Social Policy Ecology Research Institute (SPERI), an independent civil society institution was founded in June 5, 2006 as a merger of the three Vietnamese development organisations. They are Towards Ethnic Women (TEW, 1994), Center for Human Ecology Studies in the Highlands (CHESH, 1999) and Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Research and Development (CIRD, 2000).
SPERI works toward a society where indigenous ethnic minorities have equal access to social justice, gender equity, natural resources and fair social economic systems. Indigenous ethnic minorities and their cultural identity deserve respect in society. We see ourselves as the facilitator providing opportunities to stimulate social justice, equity and dignity for the marginalized indigenous minority groups in mountainous and isolated sensitive watershed areas in the Mekong region by improving their livelihood strategies and contributing to democratization processes.
In order to address the above visionary orientation, SPERI’s approaches are mainly based on human – political ecology principles, which focus on relationships between humans and their natural environment in interactions within the political arena. A holistic approach is promoted in order to facilitate the course of problem resolutions and enhance human potential within the situated social-political-ecological contexts.
SPERI’s strategies focus on grassroots development via strengthening thematic farmer networks in Vietnam and the Mekong region to empower indigenous ethnic communities, conducting development researches to scale up achievements, and lobbying the government policies for better policies with regard to issues concerning indigenous ethnic minorities.
The grassroots development facilitated by SPERI, over the past 15 years, has resulted in capable key farmers’ networks with 4,000 active members and 20,000 beneficiaries, namely Mekong Community Networking and Eco-Trading (MECO-ECOTRA).
The MECO-ECOTRA specializes into 5 thematic networks. They are; Customary Law in Community Governance and Management of Natural Resources, Community Ownership of Spirit Forest and Bio-Cultural Diversity, Eco-Farming Knowledge for Sustainable Land Use Planning and Livelihood Security, Herbal Medicinal Wisdom for Community Healthcare and Bio-diversity Preservation, Women’s Wisdom in Natural Dying and Embroidery of Textile Handicrafts, and Farmer Field School for Teaching by Learning, Learning by Doing toward Leadership in Democratization and Decentralization.
Achievements of the grassroots development work becomes case studies for SPERI conducting development researches. Major research topics are prioritized as:
i) Values of indigenous knowledge in eco- production and cultural bio-diversity preservation in the market sphere,
ii) Role of the customary laws and community based institutions in sustainable land use planning and watershed forest governance,
iii) Gender equity and empowerment via rights to natural resources territories and livelihood security,
iv) Role of the customary law, community based institutions and holistic integrated approaches in solving conflicts over natural resources.
Findings of the above efforts play a vital role in lobbying government policies towards rights to livelihood sovereignty of the indigenous minority groups in the Mekong region. A long run strategic goal of the lobbying work is towards a political recognition and supports the right to natural resources territories of indigenous minorities, the right to perform one’s own religion in one’s own environment, the right to live according to one’s own culture, right to operate in terms of one’s own local knowledge and values in one’s own territories, and the right to co-governance of natural resources.
Mr Dam Trong Tuan, the Executive Director of SPERI, will be attending the 2012 Gathering at the Findhorn Foundation. His specialised areas of knowledge are Social Capital and Grassroots Civil Society Development, and Customary Law in Watershed Natural Resources Governance.