• Published Date: 15/12/2022
  • by: UNDP

Ocean Heroes: keep marine debris out of the ocean with the power of youth and local wisdom from Narathiwat

‘Narathiwat’ is known for the richness of natural resources, notably those from aquatic areas. Although artisanal fishing is the cornerstone of local traditions there, the province has been plagued with frequent volatile weather and marine debris. Plastics are scattered everywhere, from the littered shore to swirling waves, and they force Narathiwat folks to look for a new way of living.


For more than 5 years, Youth Co:Lab, supported by UNDP Thailand, has opened up the space for newcomers across the country to visit Bangkok and innovate in a way that responds to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together.  To keep up with the constantly evolving world amidst the pandemic, Youth Co:Lab has previously introduced new measures in convening and nurturing youth: online forum and social entrepreneurship training. These recent changes help sustain the project in the long run, so that more and more younger generations continue to take part in this pursuit of social transformation. 


This year, UNDP Thailand decided to take a new initiative – going all the way to the local communities and working out solutions for existing problems along with Thailand Knowledge Park (TK Park), Youth Co:Lab’s major partner who also believed in the power of youth.


Litter has been with us for the longest time, now when will it be gone? 

Although Ocean Heroes is not a never-seen-before project, it was the first time Narathiwat Knowledge Park hosted such a training camp. It all began with plastic litters caught in fishing gears of artisanal fishers near a gulf. Combined with fishing debris such as used drift nets, those litters were major pollutants that exacerbated environmental degradation. Thus, the UNDP-Narathiwat Knowledge Park collaboration through the 2022 Youth Co:Lab was intended to fix this issue with innovation on the grounds. From February of this year onwards, staff from UNDP Thailand visited the project site, engaged in various conversations and trust-building activities with local stakeholders. In June, staff from Narathiwat Knowledge Park also joined the “Train the Trainers” project to learn more about the SDGs and facilitator’s skills. 


More than 100 participants from 19 teams applied for the Ocean Heroes project, which was hosted back in October. Due to the limited capacity of staff, only 5 teams, or 25 participants, were selected. However, the overwhelming numbers of applications received showed that this project was able to reach the target group and arouse their interest in participatory activism. The majority of the participants were pursuing secondary education, and the main age range of the participants was 16-21. Narathiwat Knowledge Park organized a learning activity called “First Meet,” introducing the basics of the SDGs and marine pollution and waste management. Given by staff from Prince of Songkla University and entrepreneurs who specialized in recycled products, the lecture showed possibilities of change to youth. The First Meet event then quickly morphed into interviews with local stakeholders. In this part, participants identified connections between each interviewee and different angles of the issue that interested them. After categorizing problems according to the SDGs, they were tasked to answer the following questions: what would be the ideal solution? Who would benefit from it, and whose support and collaboration was necessary for its future success?


All of the aforementioned processes were rooted in a human-centered approach and designed to prepare the participants for online pitching. The judging panel was joined by UNDP staff; instructors from the Faculty of Science, Prince of Songkla University; and officials from Narathiwat Provincial Education Office. After carefully assessing the depths of each project, they would select 5 finalists, or 25 participants. 


Although some left with disappointment, their understanding of marine debris also followed them to the next stage of their life. They are now equipped with a thinking system that allows innovation to prosper in their own hands. 



All solutions start with local wisdom 

No one should be left behind, and innovation sprung from traditional knowledge deserves to be recognized as valuable community creation. After the first round, 5 selected teams joined the Ocean Heroes training camp. Human-centered design was employed as the main framework of learning. Before embarking on the innovative journey, they must first master the skill of empathizing. To accomplish this goal, staff from Narathiwat Knowledge Park took the participants on a daily trip to see artisanal fishers, so that they could take in the stakeholders’ insights on marine debris and learn from a different set of lived experiences.  They talked with each household, collected data, and made sense out of it.  To identify core issues, problem tree analysis was a chosen method for this part. This was the hardest of all steps as the participants had to develop a solid overview of the issue before prioritizing their goals. 


In the following days, facilitators helped them ideate solutions. The participants visited different communities to learn more about local wisdom in Narathiwat. Local innovation offered relatability and inspiration for younger generations to develop it into something of their own. During these trips, 5 finalists learned more about bulrush mats of Baan Ton village, batik fabrics of Bacho District, and  the making of zebra dove cages. 


