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New report on indigenous peoples’ representation in aid agencies in Laos

November 10 2014

In a recent research report launched on October 20 anthropologist Steeve Daviau examines how well the international aid community in Laos has done in ensuring that their workplaces are diverse and representative of the many ethnic groups in the country.

The overall goal of the research is to assist aid organizations in Laos to critically assess and improve their stated values, attitudes and actual progress in becoming inclusive and diverse workplaces, to better serve and represent the interests of indigenous people and communities.

The official launch of the report on October 20 took place at a workshop in Vientiane, which was attended by over 20 aid agencies working in Laos. The participants agreed to establish a working group to discuss the possibility of a follow-up project that works toward a formulation of a Code of Conduct on work place diversity in aid agencies.

Background for the report
In 1992, anthropologist and ethno-linguist Frank Proschan, who was researching indigenous ethnic groups in northern Laos, issued a challenge to the then-emerging international NGO community in Laos. Prochan noted that while dominant lowland Lao ethnic groups made up only approximately 50% of the country’s population, they constituted the vast majority of those working for aid agencies in the country. Representation from the other 50% of the population — the indigenous ethnic minority peoples — was extremely low.

More than 20 years have gone by since Proschan’s challenge and there is certainly a greatly increased awareness at international level both regarding indigenous peoples’ rights, and the importance of workplace diversity. Within the countries providing most aid to Laos, this is now widely considered not only to be a basic issue of ethics and justice, but also an essential prerequisite for designing and implementing effective programs for historically marginalized or discriminated-against minority groups.

In his research Steeve Daviau tries to assess to what extent this situation has changed over the past 20 years. He examines how well the international aid community has done in ensuring that their workplaces are diverse and representative of the many ethnic groups in the country; whether unbalanced representation still persist in aid agencies in the country; whether indigenous women are now well represented; and whether aid agencies have made the addressing of these imbalances a critical priority, and if not, why not.