Ada Chirapaisarnkul from Thailand is the Executive Director and Lecturer at Thammasat University. Specializing in social entrepreneurship and social innovation, Chirapaisarnkul finished attending Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge 2014 Summer Course with Fujitsu Scholarship, and revealed her thoughts on the program, as well as on her own Capstone Project. Excerpts of her interview are as follows:

―How did you first find out about the Fujitsu Scholarship Program?

I have a volunteer network in Thailand, and one of my volunteers in that network posted information on the program on our Facebook group. She actually was a Fujitsu Scholarship recipient. That’s how I found out and applied for this program. I also was attracted to the contents of the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program that introduced Eastern ways of thinking and management, which I thought was very unique.

―What are the appealing points of Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge?

I am really interested in how the program integrates the three components of management theory, liberal art, and methodology and practice. I find this approach very original, since all the other leadership programs that are generally available tend to concentrate only on a single component. I also discovered the multi-campus approach of visiting and studying in four different countries, namely Japan, the US (Hawaii), Thailand and Singapore, very appealing. People in different countries have different approaches in doing things. They also have different ways of thinking. Hence, through the program, we get to learn four different approaches. What’s more, our classmates come from seven different countries. Such situation makes your learning even more dynamic and diverse.

―Stimulated by attending the program, what do you plan to do towards the future?

In the short term, I will work on a new degree program in Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship at Thammasat University, which ultimately seeks to nurture future leaders for my home country Thailand. I actually have learned many different approaches and how to cultivate a good leader through the program. These learnings become useful in cultivating a superior leadership among the young students at our university. Additionally, since the program very much focuses on leadership, I now have more concrete ideas on how to bring up leaders for the common good of the society, which is a big challenge for my country right now.

My long-term vision is to make a big difference to the world. I actually want to change the world. I know I have to start with a small step, but I think the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program has given me an excellent foundation for pursuing my dream: How I could emerge as a good leader of the community, then the country, and ultimately at the global level. But as the first specific step, I want to refine our country’s education system. Hence, right now, I am focusing on my career in academia. However in the future, I hope to go into politics, especially to the Ministry of Education.

―What are your impressions on the program contents?

I find the program contents very well structured. We learn the management theory as well as all the key components that a leader must learn, and these become the basic foundation of our knowledge. We get to learn a lot of new things, too. For example, we learn about issues like organizational behavior, which is very critical and can be related back directly to my work upon managing a team. We also learn about human resource management. What I really like is the learning on knowledge management and innovation. All combined, these program contents have broadened my perspective on social innovation and common good. In addition, the program holistically integrates all the aspects of leadership. When you study about leadership elsewhere, they only talk about different kinds of leaders, or on the special character of a good leader. However, the program also emphasizes on how to become a good leader, not only for your own company or organization, but also for the society. This is what I mean by the program being holistic.

Also of note is that the program introduces the Eastern management philosophy to the students. When I took my university classes and the master’s degree at a university back in Thailand or in the West, all they taught was the Western style of management. But with the program, I learn case studies and the philosophies of the East that are not only good but very important and highly relevant for Asians.

Speaking of the lecturers, they are all outstanding, diverse and insightful. We not only have Japanese lecturers with various backgrounds, but also Native Hawaiians, Singaporean, Thai and American lecturers who have studied Eastern philosophy and Buddhism. As a result, their teachings become very insightful and profound and intrigue your thinking.

As for the staff, they are all very helpful, too. They go above and beyond to make our lives very interesting, fun and enriching. In terms of my colleagues, they are quite diverse and different. My classmates come from seven different countries with different backgrounds, such as people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, those working in the music industry, scientists, bankers, and so on. Such diverse mix of people makes the class very engaging and dynamic. Everybody has a different approach in work, and so you actually learn how to adapt and embrace the difference.

―What have you learnt from the program that may become useful for your next action?

