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Japan – Innovative triangular cooperation with ASEAN countries (JARCOM)


Council for the Development of Cambodia; Bureau for Technical Cooperation, State Secretariat of Indonesia; Department of International Cooperation of Lao PDR; Economic Planning Unit of Malaysia; Foreign Economic Relations Department of Myanmar; National Economic & Development Authority of the Philippines; Technical Cooperation Directorate of Singapore; Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency; Ministry of Planning and Investment of Vietnam, National Directorate for Planning and External Assistance Coordination of Timor-Leste (Observer), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

Country (ies):

Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, Timor-Leste (mainly as recipients), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand (mainly as providers), Japan (donor for the triangular cooperation)


JICA-ASEAN Regional Cooperation Meeting (JARCOM) was a unique triangular cooperation framework in South-East Asia. Originally designed as a mechanism to formulate good quality SSC projects, it gradually evolved into a forum to discuss common development challenges in the region. While the northern donor stepped back as a facilitator, it's all-stakeholder-participatory and transparent process enhanced the ownership of both recipients and providers. Peer pressures among ASEAN members nurtured self-help efforts and leaderships in the South.


The overall goal was to address a common challenge in ASEAN: narrowing intra-regional development gaps which were seen as major obstacles for its integration. To achieve this, JARCOM was established as a mechanism to mobilize ASEAN resources and formulate good quality projects. The acronym "JARCOM" not only referred to the name of meeting, but to participatory annual cycle of project identification, implementation and reviewing. Main cooperation modality was "Third Country Training Programme (TCTP)" implemented by advanced developing countries with financial and technical support of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JARCOM members were governments and JICA country offices of ASEAN countries. Other regional stakeholders such as ASEAN Secretariat, UNDP, WCO, etc. were invited as observers.

Like any other multi-stakeholder frameworks, members had different expectations and interests: Recipient countries (mainly, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam) saw JARCOM as an opportunity to request training courses tailored to their national development needs which were necessary for catching up with advanced ASEAN members. Middle income countries in transition from aid recipients to "donors" wanted to enhance their aid schemes and establish their status in ASEAN. JICA, a northern donor which already had long history of supporting SSC, felt the needs to improve its SSC programme in line with Aid Effectiveness agenda, and wanted to maintain good cooperative relationships with Asian neighbours. As to regional organizations like ASEAN Secretariat, JARCOM was viewed as a useful vehicle to address regional priorities and ASEAN integration issues. JARCOM sought the ways to accommodate for these different expectations and establish a win-win-win solution to triangular cooperation.

The first JARCOM meeting was convened in 2002, to discuss improvements of TCTPs by introducing demand-driven approach. At later stages JARCOM functions evolved and its scope broadened due to multi-stakeholder dynamics. To maintain member commitments and sustainability of the framework, JARCOM sought ways to balance diverse needs of different actors and to accommodate for emerging regional challenges. As a result, advantages of supply-driven approach were re-affirmed and re-introduced as complemental to demand-driven approach. JARCOM also tried to address trans-boundary issues and common priorities of ASEAN as one entity.

More importantly, JARCOM's participatory and transparent process become a venue for mutual learning and capacity development, which produced number of unexpected achievements. However, it also faced major difficulty: financial and coordination costs of complex processes of network operation. Unique experiments of JARCOM provide us with valuable lessons including positive and negative elements. Implementation:

1.In-country pre-consultation

JARCOM's annual process started with domestic stakeholder consultations in beneficiary countries when line agencies were requested to prepare simple project concepts. As JARCOM didn't restrict sectors of cooperation, project ideas were identified and prioritized against national development plans through intersectoral coordination. This ensured wider domestic stakeholder participation than those who actually attending annual meetings.

2. Pre-announcement of providers' aid policies

Provider countries were encouraged to pre-announce their aid policies and priority cooperation sectors to enable beneficiary countries to determine resource availability and select appropriate cooperators. Providers sometimes offered projects of their comparative advantages over other southern providers. By encouraging approaches from both side, JARCOM sought "better match" if not the best.

3. Needs-resource matching

After submission of project concepts, needs-resources matching were facilitated by JARCOM Secretariat located at JICA Thailand Office. Through email communications, fact-finding missions and teleconferences, projects were carefully screened before annual meetings.

4. Annual plenary meetings

Annual meetings were held between 2002-2007, where only pre-screened projects with higher feasibility were submitted for direct stakeholder negotiation.

