Theresa Mathawaphan, Chief Strategy Officer, National Innovation Agency, Thailand

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

National Innovation Agency (NIA) is a national agency that mandates building up the innovation capability of Thailand. We work in all sectors and levels to create a sense of urgency and also understanding of non-linear innovation systems.

2021 has been a year that we push more boundaries on creating alliances and collaborations on different related communities. Policy on Innovation Thailand Alliance is one pillar that will foster the success of cross-organisations achievement.

Since innovation is in every part of life of all citizens, several communities must be supported. Financial institutions now understand more and are aligned to put in more investment on innovation companies (startups) and products. We go out to build innovation nodes in regional parts of Thailand, hence not giving support from the capital city only anymore.

Moreover, academic institutions are becoming entrepreneurial universities through our capacity building programs.

Lastly, the awareness of international indexes such as GII (Global innovation Index) for Thailand ranking gave a push on higher level policy of the Prime Minister and Ministry level on innovation development of the country.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

I would pick that the most impactful project to me is an internal project on building up the capacity of our most important resource, that is people. Government or public sector is not different from the private sector in that the success comes first from the leaders and talents.

The project we did was on talent development for the staff and training of being a good coach for management level. The intervention was quite successful where the program received appreciation from both sides. Management executives understood more of their team members and became better leaders. Talents are being individually developed and coached.

The program needed a lot of crafting to suit our culture and it was a yearlong programme which will continue for next year. I’m certain that the impact of the program will go for a long run as a constitution of great organisation performance.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

The Covid-19 situation in 2021 brought with it crisis management challenges. My big learning was still on this crisis related management for the office and our staff. The situation of going back and forth on work-from-home policy, when the situation seems to get better and then worse again; the digital technologies that we need to put in place; the vaccines receiving scenarios for our team and also family; and the process to get to medical assistance and taking care of the staffs who got infected, were all big challenges. I feel responsible for the well-being of the entire office and it gave me great learning on decision making in the speedy time. You need to be all around coordinating, and have no time to waste in sometimes life-or-death situations. I was on alert 24-7 and I’m quite proud of the result thus far. Much was an unexpected learning of leadership and other skills combined.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

In September, I slipped and broke my leg while I was out of town. My memorable period was the time in the hospital recovering after the surgery. Even though it was not in my own city, people I know, friends and colleagues, came to visit me, or sent gifts and their wishes to wish me well. Definitely, the injury was not good, but the support I received was more than I had hoped for. It gave me great strength in the hard time. This gives a perspective of how love comes and provides you with great encouragement. People around you are the ones that matter and you should treat everyone well with respect, love and sincerity. I’m very thankful.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

This coming year will be the real implementation of what we call Data-Driven Innovation for the user. I particularly want to see the use of BI and AI tech on the data relating to the innovation of Thailand that we have worked on, starting since a few years back.

All organisations are talking so much of using AI to help us work faster and more efficiently, but how much can the government actually use AI to drive their current mandate? I would like to go into more implementation details of AI for this coming year and really get it to work for the benefit of driving innovation policy.

Moreover, for personal understanding this year is of course the buzzed Metaverse related tech, I would like to take the time to explore how we can converge this into the work we are doing.

What are your priorities for 2022?

I have seen that the innovation policy is starting to pick up in its momentum in Thailand. 2022 will be the year that we can push further the innovation policy to a higher level, at the Prime Minister level and the Ministry level. Driving the awareness of GII (Global Innovation Index) in Thailand and laying ground work of measures for sending the country to higher position through technology and innovation. This is a very exciting priority next year.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

My inspiration is not from world-famous people. Of course I admire the several leaders of the world, but since I don’t know them personally I don’t feel connected with them. My mentors are the senior colleagues and advisors that I’ve worked with, especially female leaders. They are my inspirations for being strong minded, smart and independent women, with good ethics and integrity. I love to work with them, learn from them, and see them in action. Moreover, I’m also encouraged by young entrepreneurs or startup founders that I know. They are very determined in their goal and have courage to fight the impossible in main mainstream's eyes.

What gets you up in the morning?

I have to say I’m very grateful for many things in my life. I get up to see what is the challenge I would encounter that day. My feeling of accomplishment is when I can solve difficult problems or issues that others cannot solve. I like to simplify things, and make the problems easier by dissecting them into pieces. I feel great to help others and be of comfort to my friends. But surely, from time to time, I need a break and I’ll relax and enjoy myself. I think we all need that to re-energise. ☺