At this point, the participants began to change their thinking system. To them, solutions were diversifiable, and possibilities seemed to never run dry. From being stricken with hesitance, fear of judgment, and unconstructive comfort found in the same, old idea, they discovered joy in problem-solving and making the concrete prototypes of their once abstract solutions. Their creations would be used in the final round.  


The selected winner was the team that came up with ‘camping chairs made of discarded fishing nets.’ They transformed used fishing gears into functional and modern products. “Net-woven handbags,” inspired by local bulrush mats, won the runner-up prize. Plastic litters from the ocean were transformed into these artisanal products, practically reducing marine debris. The third prize winner was “marine garbage screeners,” based on scientific knowledge accrued from facilitators. This innovation was a refreshing alternative to recycled products that also helped with debris reduction.


In just 3 days and 2 nights, the youth of Narathiwat were able to exercise their creativity in an impressively systematic way. And their ideas would not simply stay idealistic; the project continued to run even after the competition ended, so that the participants could develop their prototypes into thriving social enterprises and receive funding for product testing.


The Ocean Heroes project, in collaboration with UNDP Thailand and Narathiwat Knowledge Park, was the stepping stone towards sustainable innovation. This is not a task that can be taken lightly, so are public relations and marketing, a necessary addition to Narathiwat youth’s repertoire of skills.


By participating in this project as the citizens of Narathiwat, the participants were driven to make positive changes that corresponded to their experiences, leaving a long-lasting impact on quality of life and local livability. Now they know that minor lives are capable of pushing for major transformation anytime. That changes arise from the common ground forged on different views. That innovation is not just a big word, but an act of humbly listening to the concerns of local people, with their interest in mind.

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  • Published Date: 06/12/2022
  • by: UNDP

Clean Air Heroes: when youth and adults from Mae Hong Son join hands in smog reduction 


For a group of young people from Mae Sariang, a ride to Mae Hong Son Knowledge Park stretched into 3 hours. They came as participants in the project competition called “Clear Air Heroes 2022.” Just like other contestants who had to travel over a long distance to be there, they only knew that this competition was different. This was a chance for them to present the fruit of their self-made, innovative labor to UNDP and the Knowledge Park.


Annual smog is a major issue that poses threats to everyone across the gender-age spectrum, notwithstanding their social status. The arrival of winter means that it is time to go back to wearing masks, not to protect oneself against the pandemic, but to filter out airborne particles. During that time, the sky would be engulfed in air pollution to the point that even passenger planes are forbidden to fly. With this situation in mind, how can groups of 5 youthful participants make a long-lasting change? And which tools will help them grasp the ways of inclusive development?


If you recognize what is happening to your community, you already understand the SDGS. 


Let’s begin with a story from Khun Aim-orn “Aim” Limwattana, a Mae Hong Son Knowledge Park officer and organizer of the 2022 Clear Air Heroes competition. After 10 teams passed the preliminary rounds, they were asked to learn about the relevance of the 17 SDGs from experts sponsored by UNDP. This process proved to be a challenge, as the staff had to make sure that all the 50 participants were on the same page. Still, it was the beginning of a beautiful change. Annual smog brought in younger generations  to discuss and present a set of solutions to their daily peril. If they could make it go away with a sustainable approach, the quality of life of everyone in Mae Hong Son would be improved in a blink of an eye. 


“Of all Northern Thailand, Mae Hong Son is the site of the worst recorded level of air pollution. This is because forests account for more than 85% of its topography, with a majority of them being deciduous dipterocarp forests. In other words, these are a natural, major source for fire hazards. Most forest areas in Mae Hong Son are  currently  occupied by various ethnic communities, who sustain their lives with natural resources, but 84% of the areas are also declared state-owned. Previous measures from the government did nothing to the annual smog because they failed to consider the local context and ways of living.


After the participants discovered the SDGs, their second day at the competition unfolded with brainstorming and solution design. Khun Aim reveals that it was refreshing to take part in a project competition such as this. Every participant displayed a strong level of commitment and a creative mindset that shaped their innovation along with their lived experiences. This proves that a thorough understanding of the SDGs is not a necessity. As long as people wish to transform their communities for the better, sustainable innovation will eventually take shape. The participants’ experiments with solution design had turned into their lessons for sustainable development. Khun Aim notices that the project competition provides just the right amount of pressure. The participants clearly understood that this was a major breakthrough for them. They could present their work to international and other relevant organizations, from whom they could seek consultations in the final round. In this way, the collaboration between TK Park, who provided space and contextual understanding of the issues, and UNDP, a supporter of innovative thinking tools, materialized into a reality.



