The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) was established in 1998 at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Thailand in response to the need for integration of social science and natural science knowledge in order to gain a better understanding of sustainable development issues in upper mainland Southeast Asia. RCSD has, since that time, striven to become a truly regional center for sustainable development issues, linking graduate training and research to development policy and practice. It does this by drawing upon the three-decade long research and teaching experience of Chiang Mai University in fields such as resource management, highland agricultural systems, social science and health, environmental impact assessment and ethnic and gender relations.
RCSD was initially supported by a Ford Foundation endowment grant to the amount of US$ 1 million, and this Fund has allowed RCSD to implement and run international graduate programs, non-degree training courses and other support activities whose aim to promote information sharing among scholars in the Mekong Region. Additional support from the Ford Foundation through scholarship funding for Vietnamese and Chinese students – to attend the M.A. program at RCSD and also PhD. scholarships for staff of the Faculty of Social Sciences, has helped significantly enhance human capacity in the Mekong Region, in the fields of social science and development. Recent scholarship support from the Heinrich Bőll Foundation has also enabled RCSD to reach-out to Burmese students who would otherwise have little chance of progressing on to higher education.
Tremendous political, economic and social change in the Mekong Region resulting from recent, regionalized development is a new challenge for RCSD, and will mean having to take another look at the region – both across geo-political boundaries and as an interconnected entity -from diverse and multiple perspectives. Timely and significant support from the Rockefeller Foundation, for the recently implemented ‘Program on Knowledge and Educational Enhancement in the Mekong Region’ (PKEEMR), has allowed RCSD to pro-actively work and collaborate with partner institutions in the Mekong Region, the aim being to promote understanding, information sharing and mutual learning regarding emerging issues, and to link these issues to a deeper and broader conceptual understanding of the regionalized context within which they are set, as well as understand their impacts at the local level. The PKEEMR includes a comprehensive range of activities, such as collaborative research, visiting scholar and non-degree research fellowships, inter-university collaborative workshops, regional and international conferences and also the writing and issuing of publications.