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Honoring tradition and transformation in Thailand

Members of the Indiana University delegation fittingly began their first full day of business in Bangkok this morning by helping to celebrate the successful legacy of one of IU’s oldest and most valued international partners.

Since its founding 50 years ago, in which IU played a central role, the National Institute of Development Administration has risen to become one of Thailand’s leading educational institutions, one that has trained thousands of Thai citizens for service across the country and around the world. Indeed, through the contributions it has made to the personal and academic growth of its students, NIDA, which concentrates exclusively on graduate studies in fields related to national development, has had a transformative impact on the economic, cultural and social fabric of one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant and dynamic nations.

IU President Michael McRobbie, center, delivered one of the keynote addresses at the 50th anniversary celebration of Thailand's National Institute of Development Administration.

IU President Michael McRobbie, center, delivered a keynote address at the 50th anniversary celebration of Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration.

At this morning’s 50th anniversary celebration of NIDA, “NIDA’s Legacy: A 5-Decade Focus on Sustainable Development,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie proudly shared the stage with several eminent Thai statesmen, including General Prem Tinsulanonda, former Thai prime minister and current president of the King’s Privy Council; NIDA President Pradit Wanarat; Somkid Jatusripithak, deputy prime minister for Thai economic matters; Thai Deputy Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin; and Thanong Bidaya, former Thai finance minister.

McRobbie also delivered the first keynote address of the event, using the historic occasion to congratulate NIDA on its successes, highlight IU’s close academic and research connections with Thailand, which span more than six decades, and describe IU’s and NIDA’s lengthy and shared commitment to global service.

Speaking to an audience of around 1,200 higher education, government, business and other leaders, McRobbie said that both IU and NIDA “aspire to contribute in meaningful ways to some of the most pressing problems facing our nations and the world. We both realize that these problems do not end at a nation’s borders and that solutions to them can be universal.

“University research and creative activities help to foster a culture of innovation,” he continued. “Graduates who have received their education in a research-rich environment help bring new enterprises and new ideas into existing businesses and institutions.”

A model partnership

As McRobbie spoke, it was easy to marvel at the model long-term partnership that IU has fostered with NIDA, one which grew from the extraordinarily prescient vision of IU’s legendary 11th president Herman B Wells. That partnership has been nurtured and developed over the past five decades through the efforts of numerous university administrators and scholars.

In the 1950s, with Thailand in the beginning stages of major economic and social transformation, the country began turning its attention to the quality of its teacher-training institutions. Around that same time, the U.S. government began increasing its involvement in meeting the development needs of Southeast Asia.

Several years earlier, in 1948, Wells had met on the IU Bloomington campus with Thailand’s Permanent Undersecretary for Education Pin Malakul, a scholar and educator who would oversee the drafting of the country’s first national education plan. Malakul was visiting two Thai students who were pursuing advanced degrees in IU’s School of Education.

In 1955, IU signed a contract sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development to establish the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University in Bangkok, which would seek to strengthen the university’s academic program in public administration, develop training programs for government officials and provide training in the U.S. for Thai students.

IU President McRobbie with NIDA President Pradit Wanarat, right, and NIDA Council President Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya.

President McRobbie with NIDA President Pradit Wanarat, right, and NIDA Council President Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya.

A little more than a decade after helping to establish the institute at Thammasat University, IU, as a founding member of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, led the consortium’s efforts to establish NIDA, which, today, boasts an alumni roster containing thousands of diplomats and also a prime minister.

Through IU’s continuing close institutional relationship with NIDA, many Thai citizens have traveled to Bloomington and Indianapolis to study a wide range of subjects in preparation for influential positions in Thailand’s public and private sectors. Additionally, the partnership has led IU to award three former NIDA presidents with honorary degrees, and NIDA to present honorary degrees to former IU president John Ryan, who conducted his doctoral research in Bangkok in the mid-1950s, emeritus vice president Patrick O’Meara and executive vice chancellor Bill Plater.

