Thailand: a visionary king and an example for the South

by Jorge Chediek and Bernardo Kliksberg


The people of Thailand are paying their highest honors to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away one year ago and who was awarded the first United Nations Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award by the UN Secretary-General in 2006. This multifaceted king, who visited every village in his country to help improve them, was the creator of the “sufficiency economy philosophy” (SEP), a very important path for sustainable development, and encouraged the country to vigorously apply it to South-South Cooperation.

North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation are complementary keys to advancing toward the new Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs 2016-2030). South-South cooperation is growing, and making notable achievements. It currently mobilizes over US$20 billion per year.

This is being taken advantage of to give new impetus to practices to tackle SDGs as demanding as eradicating hunger, which rose again this year, for the first time in the past 15 years, to affect 815 million people; providing sanitation facilities to the over 2 billion people who do not have them; electrifying the homes of the 1.2 billion people who are still in the dark; boosting the productivity of small-scale farmers who lead the ranks of the poor; coping with climate change; overcoming gender discrimination; building crucial infrastructure; and mitigating the impact of growing inequalities.

Thailand’s experience has become a model in this field. The country, whose population of 67 million made it the 20th most-populous in the world, presided over the Group of 77 last year. Through direct and triangular cooperation, it is helping 120 countries. It was one of the first countries in the global South that went from cooperation recipient to donor.

An essential feature of Thailand’s cooperation has multiplied its impact. It is wholly inspired in the pioneering and original philosophy created by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. SEP was very effective in bringing the country out of the economic crisis of 1997/98. It is applied to all aspects of the production system, in both macro aspects and in large, medium and small businesses, the vital farming economy, and at the individual level. SEP has three components: reasonableness (or wisdom) in the analysis of situations, moderation in the choice of courses of action, and prudence in risk management. It has two underlying conditions: knowledge and morality. Morality involves virtues such as perseverance, honesty and altruism. From this holistic approach, the King criticizes the emphasis on the “Asian Tigers.” It says that the most important thing is not rapid growth, but rather to maintain and develop a balanced economy, and as such, is aimed at sustainability. SEP also stresses that the economic activities of one country should not have negative effects on others.

Thailand has massively applied SEP in the country, and it is being implemented in 23,000 communities. It also guides the design of national development plans. Thus, following SEP, the Eleventh Economic and Social Development Plan 2012-2016 focuses on five areas: sustainable agriculture and preservation of natural resources, energy sustainability, environmentally-friendly production and consumption, sustainable cities, and a creative economy.

The country vigorously integrated SEP into its South-South cooperation. It seeks to become a center for learning about and teaching SEP. It created a development agency, a cooperation fund among neighboring countries, and provided considerable aid to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. It was chosen by countries such as Japan and Germany to fund some of their South-South projects through triangular cooperation schemes. While it has been cooperating intensively with neighboring countries, it has not limited itself to this. It is also implementing projects in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Its multisectoral projects encompass not only governments but also businesses, civil society and other actors.

In the ground-breaking vision of the King, SEP can contribute a lot to the UN’s SDGs, becoming a way of thinking for them. In short, SEP questions the singular focus on profits and asks that the interests of all actors be taken into account. Its approach is very similar to concepts such as corporate social responsibility, focused on respect for the interests of stakeholders and on long-term sustainability.

SEP, Thailand’s great South-South contribution, is spreading internationally at a growing rate.

Thailand’s example validates the vast potential of South-South cooperation and encourages developing countries to use it to redouble efforts to push the hopeful Sustainable Development Goals that are essential to improving the world.

Humanity as a whole should join the homage to the “Good King,” who did so much for the humble of his country. He told the BBC that hunger was the first problem, he created SEP and opened new paths to South-South cooperation.


Jorge Chediek is director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

Bernardo Kliksberg is strategic adviser to the Director of UNOSSC


Source: El Universal –