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Pacific Rim Report No. 16, January 2001
Multi-Stakeholder Partnership in a Multi-Centered Region: A Recent Trend in Southeast Asia
by Joaquin R. Gonzalez, III

Joaquin L. Gonzalez III is a Kiriyama Fellow at the Center for the Pacific Rim and director of the Executive Master of Public Administration Program at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. He is also associated with the Maria Elena Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program and the Religion and Immigration Project, both at the University of San Francisco.

The author of numerous publications on Asian political economy, public policy, development, and management, Gonzalez is the lead author of Opting for Partnership: Governance Innovations in Southeast Asia (2000), Success Secrets to Maximize Business in the Philippines (2000), Governance Innovations in the Asia Pacific Region: Trends, Cases, and Issues (1998), and Development Sustainability Through Community Participation (1998).

His scholarly articles have also appeared in the
Policy Studies Journal, International Migration Review, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, Asian Journal of Public Administration, Pacific Focus, and the Asian Journal of Political Science.

Taking a break from academic writing, he has recently authored a children’s book called
Countries of the World: Philippines (2001). He has worked for the Institute on Governance of Canada, the National University of Singapore, the World Bank, De La Salle University, and the Philippine Government. Dr. Gonzalez was a student activist during the Marcos martial law years and a veteran of the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines.

We gratefully acknowledge the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for funding this issue of
Pacific Rim Report. If you would like to subscribe to Pacific Rim Report, please email us.

Over the past two decades the Southeast Asian region has been experiencing dramatic changes—beginning with an economic ‘miracle’, then an economic crisis, and now onward to a turn-of-the-millennium economic recovery. In the early 1990s Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong from Northeast Asia together with four Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia) were showcased as “eight High-performing Asian Economies (HPAEs)” by the World Bank in their best-selling publication The East Asian Miracle: Economic Growth and Public Policy (1993). So spectacular were their sustained growth records that they became much-imitated economic models for struggling nations in Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.

By the late 1990s, however, some not-so-obvious cracks in the ‘miraculous’ armor of the HPAEs gave way to much stronger global economic forces. This precipitated a domino-effect collapse in the region’s financial sectors that seriously contaminated the banking system, stock exchanges, and currency markets. Recently, boosted by a resurgence of growth among its Northeast Asian neighbors, Southeast Asia is once again experiencing a modest economic upsurge, and many American and European investors are returning to the same countries they abandoned at the height of the economic crisis.

Overshadowed by the economic ups and downs of Southeast Asia are many political changes from the national to the sub-national levels of government. In the 1970s and 1980s development efforts were traditionally dominated by the state through its numerous agencies and public enterprises. Political power and the authority to govern were, without question, exclusively the government’s privilege. By the 1990s, however, a paradigm shift seems to have occurred in the region. The economic crisis exposed the fact that Southeast Asians live in a rapidly changing, interconnected and unpredictable globalizing and regionalizing environment. Increased access to education and the internet have empowered more people with the skills and knowledge to choose their own futures and to make sure their governments fulfill their promises. All of these factors combined to dramatically alter the context in which public programs and services are developed and delivered.

Not only have public concerns in Southeast Asia taken on a new complexity and interconnectedness, the methods to address these concerns are of necessity changing too. Southeast Asians no longer live in a region where the nation-state is regarded as the sole legitimate decision-making actor. In fact, the number of domains in which governments can credibly claim to hold overwhelming pre-eminence in terms of power, authority and influence is experiencing a relative decline. Various forms of decentralization and privatization efforts are being carried out in Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

In the Philippines the 1986 People Power Revolution and the meteoric rise of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the overwhelming approval of the 1987 Constitution, the unprecedented enactment of the 1991 Local Government Code, and the Build-Operate-Transfer Law of 1993, as well as implementation of the pro-people “Philippine National Development Plan: Directions for the 21st Century” (1998) are important events that had significant impact on the interaction of groups representing government, business, and civil society in the Philippines.

Similarly in Thailand the landmark passage of the Tambol Authority Organization (TAO) Act of 1994, the enthusiastic approval of the 1997 New Thai Constitution, and the swift launching of the Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1997) were critical turning points that enhanced power sharing among the public, private, and civil society sectors. Prior to these major events, Thai and Filipino political oppositionists and public interest groups had been fighting a protracted battle with repressive regimes for greater democratization, power sharing, and partnerships among the various individuals and institutions within their political systems.

