In commemoration of Khon Kaen University’s 60th anniversary celebration, the Mekong Institute (MI) and Khon Kaen University International College (KKUIC) co-hosted the Regional Workshop on Development and Social Harmony in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) at the MI Headquarters in Khon Kaen, Thailand, on April 23, 2024. The event drew various participants, including researchers, policymakers, government officials, community leaders, and representatives from academia and international organizations.

The workshop aimed to introduce social harmony as a novel yet fundamental framework to address the diverse challenges of the GMS amidst rapid social transformations. Aligned with KKU’s 60th anniversary theme, “60 Years of Creativity and Development for Society,” the workshop emphasized the importance of balanced resource management and collaborative development among GMS nations.

Social harmony, in essence, refers to the seamless coexistence of individuals within a community.  It represents an environment where people feel included, respected, and united toward common goals. The meeting echoed the “Leave no one behind” commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs, emphasizing inclusivity across all development areas like economy, digitalization, and technology.

During the opening program, Mr. Surapon Petch-vra, Vice Chairman of the University Council of KKU, emphasized the importance of fostering mutual trust and respect to promote social harmony. He highlighted the need for cross-border cooperation and comprehensive responses to address ongoing conflicts within member countries, ensuring equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.

Assistant Professor Sirimonbhorn Thipsingh, Dean of KKU IC, expressed optimism about the workshop’s outcome. “This workshop marks the beginning of what I hope will be a fruitful collaboration between KKUIC, MI, and the various organizations represented here today. Together, we have the opportunity to forge new paths, exchange ideas, and drive positive change in our communities,” she stated.

The workshop showcased a keynote address and two panel discussions, with Dr. Suwit Laohasiriwong, an independent scholar, and Mr. Suriyan Vichitlekarn, MI Executive Director, moderating each session. Throughout the discussions, audience engagement was encouraged, with attendees allowed to pose questions and share their thoughts. The event proved highly engaging, with active participation from attendees.

The first panel discussed national dynamics of social harmony, with representatives from the six GMS countries examining unique challenges and opportunities for fostering social cohesion within their respective nations. The second panel focused on promoting and fostering cooperation in social harmony within the GMS, with panelists discussing how it can drive inclusive and sustainable collaboration in the region. They explored innovative strategies to integrate social harmony into GMS cooperation, recognizing its relevance across contexts and advocating for its inclusion in regional frameworks.

Participants engaged in an open discussion to synthesize workshop outcomes and identify priority research agendas, collaborative mechanisms, and work plans for the next two years.

In his synthesis, Mr. Suriyan reiterated the importance of recognizing diverse perspectives on social harmony across GMS countries and understanding its relevance to political systems, social norms, and development goals. As a way forward, he proposed identifying “low-hanging fruit” initiatives to kickstart collaborative efforts and advocated for the establishment of a sustainable platform for ongoing discussion, policy integration, and project implementation involving governmental and non-governmental partners.

Overall, the meeting aimed to lay the groundwork for continued dialogue, collaboration, and action towards leveraging social harmony for inclusive and sustainable development in the GMS.

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