I learned today that Eisenhower Fellow Greg King has passed away at his home in New Zealand. He was a warm, considerate man with incredible talents and the conviction to make the world more just. This picture we took at the Grand Canyon made me think about the immense obstacles a high profile criminal defense lawyer like Greg faces every day. And this has reminded me how life can be so powerful and at the same time so fragile. It’s a real shock to all of us and our thoughts are with his family who must be wrenched by this tragedy.
Had a wonderful reception in the Philippines by many local Eisenhower Fellows. What a distinguished group!
Standing (L-R): Dan Songco MNP 99, EFAP vice-chair and executive director; Ping de Jesus MNP 77, EFAP trustee; Omar Cruz SNP 86, EFAP Trustee; Ramy Hermano MNP 58, EFAP trustee; Dondi Silang MNP 2000; Gov. Migs Dominguez MNP 2009.
Unfortunately we only thought to take this photo after the very gracious Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala had left.
Lunch was fantastic and the conversation was freewheeling and stimulating. Mr. Zobel led the discussion on what makes Filipino society distinct in the world, and the whole group joined in on a variety of perspectives. My big take away was that many Westerners think that Filipinos are western in spirit because of their longstanding relationship with Spain, USA and their widespread use of the English language. However, the Philippines has a rich history of many tribal and ethnic groups that still inform their mentality and choices far more than a Western ideology. This insight was invaluable as I started my journey in this diverse country.
But this same group of distinguished leaders had a fun and hip spirit as well, and so our conversation had a lot of laughter and covered a lot of ground – including music, the effect of expatriates, and the amount of YouTube views of Gangnam Style.
Tracing the career path of Dr. Kongkiat Kespechara is like reading a treasure map: there are twists and turns and surprises all along the way, but promises an unfolding bounty at the end. Here are some of his current activities: Dr. Kespechara is a still-practicing MD, a software entrepreneur, an open source pioneer, a force in economic development, a big data processor, a nutritionist, an agriculturist and a retailer. Let me explain.
As a practicing physician in Phuket, he became aware of some of the struggles facing hospitals. At one point the Thai government wanted to modernize all the hospitals and demanded that Information Technology be adopted right away. Then he saw the budget. No significant increase were given to help hospitals meet this expensive demand. After some ruminating he realized most of the costs would be tied up in creating the information infrastructure to capture patient records. He thought it would be a huge help to all the hospitals if an open source solution was developed that they could all share and called it Hospital OS.
Since there was not much going on with software development in the tourist-driven island of Phuket, he ended up developing a Phuket Software Park to stimulate a software scene. Then he worked with the local university to support this program.
Hospital OS was not funded externally, but all he asked was to pay for the time of a developer to come on site to customize and install the system and then train key staff on how to use it. This solution was so readily adopted, that his programmers would be on constant tour around the country doing installations.
Dr. Kespechara was realistic too. He knew that most hospitals would not back up their data regularly, so he configured his system to back up each hospital in the middle of the night. But this led to a new insight: he now had data that reflected what was happening in the rural communities of Thailand. In fact, after a few years he was able to not only help hospitals staff up for outbreaks, but was actually able to predict what was coming.
Processing big data became quite a tool that extended beyond emergency needs. Over time he was able to start targeting the growing health risks for Thailand. As in other parts of the world, a key health challenge is the rising incidence of diabetes. This led D. Kespechara to a look at the Thai diet, and a key culprit jumped out: white rice.
By plotting blood sugar values, he learned that it quickly spiked after eating white rice. In searching through older forms of rice he discovered some heirloom varieties that was not only much healthier in vitamins, but it kept blood sugar levels low enough that even diabetics would not suffer.
Next thing you know Dr Kespechara is working with farmers to grow these heirloom rices. He was disturbed by the amount of steroids used in growing rice. Apparently adding steroids cuts the growing season from 90 days to 75 days, so really helps alleviate cash flow pressures for rural farmers. So he worked with farmers to rediscover old techniques in growing rice organically but then had to charge a premium price to make it worth the cash flow pressure.
The Pensook varieties of rice is loved by foodies, but it is different enough that it requires revised recipes to fit into the Thai palate. Dr Kespechara felt the only way to create demand for this new rice was to create a retail environment where chefs could demonstrate it and get people’s mouths watering.
Of course being in the retail world he now has to start thinking about costs. Apparently one of the challenges in the process is the expense of the husking machines… and so the journey continues.
As much as this seems to be a tortuous path of discovery, each of these landmarks have realized significant success. Hospital OS is a massive program with international recognition. Major health concerns are now flagged by big data. Farmers are now earning more and the Thai diet is welcoming a tastier and healthier rice.