The general trends in Malaysia and Vietnam were somewhat different. In Malaysia, although a number of past policies—including Malaysia Inc. (1983) and Vision 2020 (1991)—called for government, business, and civil society to be represented, in reality, ‘multi-sectoral’ representation was still dominated by government and business. The composition of the Malaysia Business Council (MBC) is a classic example. However, this is not the case in all of Malaysia. In Penang, which is the home to ALIRAN (a progressive, issues-based publication) and the Consumer Association of Penang, the state government has been more supportive of genuine social tripartism. Other Malaysian states are also examining the Penang model seriously. Also, more recently there seems to be a new trend nationally with the implementation of the Communications Act of 1998, which requires the unprecedented creation of “discussion groups” where representatives from Malaysian civil society have been encouraged to actively participate and even act as facilitators and agenda-setters.

In Vietnam, movements towards creating more space in the development process for groups representing segments of civil society and business have been, for the most part, disappointingly slow. However, a number of positive signs indicating an increase in this space have emerged. These have been facilitated by some significant events and policy pronouncements, including the enactment of doi moi (renovation) and mo cua (open door) policies (1986), the passage of a relatively ‘more democratic’ New Constitution (1992), the Government Reorganization of 1997, and the Prime Minister’s issuance of Official Memo No. 2012/VPCP-PC (1998). The latter encouraged all ministries to consult a broad range of stakeholders representing government, business, and academia.

Overall, it seems that in many parts of Southeast Asia there is a noticeable movement from a purely ‘state-centered’ region to a more ‘multiple-centered’ region where power, authority, and influence emanate not only from a single source but from a variety of potential sectors representing government, business, and civil society. In Southeast Asia, this shift of power, authority, and influence to multiple actors is happening simultaneously upward, downward, outward, and inward. It is upward to international governmental organizations (like ASEAN and APEC), multi-national corporations, and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs); downward to state, provincial, district, and municipal levels of government; outward to the private sector and organizations of civil society; and inward to individuals and community members.

In a region where issues are complex and the power and legitimacy available to address those concerns is diffused, the biggest challenge facing Southeast Asian governments and communities is to find a way to bring together all power share-holders, to find common ground and to combine their strength and resources to effectively address issues of public concern.

Six Southeast Asian Cases

With this rapidly evolving multiple-centered regional context in mind, a team of Canadian, American, and Southeast Asian action researchers assembled by the Institute On Governance (IOG), with funding primarily from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), embarked in 1996 on a four-year action research program called the Canada-ASEAN Governance Innovations Network (CAGIN). CAGIN sought to study and support governance institutions that demonstrated multi-stakeholder partnership. The CAGIN team identified six case studies from four Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, to document this growing trend. These six cases were:

Baguio Regreening Movement and the Eco-Walk Project: Shortage of water has always been a chronic problem in Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines. This serious environmental issue is being alleviated through the Baguio Regreening Movement (BRM), a unique multi-stakeholder partnership composed of national and local governmental agencies, the Catholic Church, community-based organizations, civic groups, entrepreneurs, and businesses that emerged two years after the 1986 People Power Revolution. BRM partners jointly designed and implemented an indigenous community-driven program called Eco-Walk. Eco-Walk promotes regular and organized walks by school children into a watershed area to explore and to plant and tend tree seedlings under the guidance of forestry personnel and volunteers. Aside from being a watershed rehabilitation program, BRM members seek to address the need for children to help rehabilitate the local environment they will inherit and manage in the future.

Guimaras Solid Waste Management Project: Implemented in Guimaras Island, one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines, the Guimaras Solid Waste Management Project brings together relevant municipal and provincial government departments with groups from local businesses and civil society to plan and implement an integrated solid waste management approach. Organized into provincial and municipal implementation task forces, project participants have developed and implemented a comprehensive waste management plan and policy for the province. The project has also spearheaded a number of new small-scale business ventures through which citizens and businesses in Guimaras are not only helping to keep the island clean, but also generating income to support their own livelihoods. The Guimaras case offers a useful and relevant model for communities around the world which are looking for more sustainable and holistic approaches to waste management and which see the potential of government-business-citizen partnership.

Vietnam Business Council: Since the introduction of doi moi in 1986, Vietnam is slowly moving toward a more stable growth trajectory. In the process of reform Vietnam has studied best practices from other countries, with a special look at Vietnam’s relatively more advanced Southeast Asian neighbors. One institutional arrangement that has been adapted and applied in Vietnam by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) is the deliberation council. The Vietnam Business Council (VBC) became a forum where the business community, government ministries, think tanks, and some groups from civil society, especially the media and academia, met regularly and discussed issues and concerns affecting the business environment of an economy that was trying to move from a socialist to a more market-oriented system.

