Witoon Permpongsacharoen

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1990
Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance


This profile was prepared when Witoon Permpongsacharoen was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
Burma, Thailand, and the countries of Indochina live in the same environmental house. Witoon sees the Mekong River, for example, as a central artery, a regional bloodline that must be kept healthy. For decades it has "divided Indochina and the western-oriented economies, but now the latter are crossing over in force." As long as a tense dividing line existed, the area could not be easily developed, despite a 30-year-old plan to turn it into a regional TVA by building 15 major dams. A process which, now that restraint is weakening rapidly, is favored by both Thailand and Vietnam. The restraint of division must be replaced by the restraint of environmental understanding backed by organized public awareness. Both are missing outside Thailand, and Witoon proposes to fill that gap. As the region increasingly grows together, it needs to think through the environmental dimension of growth together.
Witoon is already at work building his own understanding both of the region's ecosystems and of its human societies. He is also creating a resource center that will serve all those concerned with the region's future, especially the private voluntary organizations and other groups that will ultimately have to carry the argument for the region's long-term future.
He is hoping, in fact, to find those who may eventually play this role in Burma and the Indochinese states. As he does so, he will help link them to one another and to their sister organizations in Thailand and outside the region. He will help them learn how to analyze the problems they face and think through how they can best respond, given the specific historical circumstances they face and experiences elsewhere. He will help these citizens' movements and their allies address the problems that transcend national boundaries and far-away decision-makers, be they the World Bank or Thailand's planners and business houses. His first concern, in other words, is building the human and institutional prerequisites for change.
As he fully learns the issues, Witoon will also be a source of ideas, almost a factory that produces ideas and strategies for this grassroots network (or "distribution system," in business school jargon) to adopt to the degree its members feel appropriate. In this way, a very small organization can have enormous impact.
In Burma, he will focus first on logging, and in Indochina, on the development of the Mekong. He and his allies will raise the environmental concerns they see. They will provide their analyses and independent information to the World Bank and other major donors and investors. They will work at least as hard to build grassroots understanding and involvement.
In Witoon's words, he is launching a new project "to collect information, monitor, and hopefully build up a network for the environment and cultures of mainland Southeast Asia."
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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