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Overspent Europeans mull His Majesty the King's sufficiency economy as a way out

An international audience at a UN office in Paris recently examined His Majesty the King's "sufficiency economy" philosophy as a possible template for surviving the global economic crisis.

A Thai delegation explained the approach in a series of presentations at the headquarters of Unesco - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - from June 11 to 15.

Deputy permanent delegate to Unesco Orachart Suebsith said her goals in organising the showcase were to pay homage to the King ahead of his 84th birthday and to offer the international community a proven economic alternative.

Some 70 people attended the "Unesco Future Lecture" on "A New Ethical Paradigm for Sustainability". National Economic and Social Development Board deputy secretary general Suwannee Khamman explained how the King's philosophy has been incorporated to Thailand's national policies.

"His Majesty has been talking about this approach for more than 30 years and gave it to my agency in 1999 as a guideline for formulating the eighth national economic and social development plan," she said.

At that stage sufficiency economy became more "people-centred".

Suwannee stressed that, contrary to common belief, the concept goes far beyond mere ecological agriculture. It's a comprehensive philosophy that can be adapted to all activities at every level, she said.

"The 'middle path' is the overriding principle of appropriate conduct among Thais at all levels - from family to community to country. It calls for national development and administration to modernise, in line with the forces of globalisation."

Sufficiency means moderation, reasonableness and becoming immune to the impact of change, both domestic and foreign, she said. The accumulated knowledge must be applied with prudence and due consideration for all factors.

Suwannee said the concept helped Thailand recover from the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Laurence Tubiana, founder-director of the Paris-based non-profit Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations and a member of a discussion panel, said she found the philosophy quite interesting. She also admires alternatives such as "green economies" and Bhutan's "happiness index".

Tubiana said there was a lot of new terminology involved in sufficiency economy that she needed to learn while she considered whether it can be adapted to Europe's increasingly dire financial situation.

"We don't yet even have a clear concept of recovery in the European Union," she observed. "But what is certain is that we can no longer rely on the old system of excessive consumption, which has been a mantra since 1930s. We need something very different, something new.

"The next question is do we have to produce one integrated concept? Or we can afford to have several and adapt that to each culture?"

Senegal Ambassador Papa Momar Diop said he was cheered to see such a discussion being hosted at Unesco, which crucially deals with world education.

"In my opinion sufficiency economy is an exceptional approach to education. It is an example and role model for many countries like mine in the developing world. I agree that Unesco should take this philosophy as an example of good practice, to show the community here."

Diop said he witnessed the concept in action earlier this year on a visit to Thai schools with his Unesco delegation. "It is a good thing for young people to have such a philosophy to grow up with. When they're faced with crises or challenges later in life, such as natural disasters or personal problems, they'll be able to cope."

As well as the roundtable discussion, the presentation featured a multimedia exhibition showing how the concept is practised by various organisations, particularly educational institutes such as Surin Vocational College and Rajamangala University of Technology.

Army Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha led guests of honour through the exhibits after presiding at its inauguration alongside Thai Ambassador Viraphand Vacharathit, Hungary Ambassador Katalin Bogyay and Unesco's Hans d'Orville.

Bogyay, in charge of the agency's general conferences, said she was quite impressed with the concept of sufficiency economy and happy that Thailand was sharing its wisdom in the international arena.

"It's great to see such exchange because it promotes greater understanding and others can benefit from Thailand's experience. After all, the goal of Unesco is for us to understand each other better, not the other way around."


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