What I like most about the program is that you first see things as it is. This means that when we try to tackle any problem, we have to really immerse ourselves in the situation and actually see with our own eyes what has happened. This is not what I have experienced or thought about in the past, or have learnt from the Western style of teaching. I think this program approach may have derived from some kind of Eastern Philosophy. For example, when we go to a remote, rural area in Thailand, instead of being told what the problem is, the faculty actually takes us into the area to see how the hill tribe people live, how they make a living, and let us see for ourselves what the problems are. Seeing the situation, feeling and finding out what the issues are by ourselves is better, because we can synthesize the idea, and then dig into the problem itself to come out with our own solutions. A lot of key teaching and learning in the program is group work, so we always have to discuss with our colleagues what we are seeing, what the problems are, and come up with different ideas on how to solve the problem. It is surprising to see how the solutions or the key takeaway is different by each person, even if we share the same experience. This is because of our different backgrounds, I guess. We also have daily reflection after class. We look back and think about what we have learnt on any day. And since we reflect every day, we actually come to learn a lot, not only through what we have experienced but also by reflecting ourselves, including about thinking on what actions we have taken ourselves. We question is that good or bad, and so on. This is a lot of hard work and a big commitment we have to do every day, but it is good for keeping track on how we think and act. I find this reflection very useful, and is one of the teaching and learning methods that I will definitely take back and apply at my university.

The multi-cultural working team is also an exceptional experience that would help me to handle working with people from different countries when I return to Thailand. In the program, you have to work together all the time with people from different countries and different backgrounds for a period of four months. This means that you have to adapt to that situation, although it may be difficult in the beginning. This is another precious takeaway from the program, because at my office back in Thailand, there are people from 15 different nationalities working together. It will be good for me to go back to my office with such key learning.

―Tell us about your Capstone Project.

That is the most exciting thing to talk about related to the program. I really believe in investing in good people doing good things. So one of the things I have been doing over the past five years is to create a supporting ecosystem for social entrepreneurs in Thailand. Before coming over to the program, I interviewed many Thai social entrepreneurs to identify the problems they are facing in order to grow their enterprises, and I used the key findings from those interviews to define the core issue for my Capstone Project. Specifically, I probed ways to support the social entrepreneurs to grow and scale their social impact. This is a grand, yet critical issue, especially since the government sector in Thailand hasn’t been active for the past 10 years, due to military rule and so on, and we cannot rely on the government. Meanwhile, the private sector is very strong, but then the civil society is still quite weak. That is why I want to support the social enterprises that can probably enhance the power of the civil society to make change in the society. Through my interviews with the entrepreneurs, I came up with four key issues that obstruct them to scale. At the core of those issues was the fact that we don’t have outstanding, capable talent in the civil society, in the social sector. As I just mentioned, our politics have been unstable and we don’t know how much longer that instability will continue. It may be another year or a decade. On the other hand, we have a pressing need for a strong social sector to support the under-privileged. Hence, my Capstone Project focuses on how to mobilize the talent from the business sector to help the social sector. The most exciting part is that while I have been working on this Capstone Project and talking to a lot of people including social entrepreneurs, foundations and business people, I actually was able to sell the idea to the Rockefeller Foundation in Thailand. They really liked the idea, and their sponsorship to my Capstone Project was recently confirmed, so that I can implement it when I go back to Thailand. This means that for at least one year after returning, I will be spending much of my time on my Capstone Project to materialize it. I also will be acquiring the support of the Thai Social Enterprise Office, whose Director has agreed to become the Advisor of my Capstone Project. Concurrently after the program, I will return to Thammasat University to use all my learnings acquired from the program for nurturing the future generation of leaders, even the future prime minister of Thailand perhaps, by excelling in my job in the academic field. I’m really excited that things are moving on, and I believe that I can really make things happen, thanks to the program.

―Any other comments you would like to add?

As a matter of fact, I have spread word about the outstanding features of the Fujitsu Scholarship Program and the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program through Facebook, because that is the most effective and popular media among our generation. In return, one of my volunteers in the network has applied for the next program. Of further mention is that we also have a strong alumni network in Thailand. Additionally, all those who have attended the program share the same passion of bringing positive change to the community they belong to, regardless of their background or the country of their origin. I think that is another point worthy of special mention about the program.

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