On 25 February, the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) and the Siam Cement Group (SCG) brought together seven teams of students from six Universities in Thailand. Two teams constituted of graduate level students from Mahidol and Thammasat Universities contested for the honours of being crowned winners of the first speaking contest centered on the role of triangular cooperation in achieving sustainable development. Five undergraduate teams from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Khon Kaen University, Maejo University, Suranaree University of Technology and a Thammasat University undergraduate team tussled for the top spot in delivering their ideas on triangular cooperation.
The Director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation and the Envoy of the Secretary-General on South-South Cooperation, Mr Chediek, explained the objectives of the competition emphasising the need to engage young people in the sustainable development agenda. He underlined the potential of young people to contribute ideas to solving development challenges due to their mastery of technology which is better than at any other time before. Mr Adnan Aliani, the Director of the Strategy and Programme Management Division noted that ESCAP works with youth under many initiatives and that working with the youth is the norm rather than the exception for UNESCAP.
The graduate teams presented their strong arguments on the topic: “Triangular cooperation has been praised by some and at the same time criticized by other people as a development modality. Take one side of the pro or con argument.” Likewise, the undergraduate teams supported their position on the topic: “Given that concepts of South-South and North-South cooperation exist, what is the necessity of triangular cooperation as a modality of development cooperation and sustainable development?”
The students laid down creative arguments with innovative case studies and analytical approaches to the topics. The presentation reflected their hard work on research and study on the subject. All presented both weaknesses and strengths of triangular cooperation but were agreeable that is an important tool in helping countries achieve the sustainable development goals.
After their spirited and well researched presentations, the student teams each had an opportunity to reflect on their day at the United Nations. They noted that it had been a novel experience for them. They indicated that despite never ever having heard of triangular cooperation before, despite coming from disciplines such as engineering, medicine, agriculture, they found the opportunity to learn about new ideas that could help them later in life enticing. Their mentors (professors from respective universities) supported their testimony that they had had a short time to prepare as some had examinations and had to work quickly as a team as some universities opted to have multinational teams rather than Thai students only. Some team members were from Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Although Thammasat and Maejo University were ranked as the top graduate and undergraduate teams respectively by the panel of judges, all the students demonstrated that they had researched the subject of triangular cooperation thoroughly. They analysed its perceived strengths and challenges as well as its bridging role between South-South and North-South cooperation. Some even suggested new triangular cooperation projects with influence from their respective study disciplines and the current coronavirus outbreak in the Asia-Pacific region.
The University students indicated that regardless of the results of the competition, they had had a wonderful day. “I will never forget this in my life”, said one student in reference to speaking at the United Nations before eminent UN officials and invited guest and judges from other institutions such as Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA), Kenan Foundation Asia, and Indorama ventures.
In closing the competition, Mr Denis Nkala, Regional Coordinator of UNOSSC, noted that everyone had been a winner and that the students had successfully broken through confines of their disciplines to dialogue on sustainable development. Several of the students asked the UN to continue facilitating this “excellent” experience for young people and said they were inspired to work various developmental, social, environmental and equitable development causes regardless of their disciplines.