At first it makes you wonder what’s the next project, but when you sit with Dr. Kespechara and feel his calm and warm smile, you realize that the path of discovery is the project.
Mechai Viravaidya is a compellingly progressive figure. Our introduction to his style came in form of an invitation to his restaurant, a hotspot called Cabbages and Condoms.
Mechai has been a significant force in reducing AIDS in Thailand, and he has done it with flair. By using creativity and humor, he allowed condoms to be commonly discussed and adopted into modern life. His work is quite well documented and internationally recognized with a multitude of awards, so will only reference his own links here.
What was even more curious was the serious conviction and detailed planning coming from a man surrounded by colorful artwork made from condoms. He boiled his approach down to a pretty simple but powerful insight: every NGO (nonprofit) has to get money from somewhere, and it usually requires lots of time and effort to secure sponsors to get the required funding. He thought it simpler to approach every NGO as a sister effort to a for-profit venture. So the proceeds that comes from the wildly successful Cabbages and Condoms goes straight to the NGO aimed at preventing HIV/AIDS. It may be simpler but it could be twice the headache – now he has to run a successful restaurant and run and a successful NGO. However time that would be spent fundraising and networking can be focused on the restaurant. Better yet, the more the two efforts are understood as a team, the more it resonates with the community and thus reinforce each other. Going to Cabbages and Condoms is not just fun, it’s perceived as doing some good, too.
Mechai has replicated this approach in several different ways, including his latest effort to re-imagine education in Thailand. His Mechai Pattana “Bamboo School” has garnered significant attention. Mechai once again employs a two-pronged approach to the schools. The students have to perform useful community service which vitally connects the school to the region. The school term centers around rice planting and harvesting so students can participate and learn about farming. Furthermore students have to operate businesses that will have positive social impact with the community. Finally, in their last year they are sent to Pattaya to be immersed in a much different atmosphere, with their campus being located at Mechai’s Bird & Bees Resort.
It seems there is no end to Mechai’s ability to innovate across economic sectors and across Thailand, creating connections all along the way. I think there is a lot for the rest of us to learn here – especially on how to be brave with humor.
As an accessories designer, I do frequently come across leather, but have always seen it as a commodity rather than the true form of art it can be. As a guy who tends to stay away from meat, I’m also conflicted when I realize that leather can also be viewed as a way to minimize the waste of our animal consumption. But when in Bangkok I met with Nauvarat Songsawaddichai, President of the Thailand Leather Association. She asked me about fish leather…fish leather?
Then I was asked if I had seen chicken shin leather…really? It’s also known as poulard.
But my imagination really took off when I was shown stingray leather. In fact I had to buy a wallet made out of it. The white eye shape is where the bony tail emerges from the top of the animal. It’s so tough you could sand wood with it.
Now I am determined to find out more about all of these resources and wrestle with the concepts of sustainability in harvesting and tanning the skins of these animals. Perhaps there really is a place for innovative and sustainable leather in our coming product line of shoes. Needless to say, the more I learn the less I know!
Just outside of Bangkok, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Pramote Dechaumphai, Deputy Executive Director of Thailand’s National Metal and Materials Technology Center (MTEC) along with U-sarat Bunnag, the Senior Division Director of the Thailand Science Park (TSP), both of which are under the National Science and Technology Development Agency NSTDA. These two people were able to relate some of the most interesting aspects of research & development happening on the scientific frontier of Thailand.
Thailand’s Science Park is a huge complex that includes more than sixty companies, four research institutes, three universities, one medical school and two nearby universities. The facility supports 2500 full-time researchers, of which around 1000 are Ph.D. scientists. This facility is really ground-zero for Thailand’s R&D efforts. When you hear the deal they offer, it quickly becomes apparent why.
If you join the TSP, you enjoy the following incredible benefits from the Thailand Board of Investment:
• Import tax exemption for machinery
• Corporate income tax exemption for 8 Years
• 50% Corp. income tax reduction for 5 more years after tax exemption period ends (a total of 13 years of tax breaks)
• Work permit and visa facilitation for foreign specialists and researchers
The Thailand Revenue Department further sweetens the deal by offering:
• Accelerated depreciation rate for R&D machinery and equipment
• 200% tax deduction for R&D expense
The 320,000 sqft facility is modern, well-outfitted and includes:
• Wet Laboratories
• Dry Laboratories
• Pilot Plant
• Retailing Area for projects
• Land for special-build premises
• Seminar rooms
• Auditorium with 380 seats
• Outdoor meeting spaces
• Food courts, restaurants and retail shopping
One of the aspects I really enjoyed was an R&D Gallery which showed off successfully commercialized projects. One of the examples was how sludge from water treatment is now pelletized and turned into filler aggregate for construction concrete which reduces costs and eliminates a significant waste product.
