Despite this progress, many social and economic challenges remain, particularly in terms of integrating social, economic and environmental concerns which are increasingly threatening the sustainability of the region. The rapid change is coupled by the increasing regional integration and inter-dependence of Mekong Region countries and Yunnan province of China. To meet the challenges there is a need for a regionally-based and owned knowledge production and management community to support policies and push the policy actions in the direction of greater sustainability.

The Sustainable Mekong Research Network (Sumernet), a regional programme financed by Sida, was established in 2005 to meet this need. Sumernet was launched in partnership between SEI and the regional research institutes.

Phase 1 established Sumernet as a genuinely independent regionally-owned platform and has a “voice” in a way that other comparable networks do not, which are often seen to be activist and essentially foreign-driven and discounted in influence as a result. Sumernet Phase 1 also had positive impacts for its partners (both individuals and their institutions) in terms of capacity-building through both training and conduct of research and also through the promotion of cross-border linkages.

However, the establishment and evolutionary phase of the network now needs to be superceded by a phase that focusses its efforts on the delivery of significant knowledge products. This is the mission of Sumernet Phase 2.