ASEAN that “Leaves No One Behind”

The “advancing” part of Thailand ASEAN’s Chairmanship theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” resonates with the international trend where everyone is moving towards  the digital age. Like the rest of the world, ASEAN has to be future-oriented and resilient. This means ASEAN must look towards the future while adjusting to the dynamic environment, benefitting from the technological advances of the 4th Industrial Revolution, enhancing competitiveness, and building immunities from disruptive technologies as well as future challenges. But what is a future-oriented ASEAN without everyone moving forward together?

One of the important tasks of the ASEAN Chair is to host meetings at various levels, from the Summit to the Working Group. This week from 29 July – 3 August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand is hosting the 52nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), Post Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) with Dialogue Partners, and other Related Meetings. With participants from over 30 countries – ASEAN Member States, Dialogue Partners and other external parties, the AMM/PMC is one of the biggest ASEAN events of the year. While “partnership” is a running theme for this event, organising it is an opportunity for Thailand to promote inclusiveness.

While meetings hosted in Thailand this year are promoted as “Green Meetings,” in the corner of every room at the meeting venue, there are pull ring collection boxes for prostheses production. Delegates attending the AMM/PMC will receive chocolate bars made by visually impaired persons from 60 Plus Bakery & Café as souvenirs. The 60 Plus Chocolatier is a disabilities-inclusive business collaboration between Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability (APCD) and MarkRin Chocolate with an aim to provide on-the-job training for persons with disabilities in the food industry. These chocolate bars were also placed on the Leaders’ tables at the 34th ASEAN Summit as well as at the current AMM/PMC.

Delegates and members of the media attending the AMM/PMC will receive mementos made from recycled materials as well as items produced by local communities, such as handmade tote bags from a local community in Trang Province and indigo-dyed passport covers from a local community in Sakon Nakhon Province. These products from Good Goods by the Central Group combine the local wisdom with quality development and contemporary designs in order to preserve and pass on the invaluable cultural heritage while providing sustainable income, and in effect happiness, in the local communities.

Booths displaying products from Good Goods have been set up within the meeting venue together with other booths showcasing products such as items made by visually impaired persons from the “Pakjitpakjai” project as well as a Sachiko demonstration by the Thailand Association of the Blind and the ThailandPost under “More than Delivery” project. Sachiko embroidery is a Japanese ancient stitching method utilising single thread to make geometric patterns that were traditionally done at night when there were no light sources.

To further highlight inclusiveness, Amazon Coffee for Chance are opening temporary coffee shops located in the meeting venue and the media centre. The baristas at Amazon Coffee for Chance are persons with hearing impairment. Customers have to order their drinks using sign language as displayed on the information card, an experience that will put smiles on everyone’s faces. The Amazon Coffee for Chance is a project by PTT Public Company Limited created as an opportunity for students with hearing disability from Ratchasuda College, Mahidol University, to build capacity and generate income. Currently, there are four branches of Amazon Coffee for Chance which will soon expand to eight branches within this year. The coffee shop also uses cups and straws made from bioplastic. With this small yet meaningful set-up, we can build an inclusive society that opens up the opportunity for everyone to contribute.

We often hear the idea of green meetings for Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship that reflects the “sustainability” part in the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”. The AMM/PMC this week also perfectly reflects the “partnership” part, while the “advancing” part has always been incorporated in every ASEAN agenda. However, a partnership towards a seamless,  sustainable and digital ASEAN would not be possible without truly including everyone and leaving no one behind. By engaging persons with disabilities and local communities, Thailand has demonstrated a commitment to bring everyone along in the move forward to raise awareness on the issue. The 35th ASEAN Summit and other related Summits in November this year will also be additional opportunities for the world leaders to witness our serious commitment in leaving no one behind.