Community Design through Diverse Leadership Development towards a Sustainable Asia – Learning with Dr. Krasae Chanawongse –


Community Design through Diverse Leadership Development towards a Sustainable Asia – Learning with Dr. Krasae Chanawongse – :at Kyushu University, Japan, 15. Dec 2016


An international meeting titled “Community Design through Diverse Leadership Development towards a Sustainable Asia – Learning with Dr. Krasae  Chanawongse -” was held on 15 December 2016, in Ohashi Campus, Kyushu University, Japan. As the title suggests, the meeting aimed to explore how to develop the leadership of research- ers and students who are expected to contribute to the community design towards a sustainable Asia. The invited keynote speaker, Dr. Krasae Chanawongse is renowned for his decades of contribution to rural development with  a special emphasis on leadership development. Dr. Krasae holds ministerial posts such as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of University Affairs and Minister of the Office of Prime Minister in Thailand. He has contributed to medical care in remote rural areas, public health, founding schools, and the human resource development for rural develop- ment. For his tireless services for the common good, he has been awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in Japan and the Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Keynote Speech by Dr. Krasae Chanawongse

Dr. Krasae began his speech by expressing his attach- ment to rural areas represented by his hometown. He was born in a village of Khon Kaen, in the northeast of Thailand called Isan, geographically close to Lao, Cambodia and Viet Nam. He stressed that his current position and his way of thinking are based on his experiences as a rural doctor, his first career in his hometown.

He started his work as a doctor under the small mu- nicipality in Khon Kaen where he had grown up. There were no other doctor, nurse or midwife. There was only a sanitarian who takes care of the cleaning of offices and mar- kets. One of the difficulties he faced was the rebuilding of an old wooden health center, an only health center that let patients go up and down to see a doctor. He had no budget to rebuild the center on his own. Although the government supported to build 4 to 5 health centers per year, it meant that it would take 100 years to cover all the 400 districts  in Thailand. He explained that if village individuals give one-baht (20 U.S. cents) donation, it would become 140,000 baht which is enough for a new building for a health center. His explanation convinced village headmen and teachers to donate more than one baht, and a new health center was built within a year.

With a newly built health center, there was still a problem of the staffing shortage. There were yet only one doctor and one sanitarian at the health center. In order to fill the shortage, he hired 5 to 6 sons and daughters of patients as volunteers to assist Dr. Krasae. Young villagers who graduated from senior high schools or junior high schools gained opportunities to serve their apprenticeship in the health center. Another issue he observed through rural medication is that although villagers were not charged for seeing  a doctor, medical treatment was often discontinued. One patient claimed that there was no money for taking a bus  to come to the health center. Another patient claimed that there was no bus transportation service when she wanted to come. Some people had their own belief on sickness and did not accept the diagnosis Dr. Krasae gave. Such beliefs came from the lack of education and ignorance as well as the nature of Thai characteristics based on the ‘never mind’ identity. He calls it civic inertia.

Since he was an only doctor in the village, he had to cure any types of disease and see all the patients from farmers  to government officials. Such an opportunity made him think about difference or diversity of people and learn to understand others. He eventually came to work with people from other sectors including agriculture and education for the development of the village. The experiences of working with diverse people became the foundation of his philosophy throughout his career.

Based on his experiences as a rural doctor, he reached to find common issues among rural villages. Rural villages of Isan are similar to those in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Lao where he visited to see patients. Common issues are (1) poverty, (2) illiteracy, (3) a variety of diseases, (4) civic inertia (inactive to social activities), and (5) insecurity (unstable water supply, fluctuation of cultivated products, less availability of cash, and others). In a community design of rural areas, one should take into account these common issues. When conducting any rural projects, one single approach for a single issue would not suffice. Approaches must be integrated for coping with multiple issues. A single problem such as poverty cannot be managed separately.

After coup d’etat (or uprising) in the 1970s, Dr. Krasae was erected as one of the 260 legislative assembly members. At the parliament, there are the members from the south, of which 82 % are Muslim, the north and central (Buddhism) with different concerns and opinions. Just in one country, he saw the diversity there. He took it as an opportunity for him to listen to others and understand them. He later took leadership as ministers for making a common good while understanding the meaning of diversity and differences.

Now he has been working as a chairman of an inter- national, intergovernmental organization with 80 staff from 20 countries. Many of them are experts in the area   of flood management and climate change, for example. When people asked him how to manage flood disasters,  his answer is that Dr. Krasae himself is a rural doctor  and does not know disaster technology, but the diversity in the organization can take adequate measures. Management for him is walking around and taking leadership to support them and keep them encouragement.

He also touched on the labor shortage in Japan. The government invites people to work longer, and the population of over 60 years olds is now considered as the important labor force. Women in Japan are very educated, but the employment rate is still as low as 63% compared to that for men (85 %). He also emphasized the necessity of Japan to hire foreign workers, referring that in Canada, 1 million people out of 35 million of the total population are foreign workers. He stressed that when you have more diversity in labor force in Japan, it becomes more and more important to accept differences.

To conclude, he spoke of the meaning of development by quoting the words of H. M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej that the rural development “is a process that aims at improving the standard of living of the people living in the rural areas”. It is to help people to be able to do something by themselves – in other words, self-reliant. In the end, he brought back the importance of diversity and education by putting the words “No difference, no education” as his message.

Q&A session

Q1: Under the situation where there are no adequate infrastructure and personnel, how did you make yourself to persist to work on and make progress for what you have done?

