"When I accepted the leadership role in ANSA-EAP and started to reflect on the work and responsibilities awaiting me, I was confronted once more with the question of our regional mandate. If the organization is to truly serve its purpose, which will, of course, define and determine its sustainability, it has to offer something that could be regionally shared and communicated, understood and applied."by Dondon Parafina
I call it a new adventure! Taking on the Executive Director’s post for a regional organization covering East Asia and Pacific is, to say the least, challenging because to me, the region remains an unfamiliar terrain.
I am not new to ANSA East Asia-Pacific. I was the Network Coordinator for four years, right at the time when we were establishing partnerships in the four countries we prioritized in the initial project phase—Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, and the Philippines. In many forums and conversations we had, I would always hear myself and others remark that the countries in the region are too varied—in language, political structure and dynamics, economic status, religion, historical influences, and perhaps even in their favorite sports! And note here that I only had East Asia in mind. It gets even more complex when the Pacific becomes part of the picture.
Experts and regular observers alike would say that the East Asia & Pacific region is just too diverse for anyone to make sense of its regional character. Beyond the shared bracket of geography, EAP countries are just too varied. There’s a tricky play of colors and a cacophony of voices within. It’s difficult to find common ground. The people, and their locations too, seem distant from each other, literally and figuratively.
When I accepted the leadership role in ANSA-EAP and started to reflect on the work and responsibilities awaiting me, I was confronted once more with the question of our regional mandate. If the organization is to truly serve its purpose, which will, of course, define and determine its sustainability, it has to offer something that could be regionally shared and communicated, understood and applied. Against all odds, I need to cling to the belief that this something could be found/discovered or invented/produced by this organization that I now lead.
I would like to be adventurous about this. The mission is to discover the means to bring out the region’s collective view of social accountability, and in the process, facilitate continued community learning. Based on the experience of setting up ANSA-EAP, this is easier said than done. We’ve hopped from one country to another but bringing the experiences and lessons to the level of regional appreciation, and perhaps synthesis, has yet to be achieved. How do we bring this about in, say, the next three years?
After four or so years, what my colleagues and I now know is that the diversity bemoaned by some is perhaps the region’s greatest strength. Finding out exactly where each country is in the (sometimes uneasy) transition to better governance is exciting, to say the least. It’s also these differences in experience that give rise to insights and solutions, both conventional and atypical. And at the end of the day, it’s the common desire to be better governments and better citizens that mark the drivers of change and draw us together as partners.
While that is far from a definite answer, it is enough encouragement to go on. As Lao Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And like any adventure, we’ll need a map and certain devices to guide our way, overcome the obstacles, and get to the destination. I have taken the first step of pursuing this journey by signing on to lead ANSA-EAP. Together with the ANSA-EAP regional team, I hope to blaze the trail of social accountability in the region through platforms for research, learning, communications, and innovations. But in trying moments, I hope some “magic stone” will help light our way, and great friends will be able to provide refuge and support.
Dondon Parafina is the Executive Director of ANSA-EAP and a decade-long practitioner and advocate of social accountability.