5. Participatory monitoring

Status of project formulation was jointly monitored by all actors. Quarterly monitoring reports submitted by each country were compiled and re-circulated. In case the process faced any problem, JARCOM Secretariat advised concerned parties to clarify the status and take necessary actions. This system ensured impartial and transparent negotiation process and timely follow-up activities while nurturing member ownership.

6. Joint formulation and incentives

Once an informal agreement was reached among stakeholders, JICA extended financial assistance for further project formulation such as joint field missions and project design workshops technically supported by JICA experts. For this purpose, JICA established a small regional budget which was not pre-allocated to members, but offered to them on a "first-come-first-served" basis. The flexible budget system created a good level of competition and worked as an incentive for members to produce good projects.

7. Support of local staff network

A mediator role of JARCOM Secretariat was supported by the "JARCOM National Staff Network", a loosely structured informal network consisting of locally recruited staff in JICA country offices. Existence of a stable local coordination network was a key to success of JARCOM sustainability where multilateral negotiations among geographically dispersed stakeholders took place. While having capacity building element of local human resources, the responsibilities of SSC management were progressively delegated to the network which facilitated smooth communications between expatriate officials and government counterparts. Once firmly established, the network became self-sustaining and ensured consistency by compensating occasional staff reshuffles.

8. Information management system

A web-based information management system ( were established where members obtained project proposals and status-monitoring reports. In addition, up-dated information on regional training courses was open for public access, serving as a database for regional SSC resources.

9. Partnership agreement and cost-sharing

JICA mostly bore financial and coordination costs of JARCOM network management and annual meetings. For implementation, in addition to offering human resources, provider countries shared the training budgets at varying degrees (15-50%) depending on government capacities. Cost-sharing and implementation arrangements were bilaterally determined in partnership framework agreements signed between Japan and several pivotal countries.

10. Regional approach to project identification

In addition to national priority based approach, JARCOM later introduced "regional approach" to project identification. This aimed at tacking emerging trans-boundary issues and ASEAN priorities to be addressed for accelerating regional integration. This approach was different from conventional SSC in a manner in which more strategic and rather top-down commitments and decision-making were needed. Regional approach removed division between providers and recipients since the benefits were shared by entire region.


• Important and planned outcomes were the formulation of good projects. Between 2004-2007, 86 training projects out of 153 proposals were materialized through JARCOM. Reflecting diversity of available regional human resources, sectors of cooperation included agriculture, business and industries, health and welfare, public administration, etc.

• Successful matching rates during the same period increased impressively from 28% to 78%. Improvements in efficiency were considered as an indicator of enhanced skills of members in more strategic planning and negotiation.

• "Qualities" of these projects were assumed to be improved due to numbers of improvements introduced in more careful formulation process. Peer pressures among ASEAN members worked positively to design good projects. High level official's attendance at annual meetings ensured the commitments and nurtured Southern leadership.

• Unexpected achievements include mobilization of resources from "new providers" changing provider–recipient relation in the region. Despite rather clear divisions between providers and recipients in ASEAN, countries which used to be perceived as recipients started offering training workshops to share their own experiences. An example included a workshop implemented by Vietnam on "Aid Harmonization" in line with Paris Declaration. While middle income countries in ASEAN didn't have first hand experiences in dealing with such a recent global development agenda as aid recipients, the workshop were welcomed by countries at proximate stages of development. This was a good sign of diversifying regional aid resources to tackle new challenges.

• Introduction of "Regional Approach" to SSC was also unplanned outcome. To supplement country-needs approach, members agreed to address regional priority issues which would benefit the region as a whole. Such issues included trans-boundary threats or common development opportunities for ASEAN integration. As results, such regional programmes as controlling trans-boundary spread of "Avian Influenza" and standardization of "Risk Management in Customs" were formulated through JARCOM. These regional programmes were implemented by mobilizing additional resources from Japan and other specialized organizations like WCO (World Customs Organization) broadening JARCOM's network with other regional partners.

• JARCOM's networking activities in seeking synergies with other regional stakeholders let to a partnership with UNDP Regional South-South Unit. In order to share SSC experiences in the region, JICA and UNDP jointly hosted a regional consultative meeting in 2007 among donors interested in SSC and regional cooperation. This resultantly produced a joint publication as a knowledge product for SSC. *Some outcomes related to Aid Effectiveness and CD are also described here.

