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

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Women in GovTech Special Report 2019.

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

My role in the National Innovation Agency or NIA, could be explained in two parts. One is to manage the front end, which is the Strategy side, overseeing the strategy building team, Innovation Foresight Institute (IFI), and international relations. And two is all the back end or the organisation development parts, which means all the back office and support teams-related functions, i.e. budgeting, finance, procurement, HR, people development, IT, organisation development, facility management and legal. This also includes the Board of Directors’ secretariat team.

I consider myself to be lucky that I could feel both side of the story, being under both world, internal and external. And having both the private sector and public sector work experience, I do enjoy the challenge of blending or pushing some private companies' or startups' frameworks into the government agency.

And since the organisation has its main mandate to build up the 'Innovation Capability' of Thailand by all means, we need to push some boundaries in order to find new processes or mechanisms to do things better and with more impact. NIA has been supporting the creation and market expansion for the innovation of Thailand with both finance and non-finance mechanisms.

Just to give some examples: we give innovation grants, we build a startup ecosystem in Thailand, we help innovation-driven enterprises and startups to expand and collaborate with partners in the global arena, we drive social innovation, and we work with academia for entrepreneurship capability development.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2019?

My answer might be a bit different than expected. Because 2019 was the first full year that I have worked in this role. Being in NIA itself is quite exciting and challenging to me, especially coming from the private sector. The challenge as a management level in an organisation that must drive innovation is that you need to be on alert all the time, stay on top of your regular responsibilities but also strive to manage new project or do more business development.

People are expecting you to not be just a normal government body and only doing routine service. You must innovate yourself and create an environment where “Innovation is possible”. That is my most exciting challenge that I have worked on and still do for NIA, creating an “Innovation Culture”. And I used the model from startups management scheme and form what is called the culture committee, a body of non-official unit comprising of staff from all departments to share ideas and work together to create a good and innovative culture that they all want to have.

What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?

This goes back to all my career of 22 years. I considered myself to be quite fortunate to be able to have worked in all levels, and to manage and understand both the public sector and private sector. I have worked in many scales and types of companies, startups and large corporations, Thai and international as well.

The best thing in the overall picture are my teams. I always have a great team to support and work alongside me. I don’t believe in a one-man-show. Success is a team effort. And I stress on building up middle-management leaders. They are key success of the organisations and, of course, the next successors.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would it be?

I learned to be more patient. At times, when you are working in a government agency and using government framework and regulations, and this goes to all countries I think, you are bound to be stricken and then the progress or the result becomes slower to achieve or even seems impossible. If you are a self-driver and work proactively, you might feel frustrated.

But if you step back a bit and be a little more patient, you’ll find that there might be ways to work around the obstacles. I have seen that with more patience and resilience, I could think of ways to be resourceful and I can manipulate the situations. That includes changing some regulations and protocols, not by myself, but with the related authorities.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2020?

2020 will be the year that we’ll focus on using foresight and data management as tools to create more impact. It is called 'Data-driven Innovation'. This approach will help us in policy recommendations, or trend-setting. Or we can use foresight and data to help large corporate companies to identify their preferable future, working on their business development and strategy. And use it to help drive digital government within Thailand.

What are your priorities in 2020?

More systematic internal management and leadership development are two main goals for management this year. Since NIA is quite lean with about 120 staff, and we work fast to drive projects and issues, we need to be more systematic in our protocols in order to scale. The challenge is how to be systematic but not slow, with good standard practice and transparent governance.

For leadership development, we will focus more this year on building up capacity of project managers and equip them with technical and management or soft skills. We’ll have a project such as talent programmes to identify and groom our talents.

What is one challenge you would like to take on in 2020?

As NIA, I think we need to push the status-quo. The GPT or Government Procurement Programme, which supports the use of startups solutions in government agencies, is one challenge that even through we have started working on it, there’s more work to be done especially in the policy area. The goal is to ease the procurement process so government agencies can procure startups solutions rightfully and long-term.

This involves several agency stakeholders and changing legal frameworks. As for my own personal work challenge, I would like to work more on social innovation projects this year.

What has been your fondest memory from the past year?

I love to travel to new places as my personal hobby. To learn things and be creative and inspired. And because of this role, I had to travel aboard for several trips on business, to expand network to international partners, to visit and share or learn best practices, and to find new collaborations.

Hence in overall, the numbers of my flying trips in 2019, together business and personal, break my own record. I was quite amazed when I thought back about this. Each trip brings great memories and if it’s a work trip, impact and result, including international visibility of the country and organisation. I am proud of that.