Time and again on this momentous trip to Thailand, members of IU’s delegation were given the opportunity to experience up-close and first-hand just how deep the connections between IU and this vibrant country have been throughout the the last 70 years.
Beginning a week ago — from the bustling streets of Bangkok to the northernmost province of Chiang Rai and the steep forested slopes of Doi Tung — the delegation experienced the strength of IU’s relationship with Thailand and, indeed, our engagement with all of Southeast Asia. That relationship has been on full display, drawing attention to the transformational impact IU has had on Thailand through the advancement of academic partnerships, cultural and alumni activity, and building of key institutions. These various initiatives have also translated into opportunities for IU students and faculty throughout many decades to expand their world views through scholarly exchanges and to conduct meaningful research that truly has transformed lives here and back home in Indiana.
It was a week that delivered several extraordinary, often eye-opening developments, including:
- IU President Michael A. McRobbie sharing the grand stage with several of Thailand’s most eminent statesmen at the 50th anniversary celebration of the National Institute of Development Administration, which IU played an instrumental role in establishing and which continues to serve as one of IU’s most prominent partners in this part of the world. Highlighting just how much IU has meant to the success of NIDA, which has had a major impact on graduate studies here in fields related to national development, McRobbie was the only president from a U.S. institution of higher education asked to deliver a keynote address at the historic event. Through IU’s continuing close institutional relationship with NIDA, many Thai citizens have traveled to Bloomington and Indianapolis to study a wide range of subjects in preparation for influential positions in Thailand’s public and private sectors.
- The renewal of one of IU’s lengthiest relationships — a partnership with the oldest university member of Thailand’s modern educational system, Chulalongkorn University (established in 1917). The parallels between IU and CU, Thailand’s top research university, are striking, particularly regarding both schools’ focused desire on advancing a greater understanding of the strategic importance of Southeast Asia. To this end, the agreement calls for CU to send an instructor of Thai language and culture to IU’s School of Global and International Studies.
- An awe-inspiring trip to the Mae Fah Luang Foundation’s Doi Tung Development Project this weekend to learn about the remarkable work the foundation, led by IU alumnus Disnadda Diskul, has done — and continues to do — to improve the health and livelihood of the residents of rural, mountainous Thailand. For many years, the Doi Tung hillside in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province was one of the world’s leading regions of illicit opium production. Years of hard work by the foundation have created a thriving, self-sustaining cottage industry and outlet center in an area that had been ravaged by poverty and de-forestation due to centuries of opium cultivation. Doi Tung is a truly miraculous scene, and delegation members won’t soon forget the smiling faces of the villagers in Doi Tung, including former opium growers and arms traffickers who thoroughly inspired all of us with their gritty tales of triumph over poverty and drug addiction.
Today offered one more chapter to the long and storied history between IU and Thailand, which serves in so many respects as a model for dignified, productive and meaningful university global engagement.
The day began with a meeting and lunch with Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at Srapathum Palace in Bangkok. Last week while the IU delegation was making its trip up north to Chiang Rai, Thai residents all across the country celebrated Princess Sirindhorn’s birthday, a momentous annual occasion. In 2010, IU honored Her Royal Highness in Bloomington, when President McRobbie conferred an honorary IU doctorate on her in recognition of efforts to expand and improve public education all across Thailand, especially in remote and rural areas.
Today, President McRobbie came bearing a different sort of conferral for a member of royalty renowned as a brilliant scholar of anthropology, archealogy, history, educational development and technology — a book titled “Ancient Provence: A Photographic Study” and signed by acclaimed IU photography professor Jeffrey Wolin.
Princess Sirindhorn is a living embodiment of the power of education, which forms the foundation of her passionate and unyielding commitment to improving the lives of the people of Thailand. She also remains a strong supporter of IU’s continuing efforts to foster a lasting friendship between IU and the Thai people. Addressing these efforts directly, IU President McRobbie was able to share with the princess several new developments that will strengthen the IU-Thai connection. They include enhancing IU’s research and teaching capacity in Southeast Asian and ASEAN studies, through the establishment of a new bicentennial chair in these academic areas; the continued development of IU’s new Center of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies; new degree offerings in Thai and other regional languages; and new teaching, research and outreach activities on a wide variety of topics related to the Southeast Asian region.
As McRobbie and IU Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret declared often during this busy week of productive discussions and eye-opening discoveries, IU has embraced the mission of deepening the knowledge of and furthering the understanding of Southeast Asia and ASEAN and positioning its new Center of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies as a singular program in North America.
Still, almost all of the scholars and educators with whom we met agreed — much more needs to be done in the U.S. to convey the importance of this part of the world.
