I had the opportunity to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand as part of our staff retreat. International Accountability Project is a relatively small secretariat. I am the only staff based in Washington, D.C. and I have colleagues based in New York, USA; Brazil, Uganda and Thailand. This is structured in a way to have regional program coordinators given the volume of projects financed by multilateral development banks. We do have a staff meeting every meeting using available platforms. Hence for most of us, including me it was just our first time to meet everyone on the team in person.

It took me almost two days to travel from Washington, D.C. to Chiang Mai. When I arrived in Bangkok unfortunately my luggage was left behind in Abu Dhabi. But all the exhaustion and lack of sleep were compensated when I arrived in Chiang Mai. It is considered to be Thailand’s northern capital, an escape and striking contrast to the fast paced city life in Bangkok for instance. It also feels good to see and hug everyone on the team.

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For two weeks we were able to enjoy the amazing Thai food, was able to interact with youth activists at the Mekong School and had a roundtable discussion on community – led research for development. The International Accountability Project alongside with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and our partners on the ground are working on the Early Warning System (EWS). It is a platform that flags high risk projects in the pipeline across the nine multilateral development banks that we are monitoring. We had also devoted a significant amount of time how we can improve our work on the EWS given the challenges on information disclosure and finding partners and communities who would possibly be affected by such projects.

In the roundtable discussion, participants were asked what is their approach to community – led research. It was an insightful exchange of information from. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) shared their feminist participatory action research. The group was in agreement that the data gathered from a community – led research is valuable. It even captures environmental and human rights impacts that may not necessarily be reflected in a typical academic undertaking.

Living River Association also shared that the villagers are the ones who are doing it themselves. NGOs are merely there to provide assistance. Having a better understanding and incorporating cultural aspects and appropriate language is also important in drafting a community – led research. IAP also shared how community – led research through the Global Advocacy Team’s Back to Development Report was able to influence the review of World Bank’s safeguards policy.

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