AELERT Member Returns from Southeast Asia

I take this opportunity to introduce myself as a returning member.

Over the last decade, I have worked directly for the Government of Lao PDR and Cambodia covering areas that include forest and wildlife law enforcement, risk assessment and gap analysis; and under projects in Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.  

Over this period, with the last five being full time, I have focused efforts on building links and closer ties across agencies to deliver more effective and active enforcement responses. I have also planned and facilitated the operational implementation of transnational enforcement operations targeting organised networks. In 2019 this included two operations each involving over 120 officials from 9 agencies, 3 countries and 8 provinces.  

In 2017 I received a Lao PDR Ministerial Award for Services, recognising my contribution to strengthening forest and wildlife law enforcement at a national and provincial level.  

So, after working in Southeast Asia on improving, strengthening and supporting forest and wildlife law enforcement, how does one measure success?  

  • Is it building capacity that has resulted in 3,000 investigations and 72 imprisonments;
  • It is the issuing of US$2.8 million in fines, confiscating over $2 million in African ivory, 240,000m3 timber and 850 trucks?
  • Is it an 85% reduction in illegal logging and the closure of open trading in CITES products?
  • Is it the development and implementation of cloud-based enforcement tools?
  • Is it the development and implementation of risk assessment, planning and reporting systems?
  • Or is it the fact that I was not expelled from any of these countries and still maintain strong friendships in all?    

While these are indication of activities, they do not really indicate success. To me, I will be happy to be assessed against my capacity to transfer knowledge, skills and ethics, and support personal development of future leaders, because they will influence future enforcement successes. The personal growth exhibited by my counterparts in many of the countries I have worked in is something I am proud of. It is these people who are likely to become future leaders.  

So, when I look back on my success, I can point to Mr Khamphet KEOSOUVANH, a Lao official who came from a minority group in one of the poorest provinces, who now represents the Government of Lao PDR at international events. He has the confidence of ministers, and the confidence to act on this. He understands the need for accountability, transparency and professional application of duty, and promotes these.  

However, Khamphet is not the only success story. The confidence, knowledge and professionalism of many of the motivated young people whom I have supported has also improved and should be celebrated.

And finally, no success is ever achieved without the support (and great depth of tolerance) from one’s family.  

In conclusion, I encourage you to carefully consider how we measure success, and how we judge our success.  

PS – I look forward to sharing my experiences and contributing to the knowledge bank that is AELERT.

Aidan Flanagan.