The transformative power of IU’s Thai alumni
For a top teaching and research university such as IU, nothing suggests the power and impact of education more than the success of its graduates, including those at home and around the world. As President McRobbie is fond of telling alumni wherever he travels, IU graduates are supremely loyal and dedicated to their alma mater and whether they live in Bloomington or Bangkok, California or Chiang Rai, they carry with them the spirit of IU wherever they go after graduating with their degrees.
Their successes truly become the university’s successes, and what amazing successes they often are. Late this afternoon in Bangkok, McRobbie, Zaret and the rest of the IU delegation had the honor of meeting privately with about a dozen of IU’s most prominent and accomplished alumni living and working here in Thailand. They included many leading figures in Thai government, education, business and culture, who, despite their remarkable accomplishments and busy schedules, remain just as interested and engaged in their alma mater’s activities, whether those are new developments in Thai language or cultural studies or IU basketball team winning another Big Ten championship.
Peter Boonjarern is one such Thai alumnus whose words and actions demonstrate how deeply he cares about IU. The head of corporate access-Thailand for Deutsche Bank, he serves as president of the Thailand Chapter of the Indiana Alumni Association and, if delegation members have anything to say about it, possible “lifetime” president for the work he does to foster continuing close connections between his Thai friends and colleagues and IU. (A special shout-out to Peter for his yeoman’s work this week in planning many of our most memorable activities this week, not to mention shepherding us through Bangkok’s notorious traffic, translating our conversations, telling us what foods to order and connecting us with new, hopefully lifelong acquaintances.)
Appropriately our time in Thailand came to a close with a presidential reception for another alumnus, one whose professional accomplishments have made a great difference to IU and have had a transformative impact on improving the lives the people of Thailand. Disnadda Diskul, better known to the people here as Khun Chai, graduated from IU with a degree in business administration in 1964. While at IU, he was captain of legendary coach Jerry Yeagley’s first soccer team, and his leadership continued in Thailand, where, for 28 years, he served as private secretary for the late Princess Srinagarindra, otherwise known here as Mae Fah Luang or “The Heavenly Royal Mother.”
Since 1972, he has held top positions in the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, which was founded by the princess to address the problem of poverty and poor living conditions faced by the ethnic minority groups in northern Thailand, including in Doi Tung, which she eventually took to calling her first “real” home.
Just last year, Diskul became the MFLF’s chairman, and this evening he was joined by a number of distinguished guests who represented agencies that are part the foundation or its partner organizations and who, together, have authored one of Southeast Asia’s greatest success stories in sustainable development.
Though he has received virtually all of Thailand’s highest honors, including being appointed a Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, Diskul was visibly moved by his receipt of IU’s Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion, which recognizes those who have provided outstanding service and support to the university, and he basked in the tremendous outpouring of support from his Thai family, friends and colleagues.
As camera bulbs flashed all around him and McRobbie, Diskul had a special surprise in store, pulling back his jacket to reveal his IU letterman sweater and paying tribute, as only he could, to his time at IU and IU’s continuing partnership with the people here who have benefited so greatly from the university’s decades of global engagement.
As it so happens, Diskul is scheduled to make a return to Bloomington next week — to continue the conversations he had with IU representatives in Doi Tung that may potentially lead to future exchange collaborations for students and faculty. His visit will offer an opportunity for us to engage even more deeply in his ideas and his foundation’s wonderful work. But members of the delegation won’t soon forget the other IU alumni and partners with whom they interacted this week and who have contributed enormously to improved education, health and economic and cultural development all across Thailand. Indeed, in the days and weeks ahead there will be time for reflection on the places and programs we experienced in this dynamic and culturally diverse country. For now, though, we leave here with pride and trust that one of IU’s oldest and most people-centric international partnerships will continue to thrive and prosper.
Goodbye, Bangkok, and hope to be back soon!
A day after arriving at Doi Tung in Chiang Rai, IU delegation members more fully immersed themselves in the dramatic, four-decades-long transformation in public health and well-being that has taken place here in the forest hills of Thailand.
On Sunday, fresh off an inspiring and energizing trip to the Doi Tung Development Project, they traveled to several more of the initiatives and flagship programs of the not-for-profit Mae Fah Luang Foundation, which, since its founding in 1972, has overseen the remarkable improvement of the economic and social life of rural villagers in Thailand’s northernmost province. During that same time, the MFLF, which is led by IU alumnus Disnadda Diskul, has revived the environment through a massive reforestation effort and worked tirelessly to conserve the local arts and traditions of the diverse ethnic populations living in this remote region of Thailand.
