January 2, 2014 — The Asia Foundation’s office in Vientiane, Laos, recently hosted two representatives from The McConnell Foundation, Shannon Phillips, vice president of operations, and Jesica Rhone, director of international programs, in order to update them on the progress of three programs funded by The McConnell Foundation in Laos. Since 2001, we have partnered with The McConnell Foundation to implement high-impact projects in Nepal and Laos. In Laos, McConnell and The Asia Foundation are providing access to justice and legal services to Lao citizens, engaging communities to monitor the quality of Lao river systems, and empowering Lao women to hold leadership positions in business and politics—vital programs that are contributing to healthy, just, and thriving local communities across this lush, resource-rich country.
During their visit, Ms. Phillips and Ms. Rhone visited a small village outside of Vang Vieng in Vientiane Province to observe local citizens using simple, effective tools to monitor the quality of the Nam Song River. The Asia Foundation began implementing the first ever water-quality monitoring program in the country in 2009, and in 2010, with additional support from The McConnell Foundation, we were able to expand our efforts and reach even more communities that depend on rivers in Laos to survive. More than 85 percent of the land in Laos lies within the Mekong River basin, and the future of this landlocked nation’s economic development depends on preserving its rich natural resources. This program is a critical component of The Asia Foundation’s efforts to ensure Laotians have the tools to protect their rivers, gauge environmental change, and participate meaningfully in building Laos’s environmental sustainability. “In addition to the long-term goal of building a credible data resource, the immediate results are also very interesting,” said Ms. Rhone. “Through the simple act of purposeful monitoring, the participating communities are engaging with their water source in a new way. It is encouraging a valuable curiosity, dialogue, and ownership.”