In mid-2013, Kate Lazarus, Senior Operations Officer for IFC’s Mekong sustainable hydropower program pitched the idea of a working group to hydropower developers who are investing or plan to invest in Lao PDR. The goal is for the private sector to have a collective voice on policies that impact the sustainable development of hydropower in Lao PDR, gain exposure to good international industry practices and network with other companies operating in the country. Together, IFC and key developers established the Hydropower Developers’ Working Group in Lao PDR in December 2013.
“In our region, access to information is limited: Networks are life-support,” said Remi Berthet, Director of Velcan Energy’s Lao PDR Representative Office and a member of the working group. “The working group gives us a chance every few months to catch up on what others are doing. It’s a valuable social enterprise.”
Today, the working group has more than 100 members from around the Mekong region and its quarterly business meetings and seminars are where developers, suppliers, and vendors discuss pressing issues in their sector. With interest on the rise, the working group is planning to start a chapter in Yangon, Myanmar to replicate its success in supporting the sustainable development of hydropower in the resource-rich country.
“This is a working group that offers something new and addresses its members’ interests,” said Robert Allen, General Manager of Vientiane-based Theun HinBoun Hydropower Co. and Chairman of the working group. “Setting up a working group in Myanmar will give us even more leverage and regional perspectives on our work.”
To drive momentum, IFC communicates with the group through e-newsletters and members can share information and documents confidentially via a group email address and a cloud-based file-sharing account.
“We try to take the lead as the group’s trendsetter. Our role is to be on top of the latest issues in the sector and provide developers with the opportunity to interact with government, financiers, and experts on environmental and social standards,” said Lazarus. “This includes the latest developments on laws and policies, regional news, and project information.”
At the group’s quarterly business meetings, IFC demonstrates to developers the business case for environmental and social sustainability. Throughout the past year, the developers prioritized issues that they wanted to focus on and attended seminars on social and environmental obligations, project financing and opportunities with Lao banks, the fiscal regime around taxes and royalties, and IFC’s Environmental and Social Performance Standards.
The working group also set up a subcommittee to tackle issues that affect small hydropower developers in particular and provide policy feedback to the government.
“We present to the government what we feel is feasible and what areas of the policy need improvement,” said Bounleuth Luangpaseuth, the working group’s Vice Chairman who also heads the subcommittee. “We hope our input will encourage dialogue between developers and the government, leading to improved policy.”