A day-long tour of the Hall of Inspiration, the Doi Tung Royal Villa, the Hall of Opium and the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park offered multiple opportunities to reflect on just how transformative the work being done here in the once notorious “Golden Triangle” — work that lifted people out of a vicious cycle of poverty and sickness through tremendous health, education and sustainability efforts.
Here are just few snapshots of a memorable day of reflection and understanding, which began in the hills of Doi Tung, continued along the banks of the Mekong River and concluded in Chiang Rai city, the original headquarters of the MFLF.
Tags: Chiang Rai, Disnadda Diskul, Doi Tung, Doi Tung Development Project, Doi Tung Royal Villa, Hall of Inspiration, Hall of Opium, Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park, Mae Fah Luang Foundation, Thailand
Members of the IU delegation embarked early this morning on a weekend trip to Chiang Rai, the northernmost province of Thailand. Their specific destination: Doi Tung, a mountain in the Thai highlands area known as the “Golden Triangle,” where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma converge.
At an elevation of nearly 2,000 feet, Doi Tung offers spectacular views of Burma and Thailand, which IU President Michael McRobbie and his colleagues attempted to take in Saturday afternoon, but not before learning all about the remarkable history and impact of a sustainable development project founded almost 30 years ago under royal patronage and now spearheaded by one of IU’s most successful Thai alums.
For many years, Doi Tung was one of the world’s leading regions of illicit opium production. By the late 1980s, the secluded mountainous watershed area, spanning 15,000 square kilometers and impacting 11,000 people in 29 villages, had been almost thoroughly devastated by slash and burn agriculture, opium cultivation, and human and arms trafficking. The residents of the region, comprising six ethnic groups that did not possess Thai citizenship, lived in abject poverty (with an annual per capita income of just over $100) and benefited from little to no government or infrastructure support. Armed groups occupied numerous parts of the area, which made it supremely challenging for government officials to deliver any aid or assistance to the local residents.
By 1987, less than 30 percent of the natural forest in Doi Tung remained, and it was this barren hillside that the late Princess Srinagarindra, a member of the Thai royal family who the hill residents called Mae Fah Luang or “The Heavenly Royal Mother,” encountered during one of her many visits to northern Thailand.
(Appropriately, IU delegation members made the trip today to Chiang Rai as Thai citizens across the country celebrated the birthday of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to whom IU bestowed an honorary degree in 2010, in recognition of her efforts to expand and improve public education all across Thailand, especially in remote and rural areas.)
For several years prior to finding Doi Tung in its difficult state, Princess Srinagarindra had made it her mission to address the poverty and poor living conditions facing minority groups in Northern Thailand, leading to the establishment, in 1972, of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. The MFLF’s first comprehensive development project, the Doi Tung Development Project, was born in 1988 with a goal of providing the people of this ravaged region, many of whom knew nothing else but opium cultivation and, even worse, opium addiction, with improved health and more meaningful livelihoods.
The project aimed to create self-sufficient communities that would become independent of external support or, in the Princess Mother’s words, “to help the people so they can help themselves.” To this end, it called for a multi-pronged approach based on recruiting community development volunteers from all 29 villages in the region; restoring residents’ sense of belonging to the area; arranging for better work alternatives to opium, such as reforestation, handicrafts and tourism; and maximizing local resources and transferring them into quality products that would generate new sources of income.
Since the MFLF’s visionary beginnings, the project has delivered nothing short of a sensational transformation here in Doi Tung. In the early 1990s, a 1,000-day rehabilitation program worked to assist many of the nearly 500 area residents addicted to opiates; its relapse rate was a low 15 percent, and today local communities assume responsibility for much of the drug rehabilitation effort. Forest coverage has risen to 90 percent of the total project area, and opium is no longer grown.
In 1989, the average local income for an individual was $120 a year. By 2011, the number had increased to almost $1,400 a year and, on average today, a household earns more than $9,100 a year. Total income from agricultural land increased about three-fold over a 10-year period, from just under $389,000 in 1988 to about $1.2 million in 2007, even as the total agricultural area was reduced, due to reforestation efforts, from 58 percent to approximately 11 percent.
Furthermore, today about three-quarters of the population has been granted Thai citizenship, up from only 38 percent in 1992, and many children and grandchildren of the older generation of Doi Tung residents attend school and, increasingly, go to college.
An innovative IU alum, inspiring local stories
Ensuring that the MFLF continues its dramatic impact on the health and well being of Doi Tung residents and moves forward to meet the evolving needs of the region is IU alumnus Disnadda Diskul. Diskul, who received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from IU Bloomington in 1964, has been involved with MFLF since its start and now serves as chairman of the Doi Tung Development Project. He has also been awarded His Majesty the King’s “Mahidol Memorial Award” for his outstanding work in development and social welfare.
