Satitphone Phommahack, also known as Joy, received a Fujitsu Scholarship and completed the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge 2017 Fall Course. With a background in education, Joy has been working as a National Expert for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Lao-German Development Cooperation. Upon returning to Laos, she hopes to build upon her previous activities and promote the livelihood of high school dropouts in remote areas of Laos. Her Capstone Project seeks to empower families in rural communities, helping them achieve entrepreneurship skills so that their children can continue their education.

―Please tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program.

I was born and raised in a city in Laos, and I have had formal education throughout my academic life, from primary and secondary school on to earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Looking back on my life, I feel very fortunate to have had access to all this educational opportunity and blessed to have had support from my parents.

After I had completed my master’s degree in educational leadership and management, I realized I wanted to use my knowledge to help those who did not have the kind of opportunity and access to education that I did. I started working with a development project in the field of vocational education and training, and I always went out into the field, talking to teachers, students and locals in remote areas. Working with a development project that supports the underprivileged groups in Laos and being part of the program have confirmed to me that doing something with a purpose gives a sense of true happiness when you realize a small contribution can make a huge impact on another person’s life. That’s what made me interested in this program, as it is also about promoting the common good and sharing one’s knowledge to help others improve their lives.

―How did the program help you develop in new areas?

I gained a lot of new knowledge, not only in theory but in practice as well. But in a broader sense, it really helped me find out who I am, and it has proved that the path I chose for my life is the right path. It’s been fun discovering who I am and what kind of leader I want to be. The leadership course was really valuable, and I think it changed my view on how I see myself as an individual and my country as well. I’ll go home to my community with a new perspective on life and how I would contribute more to my society and community in the future.

―How do you think your interaction with your classmates has benefited you?

The Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge 2017 Fall Course class was small, yet unique and full of talented people regardless of knowledge background and personality differences. This diversity made the program lively and colorful. In fact, I feel like I didn’t travel to only four countries during the program, but rather 13 countries. We had nine participants from nine countries, and my interaction with them was like visiting their country plus the four to which we had actually traveled.

We all came from different cultures and different backgrounds, yet deep inside we wanted to know about each other and to interact with each other openly. That’s part of the program’s purpose in putting us together. The program directors want us to learn not only from the coursework but from each participant as well.

I had the impression that some of my classmates didn’t know where Laos was until they met me, so I was glad to be part of this program and promote not only myself but my country, sharing my experiences and my thoughts. Everyone was very open to new perspectives, and as we got to know each other, we felt more confident to express ourselves, even when we didn’t always agree. There were times that we faced challenges that we had to solve together as a team, but we managed to overcome them by making use of each member’s capability and strengths efficiently.

I really enjoyed meeting my classmates, who went from strangers to friends and then almost like family members as we bonded during the limited time of the course. This feeling didn’t stop when the course ended as we still can continue to keep in touch. I still have to actually visit more countries!

―When did you work together to solve problems as a team?

There is a saying that two heads are better than one, and this was really true in the program. We had a great deal of group work during the Hawaii Module, and we all felt time pressure as well as pressure from the subject matter itself. In my Hawaii project, I worked with one Japanese member, one Vietnamese, and one Korean. We were from different countries, yet we shared a culture of understanding for each other regardless of the pressure and the stress. We always looked out for one another, and we made sure that everyone had a say and was doing something for the project. We ensured balance in the team so that no one had to work more than the others.

―Please tell us a little about your Capstone Project.

I believe that where there is education, there is development. My Capstone Project is titled “Promoting the Livelihood of Those Who Leave School.” Since my major is education management, I chose to focus on the issue of children in remote areas who drop out of school. I wanted to address the issues that cause these children to drop out.

I think families living in rural areas have many other priorities ahead of education, particularly income generation. How can they have their children go to school when they cannot make a living? Most parts of Laos are still living below the poverty line, and I think the core issue is that because of poverty and the lack of opportunity and accessibility, families are unable to send their children to school.

As I started editing my Capstone Project, I realized I wanted to help families generate more income doing what they already do. My plan involves short-term training through what I call “integration of knowledge training,” where I would go to rural areas and provide training to families on how to better generate income. I also want to make them aware that opportunities for different kinds of learning do exist and that they can have access to them.

