Message from the SC Chair Dr. C. T. Hoanh

SC Chair Dr. Chu Thai Hoanh provides updates from the network in the time of Covid-19 and releases the first issue of the SUMERNET newsletter.

May 19, 2020

Dear All SUMERNET members,

I hope you and your family members and colleagues are doing well in this difficult period with the COVID-19 pandemic. While maintaining physical distancing for our health and safety, I am glad to see that many SUMERNET members are still putting in great efforts in adapting ourselves to working online and maintaining progress in our work under the ongoing (fourth) phase of SUMERNET, called “SUMERNET 4 All (S4A)”.

As part of our ongoing work to keep you all updated about our activities and upcoming opportunities for collaboration, I am excited to inform you that SUMERNET will be releasing a newsletter every 1-2 months. The newsletter contains updates about the work of SUMERNET partners, messages from the SUMERNET Steering Committee (SSC), and updates from the Secretariat (SS). Below are the issues I would like to highlight in our first newsletter.

1. How is SUMERNET dealing with the COVID-19 crisis?

Due to the COVID-2019 crisis, social interaction and travels within and across the countries are more restricted. This has unfortunately affected some of the original plans for several research projects and activities under S4A.

We are dealing with the challenges in the following ways:

  • Postponement of the SUMERNET Annual Meeting from March 2020 to later in the year. The final meeting date will be announced again.
  • Using online platforms such as webinar, podcasts, videos and one-on-one online meetings through Microsoft Teams or Zoom for conducting meetings and trainings. We have already conducted SSC meetings, trainings for shortlisted joint action teams, and produced various online materials using these online platforms so far and will continue this practice in coming months.
  • Allow flexibility for the research grantees to adjust their work plan and activities as necessary in close consultation with the Secretariat.

Reallocation of some programme budgets in close consultation with Sida (our financial supporter) to support future emerging research grant on reducing water insecurity considering the COVID-19 situation.

2. Update of SSC members, new Chair and new Co-chair

New members: To strengthen the network leadership representing each of all six countries, we have successfully recruited six additional SSC members who joined the SSC as “new members” from 1st January 2020. Our thanks to all network members for taking time to vote for your representatives. The six new SSC members are: Prof. Nilar Aung and Ms. Mya Lwin Lwin Aung from Myanmar, Associate Prof. Xiaobo Su from China, Dr. Pheakkdey Nguon from Cambodia, Ms. Chau Thi Minh Long from Vietnam, and Dr. Phoummixay Siharath from Lao PDR. Please join me in welcoming all the new members to join the SSC. The list of all 14 SSC members can be found here.

Members who will complete their terms:  Of the eight members currently serving in the SSC continually from Phase 3 to Phase 4 of SUMERNET, three will complete their terms by end of June 2020. These members are: Dr. Hu Tao from China, Dr. Kanokwan Manorom from Thailand, and Dr. Chu Thai Hoanh from Vietnam (myself). I wish to take this opportunity on behalf of SUMERNET to express our sincere gratitude to these members for their valuable contributions to the network for the past several years. We wish them all the best and look forward to cooperating with them in a different capacity in the future.

Transition to the new Chair and new Co-chair:  After 15 years of engaging with SUMERNET as one of the network founding members and being entrusted by the network members to serve as the Chair of SSC for 10 years, I am very happy to see SUMERNET has grown as a strong network contributing to positive changes in building research capacity of Mekong researchers and influencing policy and practices related to water insecurity and other environmental aspects in the Mekong Region. Since we have recently expanded our partnership to engage with many new members within the network and SSC, I think it is now good timing for me to step down from the SSC chair position to allow other active members to contribute to this important role in the network.

Through the selection process among the existing SSC members in the past month, I am very pleased to inform you all that Dr. Ms. Hap Navy from Cambodia and Dr. Louis Lebel from Thailand will take over the roles of SSC Chair and SSC Co-chair, respectively from 1st July 2020 onwards. Both have been involved with SUMERNET through various activities since the first phase and are active SSC members over the past ten years. With their experience in the leadership role of SUMERNET, strong capacity in research and policy engagement, and their connections within and outside the network, along with the continued support of the Secretariat and good cooperation with other network members, I trust that SUMERNET will further develop as an even stronger network in the coming years. While I will likely spend more time with my family after June 2020, I will be more than happy to contribute to our network in the capacity of a life-time network member.

3. Progress of SUMERNET 4 All implementation

Progress is good on the implementation of this fourth phase of SUMERNET under S4A (September 2018-December 2023). As you know, S4A has the main goal of “reducing water insecurity for all in particular for the poor, marginalized and socially vulnerable groups of women and men in the Mekong Region”. Below are updates from each component of S4A work.

Component 1 Multi-stakeholder engagement: SUMERNET successfully launched two competitive calls, including joint action grants and small grants in late 2019. After the shortlisting process, online capacity building webinars were provided for the shortlisted joint action teams.  We are in the final stage of deciding the joint action grants. For the small grants, unfortunately the applications received by the deadline did not meet expectations. We cannot award any small grants in previous time round. We plan to launch the call for future time round in coming months for the network members to apply again.  

Component 2 on Research for policy and practice: SUMERNET successfully developed five sets of guidelines for the newly introduced topics to the network related to considering environmental impacts, critical gender analysis, research ethics, conflict sensitivity, and integrating rights- based approaches into the research. The trainings on these and other topics were delivered to the first group of Mekong researchers shortlisted through two competitive calls for both the collaborative research and the Groundwater Integrated Regional Assessment grants. After several rounds of reviews and revision of proposals, grants were awarded to 11 multi-country teams. Also, a video introduction to SUMERNET Ethics Guidelines is also now available on the website (please see below the link to blog).  

Component 3 Communications: Our newly designed website was launched with eight “Stories” from the Mekong including interviews with the MRC’s Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer and the present Chair of SUMERNET Steering Committee. SUMERNET is also now more active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) as the new website is better integrated with social media platforms to reach larger and more influential audiences in the Mekong Region.

Component 4 Programme management and coordination: SUMERNET performed several activities towards enhancing the regional ownership of the network. First, six additional SSC members were recruited through an open election process by the network members. Second, SUMERNET has formalized its network membership with 240 individuals confirmed as members who are aware of the benefits of the network and their own responsibilities. Third, SUMERNET has provided an opportunity for the network members to serve as thematic advisors through an open recruitment process with seven advisors recruited to support Mekong researchers. Fourth, the structure of SUMERNET and responsibilities of individual Secretariat members were further clarified. Finally, the SUMERNET started exploring options for improvement of the SUMERNET governance structure. Moreover, to directly benefit younger Mekong citizens, fellowship grants were offered to one fellow from Lao PDR and another from Vietnam through a competitive call.

4. Upcoming opportunities for network members

The Secretariat will connect with all network members in the near future for exciting opportunities below.

  • Future competitive calls for emerging research grants, joint action grants, small grants, and fellowship grants.
  • Open election of three vacant SSC positions by end of June 2020.
  • Online survey for enhancing governance structure of SUMERNET by end of June 2020.
  • Call for stories and lessons for other network members to learn on how COVID-19 affects your work and water insecurity and how you deal with this crisis.

I wish you and your colleagues and family members all the best. Please stay safe and healthy!

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Chu Thai Hoanh

Chair, SUMERNET Steering Committee


Sustainable Mekong Research Network

Building research for policy towards sustainable development in the Mekong Region

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