At once passionate, outspoken, charming and determined, Diskul has overseen major growth within the foundation. Today, the MFLF boasts an annual income of $13 million and 600 employees, and it has been financially self-sustained for 15 years. In nearly that same span of time, the foundation has launched several more major sustainable development projects, extending its people-centric model into Afghanistan, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Under Diskul’s leadership, the MFLF has transitioned into what one might describe as an industry excellence center. As part of its effort to identify new environmental resources and translate them into income-generating products, the foundation has succeeded in the production of quality hand-woven fabrics, mulberry paper products and ceramics, many of which are sold by multinational corporation IKEA, as well as Doi Tung brand coffee sold in stores and branches across Thailand, and macadamia products, also sold throughout Thailand. All of these items are created in factories and plants here in a thriving cottage industry and outlet center here in Doi Tung that remarkably combines old village craftsmanship with modern production techniques.
Diskul led President McRobbie and others through the industry and outlet center this morning and into the afternoon, stopping for lengthy periods at each of the product production areas (and, yes, for some welcome sampling of the delicious macadamia nuts and coffee). It was almost unfathomable to think that not long ago, many of the men and women responsible for this thriving industrial sector were contributing to the destruction of their homeland — in the only way they knew to earn a livelihood for their families — by cultivating opium and engaging in other illicit activities.
Seeing these workers in action would have caused enough eye-opening and mind-racing for one day. But hearing the personal stories of several former opium growers and arms dealers was simply awe-inspiring. Each of these stories was astounding and delivered with such passion and pride, so much so that they’re almost too hard to put into words.
They told about growing and selling opium for 25, 50, almost 60 years, and becoming addicts themselves. They told about growing up where there were already no trees and nothing but opium fields. They also told about living in constant fear of the constant fighting between the drug lords and government authorities, which often resulted in the destruction of entire villages.
Through the aid and support of the Doi Tung project they persevered and now they are all living better, more successful and healthier lives. One older gentleman, addicted, sad and alone, and without money to support a family for decades, said he had been able to defeat his addiction and start a family, which includes a wife and two children. Another older man, also a longtime opium harvester and addict, today has five children, four of whom have received university degrees, and he himself has gone to school to get a general education degree. A woman who grew up to follow in her father’s footsteps as an arms trader, confessed she didn’t trust the Doi Tung project at first. She feared that she and others who participated in the initiative might be rounded up by government authorities and taken away from an area that, despite its ravaged state, was home. Today, she serves as a health volunteer in the community and is a proud Thai citizen who has traveled to several foreign countries and dreams of someday traveling to the U.S., even if, as she joked in her hill tribe dialect, it “happens in another lifetime.”
As much as it would be wonderful to welcome her to Bloomington one day, more likely it will be a new generation of Doi Tung residents that seize the opportunities that will present themselves as the region becomes economically stronger, healthier and more self-sustaining. With more financial resources and better health, people here will want to pursue newer, bigger aspirations, which is why MFLF is constantly reaching out to residents, seeking to understand their needs and desires. This changing reality is reflected in the foundation’s efforts to move promising employees into supervisory/management roles; in the grassroots efforts that have led some factory, plant and agricultural workers to launch products, thus becoming entrepreneurs themselves; in a new camp for “city kids that exposes them to rural living; and a more general effort to turn Doi Tung into what foundation leaders call a “living university” or “corporate classroom” that brings people from around the world to the region to learn from local villagers and engage in hands-on activities.
This last initiative may even serve to extend the connection between IU and Doi Tung beyond Diskul’s involvement as IU leaders from the Kelley School of Business, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences and IU Alumni Association are here this weekend to explore possible collaborations with MFLF that could lead to student internships, faculty research projects and international service learning experiences.
In any event, even on a cloudy day in Chiang Rai that took a little away from an otherwise superb trip up the spirally hillside to the Thai-Myanmar border, it was clear to see that the inspiring efforts here in Doi Tung will continue to have a profound impact on the quality of life here in this remarkable region of Thailand.
Tags: Chiang Rai, College of Arts and Sciences, Disnadda Diskul, Doi Tung, Doi Tung Development Project, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, IU Alumni Association, Kelley School of Business, Mae Fah Luang Foundation, MFLF, Michael A. McRobbie, Myanmar, opium, Princess Srinagarindra, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Thailand
Among the hallmarks of Indiana University’s rich tradition of international engagement — which now goes back more than 100 years — has been a vigorous pursuit of institutional partners around the globe that share IU’s commitment to expanding the worldview of its students and responding through first-rate faculty research and scholarly collaboration to society’s most pressing problems.
