Social Inclusion and Vulnerability
The GMS region has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world but benefits from this economic growth was not equally distributed. In close coordination with GMS governments, Mekong Institute (MI) will focus on supporting those marginalized from the development process such as rural women, minor ethnic groups, and poor smallholder farmers, rural-urban migrants, and other groups from the informal sector.
Gender Mainstreaming for Inclusive Development
- Increase women’s access to opportunities in technical knowledge and skills development, financial support, market linkages, and labor
- Promotion of women’s economic empowerment in the agriculture and trade sectors (e.g., support women-led MSMEs)
Addressing Vulnerability and Social Inclusion of Rural Communities, including Marginalized and Minor Ethnic Groups
The social protection systems in the GMS are generally in the early stages. Creating and reforming these systems have become an increasingly important policy agenda for GMS countries on the path towards middle-income country status. Majority of the economically active population in the GMS do not have coverage for unemployment, work-related injuries, maternity, pensions, or health insurances.
In addition, GMS bears a wide composite of over 350 ethnic groups. Many of them are marginalized in the development process for their small population and isolated location. To date, poverty remains highest and persistent in areas with high concentration of minor ethnic groups in the GMS countries.
In response, MI will work towards sustaining the workforce and prioritizing the inclusion of rural communities, marginalized and minor ethnic groups, as well as other vulnerable groups.
In particular, while mainstreaming this theme into MI’s programs and projects, the focus will be on delivering the following:
- Improve their access to socioeconomic opportunities, including skills development and/or job markets to strengthen their coping capacity
- Strengthen their safety nets by convening dialogues and solution-finding activities with GMS governments, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders
Digital Economy and Innovation
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is recognized as a key driver in Asia’s economic and social transformation. Advanced ICT infrastructure and a clear regulatory framework will be the backbone for growth in agricultural production, trade and investment, energy, environment, and regional connectivity. This becomes even more important in the era of 4IR. Digital economy in the form of e-commerce and other similar platforms are taking flight around the world, catapulting an unprecedented growth of internet-based companies and mobile applications. Modern technologies are reorganizing and offering efficiencies in production, distribution, and delivery of services. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened opportunities for online business practices, which can be maximized to its full potential for the benefit of MSMEs. It will also promote digital trade in the GMS, notably for agricultural production, food systems, trade and investment, as well as environment and energy.
Hence, MI will seek to integrate these in its programs and projects to deliver the following:
- Promote the application of smart agriculture technologies by smallholder farmers and the private sector, especially in ensuring food safety and quality management
- Encourage the growth and use of e-services (e.g., e-customs, e-commerce) in the agriculture and trade sectors
- Widen the application of e-platforms for information and data-sharing to boost trade and investment facilitation
- Enhance readiness towards 4IR by strengthening and upscaling human capital development investments
With this cross-cutting theme, MI will focus on ICT adoption and economic transformation.
The GMS region is experiencing increasing levels of labor mobility. Statistics for intra-GMS labor migration is not yet available but intra-GMS mirrors trends in intra-ASEAN migration, which is on the rise. The total number of intra-ASEAN migrants have more than quadrupled, from 2.1 million in 1995 to 9.9 million in 2016. This active labor mobility is largely taking place in the GMS as migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR travel to Thailand, and move from Indonesia, Malaysia to Singapore. Majority of the intra-GMS migrants are rural labor workers seeking wage employment to lift themselves from rural poverty.
GMS countries are experiencing increasing mobility of labor due to varying levels of regional development and regional integration arrangements, especially within ASEAN. Because of extensive infrastructure systems (roads, rail, water) in the region and the easement of land travel restrictions for tourism and business purposes, the region is witnessing increased flows of people across borders. Inequities and different stages of industrialization among GMS countries have also created a differentiated sub-regional labor market: Thailand faces labor shortage in certain low-skilled sectors, while Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Myanmar bear an unskilled labor surplus due to rural poverty, underdeveloped infrastructure, and low- or poor-quality education.
MI will address labor mobility in the context of its ongoing support to agricultural production, food systems, trade and investments, and energy and environment. As such, MI support will be delivered through the following:
- Enhance productivity of the agricultural sector to increase more lucrative livelihood opportunities for farmers and/or workers
- Improve the welfare of the rural labor workforce, as well as their technical and vocational capacities so they can participate in competitive labor markets
- Convene dialogue with GMS governments, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders to address challenges experienced by migrant workers, notably in the areas of agriculture and trade
- Facilitate platforms of engagement for governments and other stakeholders to better synchronize social sector mechanisms, particularly in providing access to employment services for returning migrant workers
- Contribute to existing regional cooperation frameworks in order to promote a more enabling environment for greater labor mobility in the GMS and beyond