Self-Portrait

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Chaiwat Thirapantu

President, Civicnet Institute

693 Bumrungmuang Rd; Pomprab
Bangkok 10100, THAILAND

662-621 7814/5
662-621 7816 (fax)

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What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?

How to create a positive energy without protesting and fighting a "common enemy"?

How I have started in this field of work?

I grew up in the midst of the search for the meaning of life in the 1960s. Reading the book Sidharatha by Herman Hesse, The Art of Loving, by Erich From and Herbert Marcuse and listening to songs from Bob Dylon and Joan Baez created a comfort in rebellious souls of people at the time. Like others, I wished to have and strongly desired to live my life, not only for myself but for others and the next generations.

As I returned from Germany to Thailand in 1974 the feelings stayed vividly in my mind. I started working in the labor and the farmers movements. For twenty years I spent my time organizing protests with hope to strengthen the country’s politics by fighting against the establishment. I got involved in one of the bloodiest street fights, “The Bloodied May”, against the military dictatorship in May 1992. It was the first time I witnessed and felt “the field of energy” with my own body and mind. For two long weeks, I experienced and touched the kind of creativity and courage of human beings that fought against the military regime that ruled Thailand. Unfortunately, after the government dictatorship was overthrown, a new election was held and everything went back to “the normal state”, no creativity, no innovative ideas, and no actions .Citizens returned to people who live their “normal lives”, all the energy was gone. We could not manage to sustain the energy to bring forth the society we dreamed of having. It seems that most of us have forgotten how many courageous citizens sacrificed their lives for that dream.

To bring back my dream, I threw away old theories and methodologies and began a long journey to find how to create a positive energy without protesting and fighting a “common enemy?” How to make sure that this energy will sustain? And, how we could notice when it starts to wither away?I began to read about Chaos theory, Complexity theory and other books to help me understand the concept of “new science” and self-organizing processes. In 1993, I published a book in Thai called “Chaos Theory and Siamese Society at the Bifurcation.” My approach of bringing new sciences to social science has shaken some academic circles in Thailand. I even created a small wave of provocative thinking in the Thai intellectual world. Yet, this is still far from real societal change.

In 1994, a group of concerned citizens, academics and I established the “ Bangkok Forum”, an organization that aims to bring new and improved changes to the live of the people of Bangkok through public discussions, political education, and public activities. The Bangkok Forum motivates individuals and groups toward increased civic involvement and responsibility. Through my work at the Forum I was awarded an Ashoka Followship.

How far have I come?

I continued the second phase of my journey searching for the methodology that could bring what I have learned into practice. I took my first lesson, Zukunftskonferenz workshop (Future Search), in October1996, in Switzerland. Three months later, I tried the method out with 50 participants in my home town in Southern Thailand. Since the process turned out so well I continue to apply the methodology to organizations or communities to create common purposes or shared visions. However, since Future Search is limited to only 72-81 participants, I searched for other methodologies to accommodate much larger numbers of participants. In 1998, my learning journey brought me to Oberursel, Germany where I learned about Open Space, facilitated by Mathias zur Bonsen and his team. In 1999, in Riccione, Italy I met David Cooperider and Diana Whitney, who helped me understand the principles and the methodology of Appreciative Inquiry. Open Space and Appreciative Inquiry have fulfilled my dream. I now understand the methodology and hold the “tools” which would ignite the energy of more than 1000 people to participate in a social change process. I practiced large group interventions like these on many occasions such as in community planning, public organizations, and city participatory planning to make myself more skillful and to gain more confidence. I often combined Appreciative Inquiry with Open Space or Appreciative Inquiry with some part of Future Search in my practice. In May, 2002, I organized for the first time a four-day workshop using Appreciative Inquiry technique for 400 participants who had already taken part in my training courses and workshops. This was a “safety net,” a testing acrobat, the first large scale intervention for me and Thailand.

During that same year, I came across the concept of World Café when I attended the Authentic Leadership Workshop in Halifax, Canada. I realized that the concept would fit-in nicely in a Thai context. In southern Thailand where I was born, people visit traditional coffee shops every morning for social and political conversation. This coffee shop assembly is called Sapa Ga fae. Since then I have applied the idea of World Café with Appreciate Inquiry with 500 to 600 participants and have gained more confidence and more skill in organizing large scale forums. In July 2004, I organized the first people’s politic meeting “Big Bang Bangkok” with 1,000 participants. We invited Bangkok residents to share their concerns, to find common goals and to present their views to the candidates of the governor election. The meeting was a success. The forum was broadcast live on cable TV and was televised on the evening news and in the newspapers the next morning. The event has made me more confident in organizing a forum for thousands of people.

At the end of June 2005, the General Secretary of the Democrat Party, the opposition party, the oldest party in Thailand, asked me to facilitate a “People Assembly” with 3,000 participants. I accepted the opportunity without hesitation as this was the chance to apply what I have practiced as a show case of Strategic Dialogue between people politics and party politics. It could open a chance for Thai society to start taking a journey on a road less traveled to a “new democracy” or as Tom Atlee put it “the Tao of Democracy.” I used Appreciative Inquiry in combination with World Café as the methodologies of the facilitation as I knew that this group would love World Café because they also use a Sapa Ga Fae (coffee shop assembly) at their party headquarters from time to time. The assembly covered seven issues including educational reform as a tool for a quality society, fighting against corruption, economic development and reform, revitalizing ethics, political reform and people empowerment, ending the violence in three provinces. The event was a great success. It put us in a media spotlight and drew great attention to the process of public participation.

Where I would like to be?(What can I do next?)

More than 30 years of my journey on the people political path in Thailand was devoted to creating what Tom Atlee called “evolutionary politics”. Since the beginning of 2005 , I sensed that the newly elected but very corrupted government of the Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra would not survive his second 4 years term .So I looked for a political leverage that could alter the political direction in Thailand to strengthen civil society .My work with the Democrat Party about “People Assembly in Thailand” on October 8 and 9,2005, was a strategic collaboration which could have been a political turning point, but the impact of that event did not shake up the Thai politic as I expected. There were many factors and circumstances that make active citizens and the mass media forget all about the positive outcomes of the event.

The Political Situation at the beginning of 2006 got worse. The news of corruption and scandals brought the Thai middle class to the streets for three months and forced the prime minister to step down. An election was held in April 2006, but was later declared illegal by the courts.

As we are in the midst of political turmoil today, I think that we have not reached the lowest point of the political crisis, but we will encounter it very soon. Thai society is approaching a cross road of plunging herself in agony or becoming wiser and stronger.

I still believe that all social systems must reach the lowest point before it gets better. I am preparing for this political crisis, observing the situation with passion and contemplation. I see the other side of crisis. It is an opportunity to intervene to bring some new ideas and actions to accomplish this important task. I will organize 3-4 working groups from all walks of life and generations in collaboration with other groups to learn how we could to deepen and expand our collaborations more effectively as lessons from this experience. I hope that we will learn to interact together as a “critical mass of active citizens” to initiate awareness, hope, and to co-create an alternative politic that can converge creative forces in our society for a common future. I am focusing on co-cultivating a living model that could be a community of hope and creative actions that can be replicated in all parts of Thailand.

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Civicnet Institute

 


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