On Friday morning, members of the IU delegation rekindled one of the university’s oldest relationships — a partnership with Chulalongkorn University. CU was established in 1917 and is now the oldest university in the modern Thai educational system.
Over a period of more than two decades, a collaborative agreement between IU and CU has generated numerous successful scholarly and research exchanges involving such standout IU academic units as the Kelley School of Business and School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Another exchange, between CU and IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences, has resulted in CU providing a Thai language instructor to IU’s School of Global and International Studies.
The parallels between IU and CU, which made the two universities such natural partners when they inked their initial agreement in 1974, persist today. CU, which celebrated its centennial anniversary just last year, is among Thailand’s top research universities, with 13 schools and institutes that teach around 40,000 students, around the same number of students enrolled at IU’s Bloomington campus. Both IU and CU boast comparable strengths in, among other areas, the arts and humanities, the life, natural and social sciences, business and public health. More generally speaking, both share a strong commitment to service and to addressing modern society’s most vexing issues.
As delegation members learned today, CU is increasingly encouraging its faculty, which includes a large number of IU Thai alumni with whom the delegation met this morning, to engage in research collaborations with peers from other parts of the world. The university’s hope is that these collaborations will lead to positive changes in dynamic and culturally diverse Southeast Asia, a region of the world confronting a number of major political, economic, environmental and security challenges.
President Barack Obama outlined many of the major issues facing the region when he hosted a historic two-day summit in February with the leaders of all 10 Southeast Asian institutions. These are challenges “no nation can meet alone,” Obama said in his introductory remarks at the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Summit in California. He then laid out his vision for the region, our nation’s fourth largest goods trading partner, which he described as “economic growth that is inclusive, creating opportunity for all; mutual security and the peaceful resolution of disputes; human dignity, including respect for human rights and development that is sustainable.”
Despite Obama’s recent efforts to call attention to the challenges of Southeast Asia, the leaders of both IU and CU agreed that not enough is known in the U.S. about the strategic importance of this region of the world and that by leveraging their strengths they might serve as important catalysts for change here.
To this end, they came together this morning to renew, for another five years, their agreement of friendship and collaboration in hopes of increasing the number of student and faculty exchanges between IU and CU, including in the areas of Thai language and cultural studies, and developing joint research projects and other collaborative activities that focus on improving difficult international issues.
As further evidence of IU’s and CU’s mutual recognition of the power of global partnerships to bring about change, both universities have worked in recent years to dramatically enhance their international programs.
Back in Bloomington, IU’s efforts have resulted in the creation just a few years ago of the School of Global and International Studies, now housed in the spectacular new Global and International Studies Building, which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped dedicate last fall. They’ve also inspired a newly established Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies program, which IU President Michael McRobbie and Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret described today as one of the only programs in the nation dedicated to fostering a greater and more comprehensive understanding of Southeast Asia and its people, languages and cultures. (McRobbie also noted that the first-ever U.S. ambassador to ASEAN, David Carden, is an IU graduate and 2014 recipient of IU’s Thomas Hart Benton Medallion, which recognizes those who have provided outstanding service and support to the university.)
Here in Bangkok, CU recently opened a magnificent new International Affairs and Global Network Building, which McRobbie, Zaret and other members of the delegation toured today and that includes most of its international resources for faculty and students. The building is a major reflection of the remarkable growth in internationalization at CU, which, in just the last few years, also includes new efforts to attract top scholars from around the world to work on major ASEAN issues and plans for a summer program offering Thai studies to foreign students.
The new building also houses the ASEAN University Network, established just over 20 years ago to help promote the development of higher education within the region and serve as the main coordinating agency of several of Southeast Asia’s top universities. Included among the AUN member universities are several of IU’s major institutional partners in the region, including CU, the National University of Singapore and Vietnam National University.
The visit to CU also gave members of the IU delegation an opportunity to meet with the executive director of the ASEAN University Network, Nantana Gajaseni, and discuss ways in which IU might become more engaged with the network through its traditional strengths in international affairs and foreign education and its more recent establishment of a global gateway network that will soon include an office in Southeast Asia.
“IU is a beneficiary of all of these efforts, as we work to build our expertise in Southeast Asian and ASEAN studies,” remarked Zaret just prior to the renewal of one of IU’s most successful partnership agreements. “All of what has happened here at CU, in Thailand and across the region promises to provide a wonderful opportunity for IU.”
IU’s inspiring Thai alumni
In addition to talking with more than a half dozen of its alumni who are now serving in key roles on CU’s faculty, McRobbie and Zaret also took time after leaving the CU campus to reconnect with three other prominent alumni who have had a remarkable impact on Thai society, through their work at top levels of government, education and culture.
