Written by Mekong Institute
A. Principle Conclusions
(1) Relevance: Satisfactory
- The project was by any measure very relevant for the EWEC region and its direct beneficiaries – the provincial and local CCIs and business associations. The under-utilization of the available infrastructure and the reform measures already put in place along the route by the private sector, resulting in low level of trade and investment activities, having little impact on poverty reduction and socio-economic development in the EWEC, poses a serious need to external interventions by champions organizations like MI, as well as funding support by donor agencies.
- TA to provincial and local CCIs and BAs would help to turn them into ‘catalyst’, or ‘agent for changes’ in the context of a private sector which is not very well-developed. MI and the project have chosen to focus whatever resources available on building the capacity of a narrow core group instead of spreading thin to cover all the vast needs and demands of the region.
- The needs analysis done at the onset of the project was very comprehensive and the project was well-designed with choice of activities excellently made.
- The type of activities undertaken within the framework of the Project is within the core competencies of MI: capacity development and regional networking. The impact that the Project wishes to bring about – more trade and investment in the EWEC region – is also within the priority areas of MI, which is regional cooperation and integration, socially as well as economically.
(2) Effectiveness: Satisfactory
- The project has been quite effective in building the capacity of various individuals as well as institutions (CCIs, BAs, etc) along the EWEC in terms of trade and investment. There is also a strong feeling of goodwill towards MI throughout the region for initiating this project as well as other activities that the Institute has done so far which benefited these stakeholders.
- All the targeted outputs were delivered as planned, all activities completed while some extra activities was also added to complement those originally designed in achieving the intended outcome of the project.
- The executive seminar undertaken within the framework of the project has not been able to bring about any policy outcomes as intended. We should, nevertheless, appreciate that it has been successful in raising awareness and disseminating information about business opportunities and development potentials along the EWEC, as well as cultivating the necessary political will for pushing forward the sub-regional cooperation and integration agenda.
- The SLVs were extremely appreciated for their effectiveness in developing business networking and promoting lesson-learning and replication of best practices and successful business models.
- The training content of the project is considered very useful by all stakeholders, due to the relevance of knowledge and skills delivered, as well as the quality of trainers and the training approach adopted by MI. We, however, have doubt about the “training-of-trainers” approach of the project since we see that there is a lack of structured mechanism for sharing of knowledge and skills by the trainees at MI with their colleagues once they are back to office.
- The EWEC Website and Database is also an unique tool developed by MI and the project. Though it remains low key at the moment, it has the potential of becoming a much stronger tool in the future, once some adjustments are made and once the promotion of the website and database itself is more strategically made.
(3) Efficiency: Satisfactory
- The project has a good steering and implementation structure. However, the role of the Project Steering Committee could be strengthened. Reporting should be done on the basis of the LogFrame which has been excellently drawn up during the designing phase of the project, to focus more on performance and outcome-reporting rather than activity and output-reporting as of now.
- The absence of “micro-management” by the donor became an incentive for MI to choose the best cost solutions for project activities, which enable savings, result in surplus of funds which were subsequently used for additional activities.
- The efficiency of delivering technical assistance by the project is mixed. The biggest problems include: (i) coordination with other projects led by ADB and UNESCAP, (ii) the selection of participants for project activities, and (iii) language barrier due to low English proficiency.
- Project funds were efficiently allocated, used and managed.
(4) Impact/Sustainability: Satisfactory
- The project has been able to build the capacity of members of CCIs and BAs, as well as entrepreneurs in the region, as well as provide useful working tools for these institutions, which would be sustainable by themselves.
- The impact of the project on trade and investment facilitation and socio-development in the EWEC region remains anecdotal and limited since it is just a pilot initiative to test the water; while needs and demands in this regard of the region is vast. Such impacts should only be expected in the longer run and requires additional resources and activities.
- The project is not yet sustainable by itself, and the role of MI is still essential but there is much “buy-in” of the stakeholders. Therefore, any future programme and initiative could expect more contributions from them to increase local ownership as well as partnership.
B. Key Recommendations
- Expand and deepen the current project into a bigger programme (with at least 3-5 years’ term) which would provide hands-on and direct support to members of the private sector in the EWEC region, still using the CCIs and BAs as the bridge. This programme should be designed in consultation with other relevant actors such as the ADB, UNESCAP as early as possible.
- Recognizing that the private sector is not a heterogeneous group, the new programme should try to develop tailor-made support/solutions which cater to the needs of the respective groups or stakeholders, for example, the SMEs, the farmers’ groups, household businesses.
- Capitalize on the deliverables, outputs produced under the current project such as the EWEC Website and Database, the SME Product Display and Information Centre, as well as other training materials.
- Explore new approaches in the new programme to boost trade and investment activities in the region, instead of only facilitating trade and investment. For example, MI could think about starting/administering some sort of Business Challenge Fund to support proposals which are about innovative business models which could contributing to trade and investment promotion along the EWEC, or which create employment and ease poverty.
- Buttress in contributions from the private sector and institutions such as big CCIs in the region to increase ownership and partnership.
- Selection of industries and sectors to be included in the new programme should be done on the basis of competitiveness mapping, to ensure focus. Furthermore, in such industries, the narrower focus should be on developing value chain and consortia/clusters.
- If MI/the new programme would like to continue support the capacity development of CCIs along the EWEC, it should focus on strategic institutional aspects and sustainability aspects of such activities, to avoid continuing to build the capacity of individuals.
- Build in advocacy elements/activities to address policy bottlenecks at the high level (i.e. central governments of GMS countries) in the new programme.
- Undertake more awareness raising and information dissemination activities regarding the legal and policy framework concerning cross-border trade and investment activities, for example the CBTA, the ASEAN Common Effective Preferential Tariff Scheme (CEPT) or the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), etc.
C. Synthesis and Evaluation Workshop
Cross-cutting recommendations made during the workshop (organised on the 17th of December, 2012 at the Mekong Institute) for the activities to be carried out in a proposed 2nd phase of the project include:
- Further training and capacity building activities for CCIs’ staffs as well as member enterprises related to specific skills and specific industries.
- Business matching events with regard to specific products and industries, which could potentially be transformed into EWEC annual trade fairs or tourism fairs.
- EWEC database to be further developed in the direction of self-sustainability since this is recognized as an important tool to ensure business networking within the EWEC region as well as a bridge to reach to traders and investors (companies) from outside the region.
- Structured learning visits for specific studies to further promote intra-regional and extra-regional networking.
- Advocacy and consultation with central governments of all EWEC countries to be undertaken so as to highlight the problems and seek political support for developing the region.
- Support (financial as well as institutional) to be provided for start-up ventures along the EWEC region such as EWEC bus lines or organic farming groups.
- Market research to be undertaken vis-à-vis specific sectors/industries so as to help the stakeholders identify and make the best use of business opportunities.