In May 2005, I returned to Viet Nam to undertake postgraduate research with the University of Queensland in an area that had been of interest to me for quite some time – the effectiveness of conservation projects on Cat Ba Island .
At that time, I established an organizational linkage with the IUCN Viet Nam and the research rolled on from there. I was fortunate enough to have been able to set-up a working relationship where I spent 3 weeks of every month on Cat Ba and one week in Ha Noi working out of the IUCN office. For me this arrangement has been a defining factor of my time in Viet Nam as I have been able to gain a real balance between living in a rural setting – in this case at the Head Quarters of Cat Ba National Park – and life in a growing city.
My research project focuses on the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘practice’ in conservation and development projects. My research question is, how much does conforming with conventional knowledge for successful projects in Viet Nam contribute to actual project success on the ground? Cat Ba Island was an interesting case study site as it had experienced over 40 internationally funded initiatives since 1995, and thus I was able to make good comparisons across projects and come up with some common elements that contributed to project success and sustainability. These included such things as strong collaboration with relevant local government agencies and a specific focus on capacity building throughout projects.
Key outcomes of the research have been the development and strengthening of strong linkages with the Hai Phong People’s Committee and government departments, as well as those across Cat Ba Island itself. I found that the ongoing interaction with government agencies over the past three years has been a very enriching part of my experience here. The ability to meet and discuss project activities with Provincial and Central government leaders one day, then local villagers the next is certainly not something readily achievable back in Australia. As my work commitments with the IUCN grew to include more roles in Quang Ninh Province and across the North Tonkin Archipelago region, I began to take on more activities as part of the Coastal and Marine Program. These experiences have proven invaluable.
At an international level, through my linkage with the University of Queensland (UQ), I have been able to facilitate a formal institutional link between UQ and the Hai Phong People’s committee and the Ha Noi National University of Education (HNUE) for collaborative research and support for Viet Nam’s Biosphere Reserve Network, and more specifically Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve. As a result, we have also gained the support of the Queensland State government with visits from a State Minister and the late Tom Burns, Queensland Special Representative to Viet Nam and China, in 2006. These ongoing linkages allow a solid basis for sustainability for future work that is the result of the research project.
The lessons from Cat Ba’s 40 plus projects have formed a strong knowledge foundation for our current and ongoing work across both Hai Phong and Quang Ninh Provinces – which fall within the North Tonkin Archipelago (NTA) eco-region. The framework of activities in support of protected area management, poverty alleviation and coastal zone management which we are now proposing or currently implement across the NTA region are underpinned by focused capacity building efforts, institutional strengthening through formal relationships and strong collaboration across concurrent projects – all key criteria for project success.
My time at the IUCN has been a great chance to start an initiative from the beginning with enough organizational support to allow it to grow beyond its immediate focus - and for that I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to working in the IUCN family in the future.
Notes from the Editor:
Ashley worked as a volunteer with Viet Nam’s National Parks and Protected Areas Association in 2000 – 2001. He then returned to Australia to complete Post Graduate Degrees in both Development and Languages and worked for 2.5 years at a large development consultancy firm in Brisbane coordinating two multi-million dollar education and training projects in Papua New Guinea. Ashley then returned to Viet Nam in 2005 to conduct Masters level research on Cat Ba Island. Since mid 2006, Ashley’s work has been supported through the AusAID Volunteer for International Development (VIDA) program. He currently works as the Marine and Coastal Programme Officer at IUCN Viet Nam.