Varangtip Satchatippavarn, Head of Global Partnerships, Startup Thailand, National Innovation Agency, Thailand

By Chia Jie Lin

Women in GovTech 2018 Special Report.

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

Startup Thailand is a department in the National Innovation Agency (Public Organisation) within the Ministry of Science and Technology. It has been three years since Startup Thailand was established, and we are now coming to the end of the first phase: raising public awareness and nurturing the community.

After surpassing our goals, where Bangkok is ranked the best city for startups in Asia and ranked 7th in the world, we will now focus on building and supporting the specific startup sectors. This will ultimately add startups to the list of things Thailand is known for, apart from the existing food and tourism reputation. As Thailand has one of the largest populations in Southeast Asia, and sadly, one of the highest income disparity in the world, technology will play a big role in improving citizen’s lives.

As the Head of Global Partnerships for Startup Thailand, my role involves increasing the inbound and outbound investments in Thailand, with the goal of making Thailand the startup hub of Southeast Asia. My role and the organisation I represent are involved in using both technology and policy to improve citizen’s lives through increasing technology integration in lifestyles and systems, and building digital capabilities. Through policies like the Bayh-Dole Act, Startup Act, Regulatory Sandbox and SMART visa project, we have produced many talents and startup sectors. By making Thailand the Startup Nation, we will create more jobs, giving citizens more opportunities for fulfilling work and higher income.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

My role allowed me to research and study different mechanisms and models of policies, structure, and support at a country and city level. As a result, I contributed in a project that pushed for a change in the government procurement process for startups in Thailand.

We have launched an initiative that will enable, facilitate, and unlock the government market for startups. The government market that is worth 12 billion baht can be accessed through the new term of reference (ToR) initiated by the NIA. We have created another track for startups to enter the government procurement system, so they won’t have to compete or reach the same criteria as big firms in the process.

This depicts a closer step towards the growth of the GovTech sector in Thailand. The project was more than building a bridge for startups to access the government market, but it’s forcing government officials to accept startups and technology in their workplace. Whether people like it or not, technology is here to stay, and you can either adapt or be forced out.
"It’s forcing government officials to accept startups and technology in their workplace."
If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

As a passionate, stubborn, and driven person, it is inevitable for me to try and change many things in the public sector when I joined. As a result, I was disappointed and discouraged along the way. Then, I met an Australian/Thai person who inspired me and changed the way I think and approach my work massively. He said, “Don’t fight the system, learn it so you can overcome it.”

This clicked in my head, because I spent everyday fighting head-on for change and questioning every process, driving myself crazy along the way. It taught me to look at things in a more macro view. In order for me the create change, I need to understand the problem completely first. In hindsight, I am grateful for the discouragements because it contributed massively in my self-growth – still a long way for me to go though.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

At the moment, probably cloud-based platforms and blockchain because these are the two things I would like to see integrated in the public sector. We hear a lot of people talking about the possibilities of blockchain, but hopefully in 2019 we will see some of these in action in the public sector. It intrigues me to see how different governments will utilise this technology in improving processes, enhancing work tasks, and increasing transparency. Also, I’m very excited to see how this will reduce the gap between government and citizen engagement.

What are your priorities for 2019?

As discussions about the 4th industrial revolution and DeepTech are increasing, it’s unavoidable to mention them. In an era where data and information are priceless, and the government having a pool of these, I am confident to say that this will be my priority for 2019. Subsequently, there are mainly two things we will be focusing on: entrepreneurial university, and sectoral development.

To prepare the nation for a data-driven economy, we work very closely with students, from running on-site workshops and incubators, to creating projects with graduates and entrepreneurs. This will change the mindset of students, provide employment options, and connect them with potential founders. Eventually, generating more spin-off companies and DeepTech startups.

The development of startup sectors we are prioritising are MARTech, AgTech, TravelTech, and GovTech. From our experience and past cases, the crucial factor in building these ecosystems is the engagement of different key players in the community. Thailand is quick to realise the role of the government in initiating conversations with players, and we are increasingly seeing public-private collaborations.

What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

It was such a culture shock for me when I started working in the Thai government, because I was educated in the UK since high school. I wasn’t used to the Thai culture, let alone the Thai public sector!

Having empathy definitely helped me the most in adapting and adjusting to the environment. It’s very important for us to understand what the other person is thinking to know the reasoning behind each decision and action. This is also crucial for me in interacting with individuals from different sectors and cultures, especially during negotiations.

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?

At an operational level, I think we will see more cross-functional roles between ministries that is made possible through blockchain and cloud-based platforms. In terms of technology, I hope we will see the use of cognitive technologies like AI in mundane and simple roles. It will not only reduce speed, time, and cost, but also enhance our tasks and processes. However, 10 years is a long time so my answer might change before 2030.

Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?

Thanks to the advancements in the MuTech sector, I can now access all genres of music wherever I am. As much as I love the 90s feel of having CD’s and a walkman, startups like Fungjai, Spotify, and Joox made my experience listening to music enjoyable and accessible. I’ve got a playlist for all kinds of moods I’m in and want to be in!