Khon Kaen Civic Assembly: Thailand’s Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1997-2001) emphasizes people-centered development and prioritizes a decentralized, participatory planning approach. The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the central planning agency, has designated four provinces (in the northeast, north, southern and central regions) to serve as test cases for the development of participatory planning through the creation of a Civic Assembly. Within this supportive policy context, the Khon Kaen Civic Assembly (KKCA) in northeastern Thailand was born. The KKCA is a loose multi-stakeholder group, dominated by middle class civil servants and socially-engaged academics, with fluid borders and an evolving identity.

Tambol Civil Society Participatory Local Governance Project: A level of Thai local government that was significantly affected by the passage of the 1997 Thai Constitution and implementation of the Eighth National Development Plan is the tambol (or the sub-district). At Tambol Bangchakreng in Central Thailand, community members identified the preservation of razor clams as a very critical livelihood issue. To address this concern they created a multi-stakeholder partnership of government, business, and community members that could formulate a more effective strategy to protect dwindling razor clam resources in Tambol Bangchakreng. Factors that the research team found to be critical in sustaining the multi-stakeholder partnership were creating process facilitators, creating change agents, and utilizing effective consultative techniques and promoting civic culture.

Sustainable Penang Initiative: The Sustainable Penang Initiative (SPI) pioneered a community-based indicators project aimed at creating a process for more holistic and sustainable development planning in the State of Penang, Malaysia. The project involved five roundtables on different areas of sustainable development: ecological sustainability, social justice, economic productivity, cultural vibrancy, and popular participation. Government, business, and civil society participants at the roundtables identified community-based indicators which they could use to monitor development in Penang over time. These initial monitoring results were presented at a People’s Forum, through a People’s Report Card and a State of Penang Report. The SPI process increased participation, accountability and transparency in Penang. It also spearheaded the creation of new organizations to address specific issues including sustainable transport, disabled access, and water conservation.

Building Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

The success of multi-stakeholder partnerships in Southeast Asia is heavily anchored to the right blend of actors and assets. In each of these Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnerships, a wide range of actors deployed various forms of influence and resources towards solving development issues they themselves identified. No single actor tended to have absolute power. Broadly speaking, we assumed that these actors could be categorized into the following: the public sector (or government), the private sector (or business) and the people sector (or civil society). The public sector would include the executive, legislature, judiciary, public service, and military and police. The private sector encompasses small, medium, and large enterprises, multi-national corporations, and financial institutions. Civil society would include non-government organizations (NGOs), community-based and people’s organizations (CBOs and POs), religious and ethnic, women’s and youth groups, professional associations, and donor agencies.

When a Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnership is formed, each actor brings to the new relationship a set of assets. The CAGIN team clustered these assets into the following categories:

— Physical assets (financial, technical and material resources)
— Organizational assets (personnel, structure, leadership, capacity to manage, plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and train)
— Political assets (power, authority, influence, legitimacy)
— Intellectual assets (knowledge or know-how in certain fields of expertise)
— Socio-cultural assets (feeling/spirit of trust, friendship, and willingness to collaborate, community traditions, ideals, or values)

We recognized that each actor or sectoral group is endowed with a mix of all five forms of assets, although it seems that in actual practice each was only able to contribute certain assets to the multi-stakeholder partnership depending on the nature of the problem, the particular context and timing, and the capacities of the various participants.

For instance, the government or public sector was typically strong when it came to political and organizational assets, i.e. policy or program control and coordination, providing institutional stability and harnessing critical political will and support. Further, the government sector is unique because of its power to create and enforce laws and exact taxes. But each case illustrated that it could not provide an effective solution to the development concern on its own. By itself the government could not force social energy and civic involvement. This is something that may best be done by groups in the civil society sector.

Similarly, in many cases the private or business sector exhibited strengths in the areas of organizational assets and physical assets, i.e. profit making, labor productivity, private sector competitiveness, and entrepreneurial growth. However, the business sector could not provide political legitimacy or institutional security, which was best done by the government sector. It also could not guarantee social equity and economic rationality. In fact, many of the case experiences show that the market left solely on its own tended to generate economic and income inequalities. Except for their fiscal obligations (i.e. taxes) to the government and token social outreach programs, businesses seldom joined the community in addressing local development concerns. Hence, there was a compelling need for the civil society and government sectors to check and balance the operations of the free market with regulatory activities and programs that reduced these inequities.