A1: As a medical student, Dr. Krasae was a leader of the students. As a student, he was enthusiastic to serve for people. Even after graduation, as a rural doctor with some authority and salary, his passion for serving the people in his hometown was sustained. He was not pessimistic at all and did not think in a way that oh no we have no budget, no midwife, etc. He stated that your success depends on leadership no matter what degrees (bachelor, masters, doctors, etc.) you earn.

Q2: In China and Thailand, there are different social and economic problems from those of Japan. Do you agree with that education is the most important scheme to solve complicated problems?

A2: For rural people, education is not only the issue, and the integration of multiple efforts is important. To further understand the approach, the following quotes by Dr. Y. C. James Yen would be of your help: “Go to the people. Love them like family members. Live with them, Listen to them. Learn from them, Plan with them. Work with them, Serve them. Then leave behind a meaningful legacy for future generations.”

Presentation by Prof. Ken-ichi Tanoue

Prof. Tanoue showed a number of photos from Kumamoto after the earthquakes in April 2016. Photos include the house roofs covered with blue tarps, Kumamoto Castle that suffered serious damage, Aso Shrine, and so on. From the observation, it was seen that mud-walled houses were especially vulnerable to earthquakes. One reason for such vulnerability is that Kyushu Area had not experienced the same level of seismic activities more than 100 years,  and thus prevention measures had not been adequately implemented.

On the day of inspection on 1 – 2 May, a huge number of houses and infrastructure had still remained damaged. People occupied high school gymnasium, evacuating from their damaged and leaned houses. Continuing aftershocks had further frightened local people to stay evacuated from their house. A group, which Prof. Tanoue was involved, supported to set up partitioned space inside an evacuation center where victims of earthquakes sought shelter. At some places, evacuees refused to set up partitions in order to keep communications with neighbors. Many were also living in their car.

4,000 temporary houses have been built after the earth- quakes. When he visited a temporary housing area after a while, the residents put flowers in front and made some arrangement on their living space to make their life more friendly. He introduced university’s supporting activities in the sale of Kumamoto’s products in Fukuoka city. Since Kumamoto is known for hot spring and many sightseeing places, there are shops that sell souvenir and local products. However, some shop owners were not able to continue their business after the earthquakes, so students brought their unsold products to Fukuoka city for sale. The activities were organized by the Kyushu Architecture Student Supporters for Environmental Improvement project (KASEI).

Prof. Tanoue pointed out that Kumamoto earthquakes were urban disasters, so a lot of complicated problems have occurred simultaneously. What experts from universities can do for such disaster hit areas was a question to be answered. He raised one example of what he learned in  the field as a hint to that question. There was a small shop house that 60 years old woman owned in Kumamoto city. Her shop house was so damaged that many experts and government officials advised demolishing the building. However, she was not able to accept their advice easily. After inspection of the building, Prof. Tanoue gave her his inspection result that the building can be reconstructed without demolishing. He was the first expert who suggested the “reconstruction” of the building. He learned from her tears of joy and gratitude that the mutual trust between refugees and supporters is an essential part of reconstruction assistance. He also learned that as an architect, the expert’s advice encourages refugees, and a lot of complicated problems necessitate diverse opinions and advice.

Presentation by Prof. Kazuo Asahiro

Prof. Asahiro delivered the presentation of Satochi-satoyama, which indicates socio-ecological production landscapes in Japan. It is a semi-natural built landscape, traditionally managed by communities. Satochi-satoyama holds multiple functions in the areas of the landscape, biodiversity, recreation, conservation of water, soil and air, cultural values, production, and disaster risk reduction. There are two types of landscapes, one is urban and the other is rural. There include the issues of decreased self-sufficiency in timber, food, and others. Looking at the changes of agricultural working population in Fukuoka prefecture, it dropped by 28.3 % between 2007 and 2012. It is noteworthy that torrential rain in Japan has been gradually increased over the 30 years. Because of the abundance of rainwater in the country, forests and farmlands become vulnerable to disasters without human intervention for proper management.

He introduced the case of Northern Kyushu area damaged by torrential rainfall in 2012. In that year, rainfall reached 171 % between July 11 and 14 compared to that of the annual average. The mountains had quickly eroded, and villages were caught in the landslide. Victims evacuated to elementary schools, and local people worked together to re- store paddy fields and farmland that were heavily damaged on the disaster day. The Japanese government subsided over 400,000 yen per victims for the restoration of paddy fields and farmland while victims bore 10% of necessary costs. Although a lot of aged people remained in their village for farmland restoration, it was difficult for them to raise money (borrow from a bank) from agricultural activities since their cultivation was only for their consumption.

The fact that urban NGOs had operated green/eco-tour- ism in Kuroki, Hoshino and Ukiha regions to conserve rural landscape made possible to start restoration projects for damaged farmland right after the disaster. This is an unusual case because organized volunteer activities generally cover the restoration of roads and houses, not farming fields. Prof. Asahiro stressed that resilience is what we aim for, but it is not just in buildings and hard infrastructure, but also in social resilience. NGOs volunteered to manually remove mud soil and plant rice in the field where rice planting machines cannot come in due to the corruption  of roads. Taking multiple survey results into account, Prof. Asahiro proposed a model that a volunteer center plays a role of providing victims and supporters with opportunities for mutual communication to identify and update the local needs.

Another issue is a discontinuation of volunteer activities. Only two months after the volunteers list was made  in April, media information suddenly decreased, and it became difficult for local victims to receive volunteers. Moreover, while there were 70 volunteer centers, there was only one center that provided support for farmland restoration. Overall, he emphasized his mission of setting up a volunteer center for farmland restoration as there is no way for farmers to make a linkage with volunteers.