Saisuree Chutikul, who earned her master’s and doctoral degrees at IU Bloomington, had an accomplished career as a pianist and advocate for music performance in Thailand, but she’s equally renowned for her work in government and, specifically, for leading numerous major human rights efforts to improve the lives of women and children in Thailand.
Boudin Tamthai, who earned a master’s degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures at IU Bloomington in 1979, currently serves as director of The Tamthai Foundation, a non-governmental charitable foundation in Bangkok. A firm believer of the power of education, Boudin has dedicated his life’s work to helping to provide funds and training for the promotion of knowledge in Thailand, especially to benefit the disadvantaged. He served as president of the Thailand Chapter of the IU Alumni Association from 1984 to 1990. He also coordinated the IU International Alumni Conference and Reunion that was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 1999.
Sombat Thamrongthanyawong is a professor of public administration at the National Institute of Development Administration and a graduate of both NIDA and CU. The former president of NIDA from 2007 to 2012 and an internationally acclaimed scholar and researcher, he received an honorary degree of humane letters from IU in 2013.
Among the topics of conversation the IU delegation discussed with these three inspiring and remarkably accomplished alumni: the establishment, later this year, of a new IU global gateway office in Southeast Asia, which would be the fourth such IU office around the world, joining others in Beijing, Berlin and New Delhi.
A homecoming at NIDA
If members of the IU delegation felt right at home at CU, they felt equally welcome at a homecoming reception for NIDA, which IU played a central role in establishing 50 years ago.
Like yesterday’s 50th anniversary conference, at which President McRobbie delivered a keynote address, tonight’s fun and festive event at NIDA gave delegation members an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and reflect on a half-century-old partnership that has had a transformative impact on Thai education and society.
It also offered a nice reminder that behind any successful partnership, there are people, continually pushing it to evolve and constantly working to respond to society’s complex and ever-changing needs.
As McRobbie said in his keynote address at NIDA yesterday, “It is not merely the relationships between institutions that are of importance. The relationships that develop between people as part of these global collaborations are just as important, in both good times and in bad. In bad times, these relationships can help to improve difficult international issues. In good times, they can help to rapidly build productive relationships between nations.”
A related note:
Just in time for Thailand, IU has unveiled a powerful new digital map that provides a snapshot of IU’s activities in Southeast Asia and every region in the world. The online map, located at worldwide.iu.edu/interactive-map, provides information from every IU campus on every global and international studies-related degree, foreign language and study abroad program offered and all international partnerships, as well as access to more than a quarter century of IU International magazine articles associated with every country in the world. The project was created in partnership by the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs and IU Communications.
Tags: ASEAN University Network, Bangkok, Barack Obama, Boudin Tamthai, Chulalongkorn University, College of Arts and Sciences, David Carden, David Zaret, IU Alumni Association, IU Global Gateway Network, John Kerry, Kelley School of Business, Michael A. McRobbie, Nantana Gajaseni, National Institute of Development Administration, Pusadee Tamthai, School of Global and International Studies, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, Southeast Asia, U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Summit
Members of the Indiana University delegation fittingly began their first full day of business in Bangkok this morning by helping to celebrate the successful legacy of one of IU’s oldest and most valued international partners.
Since its founding 50 years ago, in which IU played a central role, the National Institute of Development Administration has risen to become one of Thailand’s leading educational institutions, one that has trained thousands of Thai citizens for service across the country and around the world. Indeed, through the contributions it has made to the personal and academic growth of its students, NIDA, which concentrates exclusively on graduate studies in fields related to national development, has had a transformative impact on the economic, cultural and social fabric of one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant and dynamic nations.
At this morning’s 50th anniversary celebration of NIDA, “NIDA’s Legacy: A 5-Decade Focus on Sustainable Development,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie proudly shared the stage with several eminent Thai statesmen, including General Prem Tinsulanonda, former Thai prime minister and current president of the King’s Privy Council; NIDA President Pradit Wanarat; Somkid Jatusripithak, deputy prime minister for Thai economic matters; Thai Deputy Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin; and Thanong Bidaya, former Thai finance minister.
McRobbie also delivered the first keynote address of the event, using the historic occasion to congratulate NIDA on its successes, highlight IU’s close academic and research connections with Thailand, which span more than six decades, and describe IU’s and NIDA’s lengthy and shared commitment to global service.
Speaking to an audience of around 1,200 higher education, government, business and other leaders, McRobbie said that both IU and NIDA “aspire to contribute in meaningful ways to some of the most pressing problems facing our nations and the world. We both realize that these problems do not end at a nation’s borders and that solutions to them can be universal.