Aid Effectiveness:

JARCOM contributions for SSC-Aid Effectiveness synergies:

1. Alignment with national priorities

SSC often lacks systematic approaches and tends to be donor/supply-driven. JARCOM reversed this to demand/priority-driven, making SSC programs aligned to national priorities and programs.

2. Ownership

Transparent process and equal partnership, with JICA's low profile as a facilitator, made both cooperating and beneficiary countries engage proactively in project formulation, making boundaries among them less relevant. Their commitments from early stages enhanced ownership once SSC programmes actually started.

3. Alignment with existing initiatives

To avoid duplication and harmonize with regional priorities, JARCOM sought alignment with existing regional/sub-regional initiatives. Among many, JARCOM collaborated closely with "Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI)", an ASEAN framework to address development gaps. 17 JARCOM projects were included in IAI portfolio creating synergy effects. Tackling regional issues also broadened networking with other regional organizations.

4. Support to emerging donors

JICA, as a traditional donor, has accumulated know-how of project formulation and management. Through joint implementation under triangular arrangements, JICA shared the know-how with cooperating partners, playing a catalytic role to bridge traditional and emerging donors and supporting "donorization".

5. Reducing costs for Southern partners

Managing different and sometimes conflicting priorities were complex but unavoidable tasks in SSC. Since JICA bore this mostly, transaction burdens for Southern partners were eased, enabling them focus more on project substances. JARCOM added an alternative perspective to SSC: SSC was not necessarily supplemental to North-South Cooperation, rather, northern resources could be supplemental to South-South initiatives.

JARCOM bottlenecks for further studies

JARCOM's biggest bottleneck was the growing financial and coordination costs. These mostly born by JICA, it eventually became difficult to justify the costs against benefits perceived by JICA side. Consequently, reaching member consensus on strategic orientations become difficult and JICA decided to suspend JARCOM meetings in 2008 and to set up a new simple framework (J-SEAM: Japan Southeast Asia Meeting for SSC). This indicated one of limitations of a single-donor-supported regional framework.

Some reasons were attributable to evaluation of SSC: Inherently, benefits of long-term capacity development through stakeholder participation tend to be considered as external to development process and difficult to verify despite its relatively high immediate costs. However, given importance of CD in SSC such benefits should not be undervalued against tangible costs.

Due to different expectations and certain trade-offs among them, perceived benefits greatly differed among stakeholder groups, while the costs were even more partially distributed on the donor. For sound evaluation of SSC effectiveness, multifunctional aspects of SSC need due consideration: The costs and benefits need to be assessed vis-a-vis each functions of SSC, stakeholders and time scale, i.e. discounting short-term costs against long-term benefit.

Capacity Development:

In addition to various CD aspects described above, JARCOM had following benefits in institutional capacity development ; Beneficiaries were able to develop capacity in strategic planning and management of external assistance after given broader choices and initiatives. The process enhanced ownership and enabled them to "predict" assistance from SSC sources. Some recipients even started offering their know-how as resource countries.

For providers, JARCOM was a practical venue of refining their skills in aid management as donors. Multilateral and participatory approaches were particularly innovative. Joint formulation activities with JICA experts were useful tools for on-the-job training.

JICA, no longer the sole provider of aid in horizontal cooperation, also had to re-consider its development approaches and to learn skills as facilitators more responsive to diverse multilateral needs of Southern partners.


2002-2007 (Duration of JARCOM Annual Meetings)

Budget (Optional):

Budgets for SSC training are varied depending on the number of trainees, travel costs, duration and subject matter, but roughly ranging from US$ 30,000-80,000. Some pivotal countries shared the costs with JICA (Malaysia 50%, Singapore 50%, Thailand approx. 30%).

Name of Primary Contact Person:

1. Yasuko MATSUMI (Ms) (author of Case Story)
2. Tatsuhiro MITAMURA (Mr.) (focal point of JICA Hqs.)

Title of Primary Contact Person:

1. Former Regional Project Formulation Advisor, JICA Regional Support Office for Asia (Thailand) (Currently, Project Formulation Advisor at JICA Egypt Office).
2. Assistant Director, Development Partnership Division Operations Strategy Department, JICA


1. Cairo, JICA Egypt Office (current country of residence) 2. JICA HQ, Tokyo, Japan