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Art4D Magazine

Breaking New Grounds

The School of Global Studies, Thammasat University aims to create transdisciplinary professionals in response to global change.

Source: Art4D Magazine Volume 255 by Natre Wannathepsakul
May 2015

“It’s opened my perspective on design. Before, I saw design as being mainly about aesthetics and solving functional issues. But from this perspective, it’s about designing in order to solve problems,” says Chanchai Chantavilasvong, G-Lab’s Design Integration Lead, on the School of Global Studies at Thammasat University.

A decade ago, the Faculty of Public Health was established at Thammasat University. However, the faculty, a team of specialists in public health from Chulalongkorn University, came to realize that the orbit of public health was not wide enough to cover disciplines such as economics, political science or international relations, which are correlatives when trying to solve social problems. Therefore, in 2009, the School of Global Studies was instituted.

“Having the School of Global Studies, it brings in different kinds of disciplines and specializations in terms of faculty and also student body together to look at a problem from a multi-dimensional perspective,” describes Viria Vichit-Vadakan. Four years later, its ‘innovation arm’ G-Lab was launched. “G-Lab is a social innovations lab and we support the lab under the School of Global Studies. Existing within the School of Global Studies are the Master of Public Health (Global Health) and also the Bachelor in Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship (GSSE),” explains Viria, who is the G-Lab Impact Director. “But the G-Lab mainly supports the latter, particularly to help build the ecosystem of social enterprises, social impact, or even businesses that care about social and environmental sustainability.”

Today, G-Lab’s core team of faculty members include Ada Chirapaisarnkul, Viria Vichit-Vadakan, Praewa Satutum, Pearl Phaovisaid, Apivat Hanvongse, Chanchai Chantavilasvong, Narttana Sakolvittayanon, Surapat Somsri and Niyata Limpiti, most of whom received their education from some of the best colleges in the US and the UK.

A representative example of G-Lab’s work is a project with J.P. Morgan. “We received funds from J.P. Morgan and the team ended up incubating 27 social enterprises,” says Pearl Phaovisaid, the Program Director of GSSE. “The beautiful thing about it is that these social enterprises can then become places where our students may eventually intern, they can become case studies and we can also tap into those practitioners, as lecturers and guest speakers. So it’s not just that we’re learning all these theories in the classroom, but it’s actually happening in the real world.”

Viria adds that “we really designed it so that we had social enterprises that are committed, existing and in the prototype and scaling stages. They’ve proven their idea and they’ve been doing it for six months to two to three years, but still require support in order to scale up. So for example, Dee Group from Surin, they’re an NGO turning social enterprise, which is very interesting. They help a community to do silk, but in a more friendly way that doesn’t hurt the women’s health, by using organic materials. We’ve worked with MiVana Coffee, who was one of the 27 social enterprises that we worked with for six months, and students get to connect to the owner as an entrepreneur as well as the coffee industry, see what the challenges are. He’s growing it under the forest, which is very environmentally friendly. So the process is when they understand the problem, we work through the process where they synthesize. We do a root cause analysis tree where you see and keep asking, what is the root of the problem? After that we frame what problems they want to tackle. We give them idea generation methods and are open to new ideas and brainstorming. Afterwards we get them into groups to start creating prototypes and question, how would you test your idea in the quickest and most cost-effective way? They then go out and interview potential buyers to see if they like the product and collect feedback.

And that’s actually what we use in our curriculum, in the Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship curriculum in the Social Innovation project course, so [G-Lab and the academic program are] quite linked.” While the critical thinking process offered by the School of Global Studies would appear to parallel much of what gets taught at the best of architecture schools, it is the slight difference between them that makes all the difference. Viria says that in fact, she found the curriculum of many architecture programs in Thailand to share some similarities with GSSE. Nevertheless, she explains that “I understand the architecture perspective and the importance of a focused discipline, but for GSSE, we focus on the process and are open to explore a variety of solutions that respond to the complex needs in all dimensions – not limited to space and infrastructure – so I think that might be how we’re different. When we think of idea generation, there’s no limitation. This could be solved by changing policies, using technology, or it could be by building new spaces. But we see our students connecting to a more specialized field where they can become managers, team leaders and put things together, put the team together when they have the solution.”

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For full article, please see Breaking New Grounds.