More broadly speaking, IU’s partnership with NIDA also reflects, as McRobbie reported in his keynote address, the university’s dedication to international engagement that effectively addresses the most important issues of our time, while also producing graduates who have the global awareness and experience needed to succeed in today’s modern, interconnected world.

That dedication is driving a series of new initiatives at IU, including one that promises to be a major discussion point during the IU delegation’s week here in Thailand: building the university’s research and teaching capacity in Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies. This initiative includes the development of a Center of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies, located in IU’s School of Global and International Studies, that aims to be a singular program of its kind in North America; the establishment of an endowed Bicentennial Chair of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies; and new degree offerings in Thai, Indonesian and other regional languages. What’s more, IU hopes to open the fourth of its global gateway offices somewhere in Southeast Asia later this year. Those offices, spearheaded by the Office of IU Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret, have quickly become a vital part of the university’s international engagement strategy.

Today, however, the main topic of conversation centered on IU’s productive partnership with NIDA, a blueprint of sorts for other globally minded institutions. The collaboration shows no signs of slowing down, as NIDA enters its second 50 years and IU approaches its bicentennial, which will take place in 2020.

Said McRobbie, “The long-term partnership between Indiana University and NIDA can serve as a model of international cooperation, understanding and service for institutions around the world to emulate.”

Fueling innovation and entrepreneurial spirit

During his keynote speech, McRobbie described how universities can contribute, “in profound ways” to their communities and their countries by educating young people so they can find good jobs and fostering a culture of innovation.

“Graduates who have received their education in a research-rich environment help bring new enterprises and new ideas into existing businesses and institutions,” he said.

IU alumnus Pravesvudhi Raiva, executive chairman of the hugely successful Bangkok-based S&P Syndicate restaurant chain, would jokingly admit he’s no longer “young,” but the 64-year-old clearly embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that universities so often inspire.

IU President McRobbie shares a laugh with alumnus Pravesvudhi Raiva, president and CEO of S&P Syndicate restaurant chain.

President McRobbie shares a laugh with IU alumnus Pravesvudhi Raiva, executive chairman of the S&P Syndicate restaurant chain.

Immediately after graduating from IU more than 40 years ago, he returned to work for his family company — an ice cream parlor started by his two sisters. Since then, he has worked to grow the business into world’s largest group of full-service Thai restaurants, with 466 restaurants and bakeries around the world, including 184 in the greater Bangkok area, and around 7,000 employees.

Though he majored in political science at IU in preparation for a possible career as a diplomat, Raiva pursued other passions, including the arts, which fueled his early foray into marketing the family business and have helped him creatively take advantage of local and regional industry trends, such as a recent coffee shop boom in Thailand.

In a meeting this afternoon with President McRobbie and other members of the IU delegation, Raiva talked humbly and plainly about the remarkable success of his company, his strong belief in corporate social responsibility and his plans for the company’s future. Those plans include continuing the growth of a vocational training program to address a need for skilled workers in Thailand and launching a culinary school focused on developing chefs to master Thai cooking and meet international cooking standards.

As IU Kelley School of Business Dean Idie Kesner astutely noted, Raiva’s corporate success story would make for a terrific case study for IU students seeking to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing businesses operating in vastly different parts of the world.

For his part, Raiva seemed keen on the notion that his story might one day serve as an educational tool, and he said he hoped to one day make it back to IU, despite the rigors of the day-long travel between Bangkok and Bloomington. (He hasn’t returned since graduating and when a young basketball coach with the last name Knight was just starting out.) He also said that, increasingly, he looked to the next generation, which includes his daughter, who recently studied fine arts at a college in London, to bring the same enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit to his business that he delivered after returning to Thailand with his IU degree.

While it might have been hard for members of the IU delegation to accept that Raiva might not return to his old campus stomping grounds anytime soon, there was no denying today the global power of productive long-term educational partnerships, such as that between IU and NIDA, and the transformative impact that our university continues to have here in Thailand and all across this major region of the world.

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