Innovation for all


Once again, 5 selected teams had to spend hours on the road before reaching the urban area, where the final round of the project competition was held. 


Khun Aim explained that the exciting part of this event was that key actors from the public and private sectors agreed to attend the presentation sessions as stakeholders and fellow solution designers. This gesture of support made the participants feel heard. All 5 remaining teams had prepared and presented their projection proposal with confidence, illustrating the intersectional nature of environmental issues and required solutions (e.g. relocation of waste burning area for maximum smog reduction, smog detection system to raise awareness for the local communities, and recycling projects).


The interesting bit of this project competition, as pointed out by Khun Aim, was that the participants truly paid attention to their competitors. They all came from different schools, different communities, and different backgrounds. Some were only 15, while others were already studying at the vocational college. A diversity of ideas and expertise among youth from Mae Hong Son in turn created a bridge to further learning and the future.


“KWIT,” a team from Khunyuam Witthaya School, won the first prize. Their project revolved around the usage of a microcontroller with a dust and particle detector. The team came up with a well-structured presentation that laid down all the details in product creation, from PBC soldering, coding, to real-life application. The machine used sensors for dust and particle detection. All the results would be viewable on the screen and the dedicated application. 


In the meantime, “Keep Together,” a team from Mae Sariang Unit of Mae Hong Son Community College, was awarded with the second prize. The innovation proudly presented by them was a waste-to-energy machine, using thermoelectric coolers to generate electricity for small appliances such as smartphones or LEDs. The reason for this sustainable invention was electricity shortage during summer. The other teams provided their solutions in forms of an air purifier made of recycled materials, a smoke-free waste incinerator, and coasters produced from waste straws. 


Khun Aim adds that every presentation revealed a promising potential behind each participant. What they lacked was experience and foresight in project implementation. This could be seen during the Q&A sessions, when the juries asked them about the cost of production, product testing, and insights into social enterprise. For youth, this project competition was a laboratory of learning and preparation for future project pitching. 



Opportunities carry more weight than shiny prizes


After the presentation sessions, various organizations expressed genuine interest in project development. Khun Aim said that a company called We Eco would like to support the  dust and particle detector, as the company was working on the same innovation. The Bureau of the Royal Household, another key actor in smog reduction, also attended the final round. For Mae Hong Son municipality, the waste-to-energy machine attracted their attention with its possibility of being distributed to remote, off-grid areas. Furthermore, it could reduce the need for waste incineration, effectively mitigating the air pollution. 


As of now, all the projects are in development. The participants are now currently resuming their roles as students. However, this is the starting point for success that outlasts the competition itself. This is where conversations flow across status and different living conditions.


As a Knowledge Park officer who  worked closely with youth, Khun Aim tells us, with a spark of enthusiasm in her eyes, that the local communities greatly benefit from  learning tools from UNDP. Although her area of interest is generally occupied with ICT, the SDGs are applicable to any project, ensuring local sustainability and boundless flexibility of  learning and brainstorming among youth.


The Clean Air Heroes project shows us that the new blood of Mae Hong Son is imbued with so much potential. With sufficient resources, support systems, and learning space, innovation will always blossom at the local level. 


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  • Published Date:
  • by: UNDP

When young people step up to transform their hometown: on creative space that leaves no one behind


In each passing era, social changes and social issues were diversely defined. Equality, once a hallmark of 19th-century progress, is now enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This pushes for a development process that honors both success and failure. A step forward never means leaving anyone behind. Whether the end of our journey will embrace every life or not, that depends on the way the development process brings us along.


At the moment, the SDGs might not be a big news to us. For the past 10 years, the media and many organizations have already discussed them. We no longer need to cite the goals in full, as all the issues tackled have well entered into the public consciousness. The next step that we must take is to grapple with the following questions: how can we uncover the nexus between social issues, and how do we transform the needs of minor lives into the development process that begets both structural changes and genuine sustainability?


‘Us,’ the change-makers


Like characters in a film, ‘we,’ too, have different things to carry out. Different roles to play, for example. Different responsibilities to shoulder. Different purposes of existence in a play of this world. Different scenes to enact. Despite a lengthy list of dissimilarity between our lives-roles,  all of our contributions will always carry into the denouement. If we think of changes as the consequences of protagonists’ actions, then who should step in to take up these leading roles, then?