In the same way, the civil society or people sector often contributed significantly to the multi-stakeholder partnerships through socio-cultural and intellectual assets, i.e. advancing people participation, promoting self-help, and increasing cultural awareness. These assets went towards addressing social inequalities in a manner that was socially and culturally acceptable to the local community. Yet civil society tended to be weak when it came to ensuring political stability and institutionalization, and often lacked authority and administrative capacity. Civil society did not have the legal, judicial and regulatory authority to require the business community to be more accountable and responsible, a goal best accomplished by government agencies or quasi-judicial authorities. Moreover, the entrepreneurial skills and technical know-how required to mobilize local financial resources, which were critical to sustaining community development, were something that civil society groups had to learn from the business sector. We saw that actors in any one sector, operating independently, will typically not have all of the needed resources, all of the public faith and confidence, and all of the knowledge to address issues of public concern effectively.

Barriers to Successful Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

In spite of the inherent logic of forming multi-stakeholder partnerships to address issues of public concern, there are deep-seated barriers to doing so. The six Southeast Asian case studies provides colorful examples of what these barriers are, and how they operate. The cases show that barriers may exist in the broader contextual environment, or closer to home among the actors of the partnership itself.

Most compelling is the inherent lack of trust among partners from the different interest groups. Deeply ingrained attitudes of blaming government for its inefficiency, criticizing civil society for its narrow and biased interests, and viewing business as pursuing only its own profit-oriented bottom line do not auger well for strong, supportive relationships among these groups. The strong desire for power and control and the accompanying reluctance to share power are additional barriers to partnership. In many cases government actors, after many years of taking the lead, still believe that the people expect them to do so, and taking the lead allows government to set agendas and and influence implementation. Finally, the comfort and security of maintaining the status quo is a significant force mitigating against the formation of new partnerships. It can be a daunting challenge to change relationships that have historically been based on adversarial roles, to ones that are supportive. While the Southeast Asian case studies demonstrate that barriers such as these are always present, they can in many cases be overcome, and each individual case provides some insights into what strategies may be used to accomplish this.

Lessons and Conclusions

The lessons and conclusions that the CAGIN team drew from the experiences of the six Southeast Asian cases revolved around the following questions: What made these multi-stakeholder partnership successful? What kinds of people were involved and what were the critical roles that they played? How were volunteers motivated to sustain their participation, and how were the contributions of the various partners combined to address the development concern effectively.

Champions, Change Agents and Core Group Members

A pattern in some of the more apparently effective Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnerships was a distinct division between three kinds of actors—champions, change agents, and core group members. Each is essential to the success of the multi-stakeholder partnership, and each brings complementary strengths and contributions.

Champions are persons of position in the community who command respect as well as authority. By virtue of their stature they can create conditions whereby an innovative governance mechanism can get off the ground and be sustained. Champions, by providing vision, direction, endorsement, and inspiration, can legitimize a governance innovation in an environment where new approaches to power sharing and decision-making may be regarded as risky, even dangerous. Champions normally do not get involved in the day-to-day activities of a partnership, but they create an environment in which a Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnership may be successfully launched and sustained. Both charismatic and credible individuals, the Bishop of the Archdiocese and the City Mayor, were champions in the Baguio Eco-Walk case. The previous governor of Guimaras province was a champion for participatory decision-making; her endorsement of civil society involvement in public interest questions created an environment that made the Guimaras waste management pilot project possible. Despite a male-dominated working environment, the female vice-president of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, played the champion’s role for the Vietnam Business Council. The former president of Khon Kaen University brought together the people and mobilized resources to the startup of the Khon Kaen Civic Assembly and its allied activities. A leading government official (a member of the Penang State Executive Council) and a long-time community leader in Penang both played champion’s roles in the case of the Sustainable Penang Initiative.

Change agents may emerge throughout the life cycle of a multi-stakeholder partnership. They may come from any walk of life and from any social group. They identify strongly with the issue on which a particular multi-stakeholder partnership is focusing, and, through their enthusiasm and commitment, help raise awareness of the issue at hand, help people see issues in unconventional ways, and inspire others to participate in the new governance mechanism. The association of local village leaders, media persons, and school children were key change agents in the Baguio Eco-Walk. In the Sustainable Penang case, change agents emerged from the community of disabled persons. In Khon Kaen the governor’s wife, who heads the local Red Cross chapter, became heavily involved. Moreover, persons from the slum communities and an official from the Bank of Thailand also sacrificed a lot of valuable time to lead activities for the betterment of Khon Kaen. In another part of Thailand, the national government representatives at the District level became one of the first persons to endorse decentralization at the Tambol-level and participate in a new and a more participatory process of decision-making.