My focus concerns training specifically on livestock and agriculture, because 70-80 percent of the total population in Laos is engaged in farming and agriculture. This is already the specialty for many people and I don’t want to change what they have already done. Rather than bringing something new to them, I want to build up what they have already achieved and help them improve so they can generate enough income, and hopefully they will have decent earnings to help their children with education and healthcare.

―How would you help people in the rural areas of Laos generate income?

They already have tacit knowledge about agriculture or livestock, such as the know-how to raise pigs or poultry, or grow rice. I want to assist them with explicit knowledge. Of course, I will need to develop some kind of curriculum or training material, but I can support them in the areas of livelihood training and basic financial training. This is why I named the short-term course “integration of knowledge training.”

In terms of financial training, my aim is to help them enhance their income generation, so instead of simply growing and selling their product at a low price, they will be able to manage it, sell it at a better price and save their earnings. They have to learn how to become entrepreneurs and how to add value to their product, with a focus on safety and hygiene, quality control, branding and packaging, for instance.

In terms of livelihood training, this is more about how to protect and prevent themselves from unexpected health issues and be hygienic. In other words, the training would cover how to keep themselves free from unpleasant distractions that could prevent them from working.

It seems like you were already doing similar work to your Capstone Project before the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program, so is this an updated version of your previous activities?

Yes, it probably has some link to what I have already been doing. Nevertheless, I feel I want to be part of something personally. I want to be someone who can not only contribute my knowledge or experience but also put myself out there and take precise action after looking at the issue from all aspects. It’s not just a case of me saying something and having others do it – I have to be the one to demonstrate it first.

I may play a small part in the company I’m currently working on, but I want to be a person who plays a large role and make an impact. That’s why I decided to do this Capstone Project and focus on a specific area. Hopefully when I go back to Laos, I can propose this project to my company, since it is doing something similar. In a short-term sense, it helps promote people in rural areas to take ownership in what they do and helps them to generate sufficient income, and it offers significant training. These elements can already be found in the company; now I’m just putting it together as a single package. In a long-term sense, what I hope for people in remote areas and in general is to realize that opportunities can be created when potential is recognized and used with passion, without having to rely on luck or wait for outside supporters.

―Did your classmates provide advice and feedback that helped with your Capstone Project?

They did indeed. Some advice I received from my classmates really helped me. Some aspects of my project that I thought of were not always perfect, and I needed someone to provide advice. I was always open to this sort of feedback, and I didn’t limit myself to my own ideas, because my experience probably could not provide the only solution. Solutions can be found in other people’s experiences too.

I found out that a couple of my classmates had Capstone Projects that were quite similar to mine, as they concerned education. They gave me very good advice on creating my project. When I read the comments in their feedback, I thought, Oh, why didn’t I think of that? My major is education, and I didn’t even think of that!

They tried to help me focus on specific issues so that I could narrow my project down. I think at the beginning we always try to think broadly as we want to cover many things and solve many issues. The topic of education is quite broad, and I think their comments and feedback helped me to narrow focus and maintain a sense of direction as to where I want to go.

―How do you think you have changed over the past few months?

As I mentioned that my perspective changed, and I think I also changed physically and mentally-in a good way of course! Physically, I am an outdoor person, and I always like to be out in the field. This program has really proved to me that learning does not have to be limited to only in the classroom as it can occur out in the field as well through actual interaction and observation of the surroundings.

Another thing is that we did a number of presentations-quite a number! These included individual presentations, team presentations, and partner presentations. Honestly, I would not consider myself a public speaker. Even though I presented several times when I earned my master’s degree or in meetings at my company, I never felt comfortable in front of people. So, another takeaway for me is that I am less nervous on stage. The fear of public speaking has been reduced. The program has tested my limits as it helped boost my confidence when it comes to stage presence.

I am also mentally stronger now than before. I feel like I still want to learn more from the program. It always kept me going and made me wonder what’s next, and I felt enthusiastic every time there was a new module or new course coming up. Thanks to the program I am up to new challenges and am no longer afraid of them. Now I know that whatever challenge I confront, I will make sure that I stand tall and don’t hesitate. I’ll speak my mind and dare to take risks because challenges are what help me develop.

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