“University research and creative activities help to foster a culture of innovation,” he continued. “Graduates who have received their education in a research-rich environment help bring new enterprises and new ideas into existing businesses and institutions.”
A model partnership
As McRobbie spoke, it was easy to marvel at the model long-term partnership that IU has fostered with NIDA, one which grew from the extraordinarily prescient vision of IU’s legendary 11th president Herman B Wells. That partnership has been nurtured and developed over the past five decades through the efforts of numerous university administrators and scholars.
In the 1950s, with Thailand in the beginning stages of major economic and social transformation, the country began turning its attention to the quality of its teacher-training institutions. Around that same time, the U.S. government began increasing its involvement in meeting the development needs of Southeast Asia.
Several years earlier, in 1948, Wells had met on the IU Bloomington campus with Thailand’s Permanent Undersecretary for Education Pin Malakul, a scholar and educator who would oversee the drafting of the country’s first national education plan. Malakul was visiting two Thai students who were pursuing advanced degrees in IU’s School of Education.
In 1955, IU signed a contract sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development to establish the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University in Bangkok, which would seek to strengthen the university’s academic program in public administration, develop training programs for government officials and provide training in the U.S. for Thai students.
A little more than a decade after helping to establish the institute at Thammasat University, IU, as a founding member of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, led the consortium’s efforts to establish NIDA, which, today, boasts an alumni roster containing thousands of diplomats and also a prime minister.
Through IU’s continuing close institutional relationship with NIDA, many Thai citizens have traveled to Bloomington and Indianapolis to study a wide range of subjects in preparation for influential positions in Thailand’s public and private sectors. Additionally, the partnership has led IU to award three former NIDA presidents with honorary degrees, and NIDA to present honorary degrees to former IU president John Ryan, who conducted his doctoral research in Bangkok in the mid-1950s, emeritus vice president Patrick O’Meara and executive vice chancellor Bill Plater.
More broadly speaking, IU’s partnership with NIDA also reflects, as McRobbie reported in his keynote address, the university’s dedication to international engagement that effectively addresses the most important issues of our time, while also producing graduates who have the global awareness and experience needed to succeed in today’s modern, interconnected world.
That dedication is driving a series of new initiatives at IU, including one that promises to be a major discussion point during the IU delegation’s week here in Thailand: building the university’s research and teaching capacity in Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies. This initiative includes the development of a Center of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies, located in IU’s School of Global and International Studies, that aims to be a singular program of its kind in North America; the establishment of an endowed Bicentennial Chair of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies; and new degree offerings in Thai, Indonesian and other regional languages. What’s more, IU hopes to open the fourth of its global gateway offices somewhere in Southeast Asia later this year. Those offices, spearheaded by the Office of IU Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret, have quickly become a vital part of the university’s international engagement strategy.
Today, however, the main topic of conversation centered on IU’s productive partnership with NIDA, a blueprint of sorts for other globally minded institutions. The collaboration shows no signs of slowing down, as NIDA enters its second 50 years and IU approaches its bicentennial, which will take place in 2020.
Said McRobbie, “The long-term partnership between Indiana University and NIDA can serve as a model of international cooperation, understanding and service for institutions around the world to emulate.”
Fueling innovation and entrepreneurial spirit
During his keynote speech, McRobbie described how universities can contribute, “in profound ways” to their communities and their countries by educating young people so they can find good jobs and fostering a culture of innovation.
“Graduates who have received their education in a research-rich environment help bring new enterprises and new ideas into existing businesses and institutions,” he said.
IU alumnus Pravesvudhi Raiva, executive chairman of the hugely successful Bangkok-based S&P Syndicate restaurant chain, would jokingly admit he’s no longer “young,” but the 64-year-old clearly embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that universities so often inspire.
Immediately after graduating from IU more than 40 years ago, he returned to work for his family company — an ice cream parlor started by his two sisters. Since then, he has worked to grow the business into world’s largest group of full-service Thai restaurants, with 466 restaurants and bakeries around the world, including 184 in the greater Bangkok area, and around 7,000 employees.
Though he majored in political science at IU in preparation for a possible career as a diplomat, Raiva pursued other passions, including the arts, which fueled his early foray into marketing the family business and have helped him creatively take advantage of local and regional industry trends, such as a recent coffee shop boom in Thailand.
In a meeting this afternoon with President McRobbie and other members of the IU delegation, Raiva talked humbly and plainly about the remarkable success of his company, his strong belief in corporate social responsibility and his plans for the company’s future. Those plans include continuing the growth of a vocational training program to address a need for skilled workers in Thailand and launching a culinary school focused on developing chefs to master Thai cooking and meet international cooking standards.