If champions and change agents are the heart and soul of Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnerships, then core group members are the brains, muscles, and facilitators. It is they who guide the partnership from point to point, ensuring that momentum is maintained, issues are addressed as they arise, conflicts are resolved, and objectives are addressed. They ensure that the day-to-day work of a multi-stakeholder partnership gets done. They oversee the formulation and execution of strategies and plans, ensure that progress is monitored, problems addressed, meetings held, etc. In short, the presence of a core group is essential for sustaining a partnership through to the completion of the objective that inspired its formation. Strong core groups, which were built around mutual trust and personal affinity, were apparent in several of the cases. The Baguio Regreening Movement was sustained by the enthusiasm and commitment of a core group of five people drawn from the public sector, the private sector, and civil society. The Vietnam Business Council had nine core members, with membership heavily tilted toward the government, but including the private sector, media, and academia. The work of the implementation task forces in the Guimaras case was sustained by strong core groups who, among other things, played a key role in keeping the multi-stakeholder partnership alive during a difficult transition period after the provincial elections. In Tambol Bangchakreng, a facilitator played a crucial role in helping to mobilize a core group and she essentially provided a backstop for the core group while it was being formed.

Making Voluntarism Work

Committed voluntarism is at the heart of Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnerships. Citizens contribute their time and energy to the partnership because they believe in the need for concerted action on a particular public issue. But the case studies also demonstrated that, as a purely practical matter, voluntarism has its limits. This is particularly true in cases where there is a high degree of involvement in a multi-stakeholder partnership by persons from lower socio-economic strata (which was not the case in Sustainable Penang or the Vietnam Business Council). Monetary and other tangible incentives—whether in the form of salary payments, grants for micro-projects, or opportunities to participate in study tours—proved significant factors in inducing or sustaining core groups or broader networks of participation in the case of the Khon Kaen Civil Assembly and the Guimaras waste management project. The Baguio Eco-Walk project was an interesting counter-example. No monetary or tangible incentives were provided to core group members or to participants. As one participant put it, “the biggest incentive is to help make Baguio a better place for their children and the generations to come.” Significantly, Baguio stood out as the case with the clearest and most immediate development impacts. This allowed participants to see, over a relatively short period of time, that the project was ‘making a difference’. This is a powerful intangible asset that may have outweighed the need for physical, monetary or other tangible assets.

Developing A Supporting Operating Style Or ‘Culture

Successful Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnerships are likely to be structured and managed in ways that pay attention to certain basic ‘human needs’ of their members that follow from rough rules of thumb about human nature. Given the particular circumstances of these innovative governance arrangements in Southeast Asia, participants appeared to work most effectively when the partnership operated in a way that accounted for basic human needs related to trust and safe spaces.

In the four Southeast Asian country studies, there was not a recent tradition of free and easy discourse around questions of alternative forms of power-sharing and decision-making. In societies used to regarding political authorities as having a firm decision-making monopoly on questions of public interest, and where debate is conditioned by respect for hierarchy and formal authority, ordinary citizens may be apprehensive about getting involved in multi-stakeholder partnership.

Under such circumstances an atmosphere of trust is essential in encouraging adherance to a partnership and active participation within it. Several of the case studies provide clear examples of trust-building. Often, an environment of trust results from the fact that the multi-stakeholder partnership was built upon pre-existing networks of long-standing informal personal and/or professional relations. This was clearly so in the Baguio, Guimaras, and Vietnam cases. Also, the presence of a champion, who by virtue of reputation or social position is perceived to be apolitical and uninterested in personal aggrandizement, is also an important factor contributing toward trust. The Bishop’s role in the Baguio case exemplifies this. Conversely, participants’ uncertainty about possible political ambitions of the chairman of the Khon Kaen Civic Assembly undermined development of trust in that partnership.

An environment of trust is conducive to the creation of a safe space for multi-stakeholder dialogue and debate on questions of public interest. If Southeast Asian multi-stakeholder partnerships are to function as forums where all stakeholders can contribute to the resolution of public interest issues, then all must feel that the partnership provides a forum where they can speak freely, challenging accepted ideas and introducing new ones, without fear of recrimination or without violating cultural norms regarding public confrontation or respect for elders and authority figures. The presence of a ‘safe space’ was a key feature of all the case studies.

Globalization precipitated rapid economic, social, and political changes in many geographic regions of the world. Nowhere was this phenomenon felt more strongly than in communities all over Southeast Asia. Periods of spectacular growth and political democratization have led to better economies and the empowerment of many segments of society. Power and authority are no longer the monopoly of government in the emerging multi-polar and multi-centered societies. The Southeast Asian cases described above illustrate how champions and change agents from the business sector and civil society sector have become catalysts of community reform and development. Committed voluntarism and an engaging citizenry are also becoming the trend. Innovative governance arrangements, where trust-building and power-sharing are key principles, are slowly replacing the ‘old culture’ of single-sector dominance.

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