Meet the new CEO of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat: Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun

Australian Alumni, Dr Anoulak Kittikhoun begins his term as CEO of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat this week. As the first Lao national to be appointed as CEO of the MRC, Dr Anoulak will oversee a regional platform for water diplomacy and water resources management that covers Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam.

This prestigious and challenging appointment is the next step is a career spanning twenty years of experience including working at the United Nations and as an academic, writing on the UN, conflict management, international relations, revolutions and Laos, in which his article won best award from the American Sociological Association.
A political scientist by training, he graduated as an International Valedictorian from the Australian National University and received his Master and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of New York
We recently had the opportunity to discuss with Dr Anoulak, his experience as a student in Australia, his remarkable career and some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the Mekong River Commission.

Australian Experience

He began by explaining that he was fortunate to be able to study at a world class university with the help of an Australia Awards Scholarship “Wanting to become a professor, I majored in political science and minored in economics/commerce. Australia made me “grow up” very quickly in the late 1990s, took me out of my comfort zone, honed my critical thinking, public speaking, and survival skills.


A Remarkable Career

Dr Anoulak successfully led the formulation and adoption of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy 2016-2020, the MRC Strategic Plan 2016-2020 as well as the latest Basin Development Strategy 2021-2030 and the MRC Strategic Plan 2021-2025.

One of the biggest challenges was to organize the 3rd MRC Summit “This resulted in uplifting Mekong cooperation, solidifying international partnership and the MRC’s unique mandate. There are highlights such as leading the adoption of the Mekong Basin Development Strategy (twice), contributing to water diplomacy breakthroughs with agreements on the consultation processes for mainstream dams, etc. I recall going through deep physical and mental exhaustion in each of these challenges. Being educated in Australia, I’ve always had the good fortune of running into supportive Aussie colleagues and friends in the above work which helped contribute to the successes.”

Dr Anoulak said that now as CEO, his mission for the next three years is “to facilitate cooperation among member countries on critical Mekong basin challenges and opportunities, further boost the MRC as a world class river basin organisation, and maintain and build new partnerships”.


Australian Support for the Mekong River Commission

“For the MRC, I am happy to see Australia as a longstanding development partner and that all the Australian ambassadors and officials take a keen interest in the Mekong. Australia’s support has built up the MRC into a world class international river basin organization, and I’m especially pleased to see Australia takes a supportive approach to Mekong cooperation, enabling the riparian countries and MRC to champion their own needs and overcome their own challenges. A strong MRC and a sustainable Mekong are doubly good for landlocked Laos, as we rely on this great river for our economy and livelihoods.” Dr Anoulak makes this case in his latest book, Small Countries, Big Diplomacy: Laos in the UN, ASEAN and MRC.