclusive and equitable social health protection in developing countries, sustaining health gains while addressing emerging demographic and epidemiological changes.

4) Natural ecosystems and the economy are closely interrelated, especially in developing countries. The environment provides natural resources, life support, waste absorption and amenity services that enable economic activity and human well-being. However, economic development impacts our environment through pollution, resource depletion, habitat loss and climate change1. Therefore, it is critical to balance environmental protection and economic growth for sustainable development. Research on sustainable ecosystem management has shown us that maintaining an optimal natural environment will not depend on any single factor but rather on a combination of mutually reinforcing policies, investments and actions. Understanding the key drivers, their interactions and the policies that can drive and promote good practices will be based on a judicious mix of global, regional, national and local actions. An understanding of optimal policies and actions would provide important information for policy makers, donors and activists. We need to boost inter- and transdisciplinary research collaborations that aim to develop methodologies, technologies, approaches or concepts that improve and enhance the sustainable and equitable provision of ecosystem services for human well-being, with a particular focus on the poor in developing and emerging countries.

5) Finally, we hosted dedicated sessions on two least developed countries from Asia: Laos and Nepal. It is crucial for us to highlight these cases which are often under-appreciated in global research and lead to uneven regional development.

Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia that has achieved significant economic growth in the past decade, but still faces many challenges for sustainable development. Some of these challenges include high public debt, low human capital, dependence on natural resources, vulnerability to external shocks and environmental degradation. Laos needs to implement sound macroeconomic policies, invest in education and health, diversify its economy, enhance regional integration and protect its natural assets.

Nepal is also another landlocked country in South Asia that has made progress in poverty reduction and socio-economic transformation in recent decades, but still faces many obstacles for achieving rapid and inclusive growth. Some of these challenges include high dependence on agriculture, trade imbalance and economic dependency, lack of physical infrastructures, unemployment and brain drain, and gender inequality. Nepal needs to diversify its economy, enhance its productive capacity, improve its infrastructure and governance, create more jobs and opportunities, adopt modern technology and promote gender equality.

Some glimpses of the event are posted below:

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