If we believe that young people are future citizens, blessed with vitality and scintillating creativity, then we can dedicate a learning space for them to experiment and share knowledge with one another. This can drive the young to see, and chase after, the horizon of possibilities and changes that lie beyond, no matter how long social disruptions and crises go on.  Yes, certain issues might put too much weight on them, but the roles of change-makers belong to the young alone.


Connecting the dots between each role, piecing together the stories of individuals – these are but the overture to our common goal:  changes that pave the way forward and help young people in exercising their full potential. As a core element of these, a learning setting expands the boundaries of young people’s capacity to guide the tides of change with hope.


In this article, we invite you to join a conversation with UNDP Thailand and TK Park, two driving forces behind the birth of various learning spaces across the years, and explore their perspective on, as well as projects about, changes in the making.



When collaboration morphs into a succession of fast-paced and sustainable changes


It has been 5 years since Youth:CoLab Thailand, led by UNDP Thailand, first started out as a platform that drew potential of change from young people. Not only those youthful sparks of social transformation orient the society towards the 17 SDGs, they also touch on problems at the local level.


As Youth Engagement and Social Innovation Officer from UNDP Thailand, Khun Nitchakan “Kadae” Daramatat condenses the lessons learned along the way into a summary of all the happenings: discrepancies between metropolitan youth’s capacity and those of other provinces are palpable. So far young participants from vulnerable communities display a profound understanding of their own problems. This is partly attributed to their lived experiences. However, when compared to young people from the metropolitan region, it is evident that they lack communication strategy and tools. It is also revealed that cross-sector collaboration is the main catalyst for sustainable change.


“As for the 2022 Youth:CoLab Thailand, UNDP Thailand has received strong support from Thailand Knowledge Park (TK Park), an important partner who also advocates capacity development for citizens. We started with small provinces, such as Mae Hong Son, Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, et cetera, bearing in mind that our goal had always been about instilling the learner mindset in young people while instigating sustainable development at the local level. Then we saw that learning and community development could bring young people so much joy. This was where TK Park, an organization that specialized in education, and UNDP, a promoter of development, met.” Khun Kadae speaks of challenges and her previous collaboration with TK Park.


Creating a learning space for ‘everyone,’ not just young people


Learning is always associated with children and youth. It is no secret that Thai adults believe it is too late for them to learn. But for TK Park, this should not be taken as a fact. Although the majority of TK Park users are young generations, the organization endeavors to answer all the learning needs of people across the age spectrum, assisting everyone in enhancing their skills and establishing lifelong learning.  An inclusive learning space equips citizens with knowledge, expands the possibilities and depths of development, while embracing mistakes and newly discovered paths towards sustainable progress.

Khun Kittirat “Tong” Pitipanich, Director of TK Park, deconstructs the mainstream perception of TK Park. “Many think of TK Park as a mega library within Bangkok’s imposing department store, but in fact it is a mere library, another mechanism to diversify the ways of learning with books as its main medium. It was created to be a learning model for everyone.”


TK Park has passed its living library on to partner organizations across the country, from the local administration to municipalities, as they are responsible for establishing local learning spaces (e.g. Education Outside the Classroom [EOTC] and people’s libraries). The TK Park model is all about experimenting with new prototypes, new innovations, or new services, supported by a set of indicators called the Social Return of Investment (SROI). Focusing on user participation, this monitoring and evaluation system helps track the frequency of relevant activities such as book borrowing rates and information access via social networking systems.


“We found that our online platforms attracted more and more users, notably during the pandemic. The numbers of our users are now 3 times more than what we had pre-pandemic. There are now 31 learning spaces in 23 provinces, with 2 newest spaces will be established in 2023 in Phayao and Surat Thani. In the future, we hope to open our learning spaces in other provinces. TK Park is currently in partnership with more than 300 education networks, collaborating closely with relevant organizations such as the Ministry of Education, Thai Health Promotion Foundation, and the Department of Corrections, who manages “the Library of Wisdom.” Khun Tong reflects on the outcomes of education investment over the years, particularly amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and TK Park’s ambitions to expand their spaces of learning.


Although TK Park positions itself as a space for every individual, certain issues require youth leadership in problem solving. This is precisely why investment in youth and capacity-building is on TK Park’s top priority. If we can nourish the minds of younger generations, they will emerge as precious human resources with a long journey ahead. This will benefit the local communities, families of young people, and even every life in this country.