As IU Kelley School of Business Dean Idie Kesner astutely noted, Raiva’s corporate success story would make for a terrific case study for IU students seeking to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing businesses operating in vastly different parts of the world.
For his part, Raiva seemed keen on the notion that his story might one day serve as an educational tool, and he said he hoped to one day make it back to IU, despite the rigors of the day-long travel between Bangkok and Bloomington. (He hasn’t returned since graduating and when a young basketball coach with the last name Knight was just starting out.) He also said that, increasingly, he looked to the next generation, which includes his daughter, who recently studied fine arts at a college in London, to bring the same enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit to his business that he delivered after returning to Thailand with his IU degree.
While it might have been hard for members of the IU delegation to accept that Raiva might not return to his old campus stomping grounds anytime soon, there was no denying today the global power of productive long-term educational partnerships, such as that between IU and NIDA, and the transformative impact that our university continues to have here in Thailand and all across this major region of the world.
Tags: Bangkok, Herman B Wells, IU Global Gateway Network, Kelley School of Business, Michael A. McRobbie, National Institute of Development Administration, Pravesvudhi Raiva, S&P Syndicate, School of Global and International Studies, Southeast Asia, Thailand
In just over a week, an Indiana University delegation, led by IU President Michael A. McRobbie, will seek to write the next chapter in IU’s storied history of engagement and institution-building in Thailand.
Beginning March 30, McRobbie, Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret and other delegation members will work to renew and expand upon IU’s numerous connections to a country and region of the world important to IU’s global mission. That mission, as outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, calls for IU to cement its position as one of the world’s leading global universities focused on increasing study abroad opportunities for its students, recruiting the best and brightest foreign scholars to its campuses and strengthening its connections with its many international alumni.
During a week’s time in Thailand, McRobbie and Zaret will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Institute of Development Administration, which IU helped establish, and renew a partnership agreement with the country’s top public research university.
IU began its strong ties to Thailand almost seven decades ago, when another IU president, Herman B Wells, met, in 1948, with Thailand’s Permanent Undersecretary for Education, Pin Malakul, a scholar and educator who would oversee the drafting of the country’s first national education plan. In the early 1950s, Thailand began turning its attention to the quality of its teacher training institutions and, around that same time, the U.S. government increased its involvement in meeting the development needs of Southeast Asia.
As one of the founding members of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, IU helped develop the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University in 1955 as well as 16 teacher colleges in Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s, many of which are now four-year, comprehensive universities.
IU also played a central role, in 1966, in establishing NIDA, Thailand’s leading educational institution that concentrates exclusively on graduate studies in fields related to national development. NIDA has also become an academic home for Thai scholars who would otherwise have studied abroad.
On March 31, as part of NIDA’s 50th anniversary celebration in Bangkok, McRobbie will deliver a keynote address at an academic conference on “NIDA’s Legacy: A 5-Decade Focus on Sustainable Development.”
The following day, he and Zaret will renew an agreement of friendship and cooperation that is more than two decades old with Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, which has resulted in a number of successful scholarly and research exchanges involving such esteemed IU academic units as the Kelley School of Business and School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
While in Bangkok, Thailand’s political, commercial and cultural hub, they will also meet with Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, whom IU awarded an honorary degree in 2010, at Srapathum Palace; host an award reception for IU alumnus Disnadda Diskul, secretary general of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation; explore the establishment of an IU global gateway office in Southeast Asia; and meet with prominent IU Thai alumni, among other activities.
In the northernmost large city in Thailand, Chiang Rai, they’ll visit the Doi Tung Development Project, which is located in what is known as the “Golden Triangle” area. The project began in the mid-1980s with the goal of developing alternative sources of income for villagers of Doi Tung, a high mountain in Chiang Rai, who had been involved in the production and sale of opium. Since then, the project has raised the overall standard of living in the area through a holistic approach to development that addresses income security, health and education.
I’ll serve as your eyes and ears to IU’s time in Thailand, delivering first-hand, real-time reports of many of the delegation’s daily activities, sharing information about our historic and growing ties to this dynamic nation and offering insights into IU’s ongoing effort to strengthen its engagement efforts in Southeast Asia and around the world.
I hope you will follow along and check in frequently as I share news, photos and updates, and please feel free to reach out to me directly with questions at email@example.com.
More soon from Bangkok!
Tags: Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Chulalongkorn University, David Zaret, Disnadda Diskul, Doi Tung Development Project, Herman B Wells, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, IU Alumni Association, Michael A. McRobbie, National Institute of Development Administration, Pin Malakul, Southeast Asia, Thailand