All MIA and MPA students at SIPA complete thirty weeks of professional development during their two year program. Fifteen weeks is comprised of an internship and fifteen weeks is comprised of a group project referred to as a workshop or capstone project. SIPA offers no summer classes and this allows our students the opportunity to complete their full time internship anywhere in the world.
There are several SIPA students working in the Admissions Office this year and I have asked each one of them to write about their summer internship experience. This first entry was written by Sawako Sonoyama, an MIA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development. Look for more entries on this topic in the near future.
My summer internship was with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation (MFLF) in Northern Thailand. The MFLF was established under the patronage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother who wished to promote development programs that focused on economic and social growth.
There are numerous development projects in Thailand, the Union of Myanmar, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Republic of Indonesia, and I was stationed in the Doi Tung project area, near Chiang Rai. The Doi Tung Development Project is on its 23rd year of a 30-year development plan. The Foundation’s final goal is to transfer the ownership of the project to the local people.
My internship’s objective was to analyze the transfer of ownership of the business units and its management and leadership from the organization to the local people. With a team of four graduate students and two Thai undergraduate students, we examined the current structure of the business, organizational structure, and local government in all their dimensions through first hand interviews with relevant stakeholders. The team also conducted research on existing models and examples of organizational transfer from throughout the world.
Drawing from these models, we assessed and proposed appropriate institutional, financial, managerial framework and organizational structures to transfer any or all the social enterprises. We also examined what kind of capacity building is needed to develop local leadership which will enable them to take over the activities based on the proposed plan.
Finally, we raised some key overarching issues for the transfer plan and emphasized the importance of institutionalizing the MFLF philosophy to the Doi Tung area. Of all of the various knowledge I gained from MFLF, the most interesting was learning about this MFLF philosophy. The MFLF philosophy and development approach are based on the values of His Royal Highness King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his mother, the Princess Mother.
The King believed that the people and nature must co-exist in harmony and each step in development should be holistic, integrated, and people-centric. Understanding that the root problem of the region was poverty and lack of opportunity, they worked on providing the basic needs of health, livelihood, and education. The King inherently understood that development takes a long time, and proposed a thirty-year plan. A development project that lasts thirty years is unheard of in U.S. agencies. Because the project has a thirty year time line, the Foundation is very patient and slowly builds relationship with the aid recipient.
Following its people-centric philosophy, the Foundation’s every step starts from learning from the people to understand their lifestyle. They hold large meetings, small focus groups, and individual chats to gradually win the trust and support from the local people. Even the Executive Director will personally go knocking on people’s doors to get to know them. Their approach is extremely humble. The MFLF hopes to spread these philosophies to development practices in the West.
As an American intern in this Foundation, I believe that one of my duties is to help with that dissemination. I hope to carry on many of the foundation’s values: to become a humble development practitioner that can learn from and truly understand the lives and needs of the local people.