Over the summer, Joe Hallgarten, the Interim Director of RSA Global, wrote of the RSA’s ambition to support the creation of a family of new RSA Affiliate organisations over the next five years. Since then, I’ve been working with Joe and RSA Connectors Susannah Tantemsapya and Chris Oestereich to explore an exciting opportunity for the RSA to form a partnership with Creative Migration and build a new cultural and civic hub in Thailand.
Thailand is facing a crucial few years in its development. The country’s political landscape has long been dominated by the shifting power relationships between its political parties, the monarchy, and the military. Since transitioning from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the country has withstood a total of 12 military coups. Thailand’s latest military government, in power since 2014, has promised democratic elections by 2018.
Thailand’s circumstances are far from unique. Across the world, from Hungary to Haiti, Taiwan to Kenya, democratic gains and expected dividends from economic growth appear far more fragile than anticipated. Whilst many have acknowledged that Thailand has fallen into the notorious ‘middle-income trap’, it may also be the case that the country is slipping into a ‘fragile democracy trap’, in which forward-thinking institutions are neglected in favour of efforts to keep the economy moving.
As argued by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, the Thai economy is now suffering from a lack of political stability and authority, which are sorely needed to implement important reforms. Similarly, important modernisation of the Thai education system – in a state of emergency, according to Thai media – has also been deprioritised amid the political turbulence. It is vital that the political capital necessary to help Thailand move forward is drawn from a strong civil society.
The recent sad passing of the widely adored King Bhumibol Adulyadej – a welcome figure of stability for seven decades – now brings a year of mourning to Thailand. Looking to the future, the country often described as a development success story will find itself with a new opportunity to once again reinvigorate not only its economy, but its wider society too. If this is to be achieved and the above challenges overcome, progress must be broad-based and help should come from all corners.
The RSA’s potential role
The RSA believes that in order to develop a civil society capable of meeting the emerging challenges and opportunities across the globe, the cultivation of individual and collective creativity is crucial. Whilst single-issue organisations and campaigns will continue to be crucial drivers of change, new institutional forms will also be needed – more flexible in terms of goals, areas of focus and mix of methods to achieve change. An institution adept in a variety of approaches, with the capacity to work across a wide range of issues is best placed to navigate the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the ‘wicked problems’ that exist in all 21st century societies.
Last week, Joe introduced the concept of ‘social power’, which builds on that of ‘soft power’ by describing the ability to boost the amount of individual and collective agency in another part of the world. Given our ‘triple play’ approach – combining research and innovation, events and on-line content, and innovative forms of Fellowship engagement – perhaps the RSA could act as a potential resource for social power, not just in Thailand, but across the globe.
RSA-Creative Migration Thailand
Creative Migration is an international arts organisation led by RSA Connector Susannah Tantemsapya. Her extensive network in Thailand, ranging from art and business to government and the monarchy, means Creative Migration is deeply embedded in the local context through its connections with a whole host of Thai arts organisations, such as MAIIM Contemporary Art Museum, Jim Thompson Art Center, and The Land Foundation. Creative Migration is able to use artistic and innovative means to ensure important cultural, economic and political debates continue to flow.
An RSA-Creative Migration partnership in Thailand would be a multidisciplinary cultural and civic hub, operating out of the former home of Chaophraya Thammasakmontri, considered the ‘Father of Education’ in Thailand. Thanks to the generosity of the building’s current owner, Dr. Sivavuch Devahastin na Ayudhya, we will be able to use the building free of charge. Such a set up would connect the RSA to its coffee house roots, providing a space that would act as a focal point for social engagement, critical dialogue, and community action. An RSA presence alongside Creative Migration in Thailand, with an expanding group of committed local-based Fellows, would work with local citizens and organisations, building creative capacity to strengthen society and move towards broad progress.
What we’ve been doing
Over the last few months, RSA Connector for Thailand Chris Oestereich has been starting conversations with a number of Thai- and regional-based organisations, and Susannah has been working hard on all the hub’s logistics, whilst growing Creative Migration’s capacity. We’ve been developing funding proposals to support a one year pilot project of activities in the new building in Bangkok in 2017/18, including public and Fellow-led events, design thinking summits on key issues, and artists in residency. We’ll have a full feasibility study completed by the end of the year, which will explore all operational and ethical issues, and should be able to update Fellows of progress early in 2017.
How can you help?
We’d love to hear from anyone who believes they can help turn our idea into action. If you have any ideas for potential partners and funders, in and beyond the ASEAN Region, or if you have any thoughts on how RSA can best develop a global family of affiliates, please get in touch.
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