In fact as you walk into the facility you are greeted with a touchscreen presentation that not only gives the visitor a view of what is there, but actually promotes the local network, knowledge and capital resources available.
I was also interested in a project that Dr. Dechaumphai had spearheaded for the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) market. His group identified a transportation need for small trucks in rural Thailand. Beyond this need, they focused on being able to make the truck with local resources and to run on local fuel. The result is a small biodiesel truck that works for passengers or freight. It features:
• being able to run on locally-produced palm oil biodiesel
• chassis, steering, braking, suspension and powertrain all made in Thailand
• only the engine is imported due to significant missing infrastructure
Certainly the Computer Hard Drive industry in Thailand dominates the global scene. In fact, a recent flood in Thailand affected worldwide computer supply. What was shocking was that when I asked how the rest of R&D was going in Thailand, I was given a mediocre response. Despite all of this financial support and intra-agency efforts, they are not yet happy with the state of R&D in Thailand and think it has a long way to go. But if I look at the incentives and structure of their offering, I don’t think this situation will last very long.
In fact U-sarat’s marketing background is a great asset for the TSP, not only to fill it with great tenants and talent, but then to assist colleagues in rolling our multiple versions of the TSP all over Thailand. That’s when I realized, this was not a cool concept, but a massive federal commitment.
Lessons from the visit:
1. It has become increasingly apparent that R&D has been identified as a key sector for many developing economies.
2. R&D is part of the global marketplace, and world-class facilities with tantalizing incentives are becoming the ante to play.
3. However facilities and incentives are not enough. As we’ve learned at home, the key to success is developing a vibrant community, and this gets into thinking about the bigger ecosystem of complementary factors surrounding R&D, and why workers prefer to work at one place versus another. Frequently this gets into cultural influences like the arts, independent business and inclusivity.
4. Too often, our R&D efforts in the USA are so locked up in proprietary secrecy, that we fail to share our achievements with the greater community. NSP’s exhibits and information sharing was an inspiration on connecting R&D to the community.
5. I was inspired by MTEC’s desire to connect community needs to community resources with a special focus on SME development. This was a dominant theme expressed in Thailand, and consistently neglected in the USA.
6. And from U-sarat: try the mango with sticky rice!
Special thanks to Dr. Chadamas Thuvasethakul, Executive Vice President of NSTDA, for arranging this visit – and for ultimately helping me take U-sarat’s advice!
With fantastic experiences already accumulated in Indonesia and Singapore, going to Thailand was like having a third dessert. And maybe a 7-layer cake at that. Beth and I were given a 5 star reception, with an attendant ready for us as we exited the plane, and the kind and diligent Sopida Weraklultawan waiting for us in the hotel with a full packet of printouts, maps, detailed schedule and even a SIM card for my travel phone.
All of this was the result of the concerted efforts of the Thai Eisenhower Fellows. In particular Supinya Klangnarong, Dr. Chadamas Thuvasethakul, and Dr. Somkiat Tangkitvanich dedicated time and effort to introduce us to a diverse yet highly targeted group of thinkers and Ieaders.
And then there’s the food. Lovers of Americanized versions of Thai cooking, Beth and I were in absolute heaven. Food was everywhere, frying on the street, cooking in the mega malls and in wonderful restaurants. Only in Italy have I felt food to be so integral to culture… and so good!
Although details of my visits will follow on this blog, I’m happy to report that overall this pioneering effort by the Thai EF group created a stunning program and I think future fellows will really benefit by coming to this proactive and talented country.
Sometimes its the unexpected events that reveal the most about a system.
Beth has been a stellar traveling partner, especially considering the hectic schedule and many early morning flights. Unfortunately this caught up with her in Singapore. Since Eisenhower Fellowships provided us with travel insurance, we were able to get some quick instructions.
We left our hotel at 9:20 am and took a 10 minute ride to Raffles Hospital. We went through the marble lobby and upstairs to the glassed-in executive services room which had 20 or so people waiting comfortably in chairs. One of the attendants knew us by name and was expecting us.
A few minutes later, Beth was seen by a doctor. She emerged shortly thereafter and was escorted by the doctor to the pharmaceutical desk and had her prescription fulfilled. Total cash charges for the diagnosis of the sinus infection and 3 sets of meds was SG$125 (US$100). We jumped back in the cab and were back in our room by 10:20 am!