Clear seawater and air for all


In this year, Youth:CoLab Thailand dived into the local communities, searching for issues that already interested young people. As one of the most important partners, TK Park created bridges that led to many communities. The duty of coordination fell on UNDP, who stepped up and became a focal point of contact, driving youthful creativity from behind and drawing support from various stakeholders across the country.


“We started with making sense out of the local context, understanding what the community members identified as issues and non-issues, instead of tossing around the notion of the SDGs. In this way, we can really grasp what the problems are. Some communities have environmental issues, climate issues, education issues, or even a crisis of inequality.” Khun Kadae explains the action plan and participatory process of the 2022 Youth:CoLab Thailand.


Collaboration leads to a novelty of analytical approach that focuses on local issues. It encourages the community members to observe their surroundings with critical gaze, unearthing the hidden interplay between the social and the environmental. This leads to a “how” question set – how can we improve all aspects of life? How can we create a common ground? Because sustainable development encompasses socio-economic and environmental dimensions. It asks us to think long and hard about how to make economic growth happen without environmental degradation, and how ecological conservation can go hand in hand with economic development.


Khun Kadae addes that “UNDP also organized a human-centric design training for TK Park staff across the country. It is not a training-training, but rather a space for sharing learning experiences. The TK Park staff offered their insights on the adaptation of human-centric design to their communities, based on the interesting local issues. The UNDP would then assist them in turning their vision into a reality. This leads to sharing of knowledge, collaborative approaches, and thinking systems between 2 organizations.”


Khun Tong refers to his experiences in working with the local community in Mae Hong Son. He found that persistent air pollution, such as haze and smog, had been threatening people for years. What his team did was creating a learning space, providing analytical tools for the community members and participants, establishing “the Clean Air Heroes” project that supported youth leadership.


Due to its proximity to seawater, Narathiwat has one major problem: water sources. This is how “the Ocean Hero” project comes into being. It drives the community members to come up with solutions that only they can think of.



The power of creativity


With TK Park as the facilitator who understands the local context and UNDP as the knowledge manager and provider of development toolkits, possibilities of change emerge out of youthful creativity. Khun Tong speaks of the lessons learned from UNDP-TK Park collaboration.


“Everytime I hear a story from young community members, I am convinced that a safe space for them to think or experiment freely helps them see their true potential. Besides being a learning space, it is a place where opinions are deeply heard and felt. When this resolve reaches young people, it does strengthen their commitment to problem solving. This is how meaningful collaboration begins.”


“I saw collaboration between the local administration, the state committee, and the private sector. I saw conjoint involvement from the local members, such as professors, private enterprises, or municipalities. However, the gap between young people and their mentors was so evident when compared to such national-level missions. This is the biggest difference we have seen so far. I found that creating an ecosystem of support for young community members would have a long-lasting impact. The more adults from various organizations listen to youth, the more hopeful they feel for their communities. This in turn reinforces local networks.


“The problems we are experiencing right now are complex by nature. A single solution from UNDP will neither make them go away nor pave the way for rapid transformation,” added Khun Kadae.


With TK Park’s goals and missions to establish learning spaces that continue for more than a decade, Khun Tong believes that the collaboration with UNDP Thailand is the stepping stone towards a kind of development that allows youth and the local communities to instigate the change they want. The next big step is making this development process sustainable.


“Many things start when we first climb the ladder of change. As of now, TK Park has built the first step. The hardest thing to do next would be building the second, the third, and the fourth steps. Having youth joining us in observing the local issues and realizing that there is always a way out is the first step for them. It is like a light at the end of a tunnel. We hope that our young participants can build a next step on their own.”


At the end, what TK Park and UNDP did might not be groundbreaking. Many may think that the outcomes of their projects are too nebulous to see, too impossible to change anything.


“What we did, and did well, was nurturing trust. The community members knows that we did all of that without ulterior motives. We came with a clear action plan. We had key actors  we wanted to talk to. We could get everyone on the same page. We did not simply throw a set of solutions at them. Trust takes time to build. We have to be patient in order to know what we can do exactly and how we should plan the projects. This is a delicate matter. Certain issues are adults’ issues. But change must begin with the young.”


This is just the beginning of the collaboration between TK Park and UNDP, a growth journey wherein nobody knows better than the rest. This is where knowledge is shared. This is a structure of sustainability that keeps up with younger generations who are ready to make change in their hometown, no matter how complicated and entrenched the problems are. If we have the same vision and goals, the solutions will benefit us all.



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  • What are The Sustainable Development Goals?
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