I can’t imagine how many well-designed systems were put in place to make this happen – from great transportation, to scheduling doctors properly, to stocking pharmaceuticals and training incredibly friendly and efficient staff. The whole process was actually PLEASANT. It was stunning and something for which the rest of us should all aspire.
Best of all, Beth recovered quickly and was able to enjoy our following trip to Thailand!
I asked about the mechanics of running something of this scale. Typically the ventures are floated on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to raise the starting capital. The local players get involved and normally take a majority ownership share with Singapore’s companies retaining a minority share. Then key tenants are recruited if not already targeted. In terms of operations, Singapore’s companies populates the majority of the decision making team. He says that normally the vast majority of the labor force is from the host country.
In many places they go, others were not able to invest. Corruption was many times the biggest barrier. As a condition of Singapore’s companies involvement, he insists that their projects be free and clear of these issues. I know there was much more to this then he led on. Of course I had to ask Phillip when he was going to do a project in North Carolina. He quickly responded, “Actually the USA is a good place to start manufacturing right now but we won’t invest there because when we do, the lawyers will come.” Without capped settlements for worker safety claims, Phillip says the risk is just too high.
Given the prowess Phillip demonstrated on our discussion of American politics, I realized I was not prepared to argue the point. However I was inspired to see how big ideas can transform a small country. Efforts like SPRING and Design Singapore show how the perceived weakness of the nation’s small size has been turned around into the strengths of being nimble and focused, thereby enabling Singapore to become a global design and innovation leader. Lots to learn here!
The Eisenhower Network has proven itself again and again. Earlier this year I met 2012 EIsenhower Fellow Mean Luck Kwek, an incredibly smart and gracious leader in Singapore. He is currently the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. When he heard I was coming he promptly put me in touch with a host of interesting Singaporeans, including Jeffrey Ho Kiat, Executive Director of Design Singapore.
Jeffrey was energetic, forthcoming and gave Beth and I a great introduction to Singapore’s efforts supporting design:
1. Design Capability Development: Developing capability for a globally competitive design cluster
2. Design for Competitiveness: Enabling enterprises to leverage good design for economic growth, quality of life, and the environment
3. Design Innovation: Driving innovation and design IP creation to stay ahead of the curve
4. National Design Centre: Offering a one-stop integrated design hub for designers and businesses.
He also made me realize that the grass is always greener in design. While he mentioned Singapore being a bit behind other countries on certain design initiatives, I couldn’t help but admire the singular power of focus that his office at Design Singapore held and what they could achieve so quickly once empowered.
Jeffrey mentioned that design in Singapore represents a SGD 3.6 billion (US$2.9 bn) industry and that their goal is to grow it to 6+ bn (US$4.8 bn) in the next few years. Here is why this blew me away:
1. The government of Singapore actually tracks the economic impact of design (see detailed comment below).
2. Jeffrey says its “very easy” to get these numbers and track progress.
3. Design Singapore is a governmental institution charged with encouraging local creative talent to prosper.
4. Design Singapore is under MICA, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.
5. Fine Art is under a completely different ministry.
Here are some of the initiatives Design Singapore has underway:
1. $70k grant to help fund local design consultancies through the Design for Business Innovation Grant.
2. They help match clients to design firms, and sometimes share costs.
3. Up to 400% tax rebate for those that hire design consultants from the Productivity & Innovation Credit for Design. That’s not a typo. If you invest $1 in local design you are eligible for $4 off of your taxes.
4. Singaporean designers are promoted through an Overseas Promotion Partnership Programme.
5. They also offer scholarships relating to design.
6. Recognizing Singaporean design excellence through the President’s Design Award.
The most interesting goal to me was Jeffrey’s vision to convert their OEM factories (Original Equipment Manufacturers for other brands) into ODM factories (Original Design Manufacturer for their own brands). This is certainly not the easiest way to go. There is a lot more consistent work out there for contract factories than for dedicated brands, but Design Singapore sees this as a strategic opportunity to grow the importance of design in Singapaore. In fact this is part of an overall mission to create OSM (Original Strategic Manufacturers that can usher in the future wave of Singapore’s business.
With the door open to talking about new design and manufacturing initiatives, I shared with Jeffrey our new on-demand manufacturing effort called LYF Shoes. He immediately understood the concept, how it would affect manufacturing, and was quitre supportive. He then passed on some great people to talk with about our intentions. Then he turned to me and asked “how do you learn to think like you?” That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer! But it made me realize that during this fellowship that in good conversations, there is a constant exchange where both parties can learn from each other.
Overall I was really impressed that Singapore has in place a design vision with real teeth and a strategic thinker at the helm. I look forward to see their success unfold.