KHON KAEN – 17 September: Khon Kaen province in Northern Thailand is demonstrating how to create smart, decease creative and sustainable cities. Three unique partnerships with data-giant IBM, prescription Coca Cola and the United Nations have helped the province become a model for the region.
As Thailand enters a new era of ASEAN economic integration, the city of Khon Kaen is adapting to meet technological and globalization challenges.
“Khon Kaen has grown incredibly since I was a kid,” said Prakorn Nongtu, a customer service executive for the U.S-based company, Gamevil. Nongtu grew up in Khon Kaen and recently graduated from Khon Kaen University.
“It used to be a village,” he said, “but it is now a metropolis, providing many more opportunities to its citizens. Many people think that when Bangkok sinks under the sea, our city will become the next capital.”
One of the challenges facing the city and its growing university is its traffic.
“The traffic in Khon Kaen is approaching that seen in Bangkok, so we are calling for an early intervention to resolve the city’s transport issues,” said Somsak Suwansucharit, Governor of Khon Kaen province.
With the support of a $50-million IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, Khon Kaen is working to improve the way it manages its growing population.
“Our collaboration at the international level with IBM through the Smarter Cities Challenge programme has yielded tangible outcomes that will help us in the future,” said Somsak Suwansucharit, Governor of Khon Kaen province.
“Khon Kaen has experienced dramatic growth in the last decade, and is likely to continue on this growth trajectory. We have worked hard to manage this growth so that it brings the greatest benefit to all. We have been fortunate in that we are able to draw on lessons from other cities, and our own efforts are being recognize globally,” said Teerasak Teecayuphan, Mayor of Khon Kaen.
“We are very interested in the WACAP framework and look forward to both benefiting from the experience of other city members, and to sharing our own successes with them.”
Khon Kaen is designing a better traffic management system and a smarter public transit system. IBM works with Khon Kaen University to build a strategic road map for a center for education and research in big data, analytics, and mobile technology.
IBM suggested video monitoring and surveillance using smart analytics, the implementation of traffic light management to optimise traffic flow at key intersections, as well as methods of traffic law enforcement.
The partnership with IBM is also advancing Khon Kaen University’s (KKU) analytics capability in order to form a data “center of excellence” within the region.
The center will lead international academic institutions from Khon Kaen University’s network in providing IBM coursework and knowledge sharing opportunities. It will also provide consulting services on data analytics to government agencies and private organisations for social development and business purposes.
Khon Kaen University is one of Thailand’s largest. It is also home to an active student body. In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and True Coffee, the university will open an anti-corruption café under the slogan “Refuse to be Corrupt”, a social enterprise that aims to teach young people about the dangers of corruption in society.
A survey of Thai students revealed that Thai youth understand the concept and the importance of integrity, but there is a gap between what they say they believe and how they would actually behave. More than 60% said they said they would use connections or pay bribes to obtain an unfair advantage.
The partnership between UNDP, True Coffee, and, Khon Kaen University provides students with the knowledge and means to run the cafes which are safe places to talk freely about corruption and share their views among peers, organize events and map out plans to tackle corruption within their universities and local communities.
“UNDP is really proud of this innovative initiative and partnership and we hope to see the cafes spread across the country to other universities. Ultimately, we hope that the anti-corruption messages will spread well beyond the university campuses” said Martin Hart-Hansen, Deputy Resident Representative at UNDP in Thailand.
Profits from the cafés will help fund anti-corruption activities on campus. True Lifestyle Retail, operator of the True Coffee chain, is one of the main partners in the project.
“True Coffee is very proud to be a part of this project. It is a great opportunity for us to contribute to society by inspiring and mobilizing the youth in our country,” said Virat Techanirattisai, True Lifestyle Retail’s General Manager told UNDP.
“Aside from the knowledge and lessons learned from running their own business, the students can also contribute to the creation of a knowledge-based society as well as raise funds for their future projects,” added Mr. Techanirattisai.
The first anti-corruption café opened at Ubon Ratchathani University in August.
Thailand is no stranger to flooding or drought. According to UNDP, drought or floods affect more than 8 million people in any given year. Many Thai communities are struggling with water management challenges, which are a challenge to both small farmers and local business that rely on a steady supply of water for agriculture, sanitation and livelihoods.
The province of Khon Kaen is taking a proactive approach to water management with the help of beverage-giant Coca Cola. The Coca-Cola Foundation launched a community water management project, known as “RAKNAM” (Love Water) in 2007 to support communities with water challenges. Once small village, Ban Non Kha has face significant clean water issues.
“In the past, Ban Non Kha was nothing but a dry, drought land. Water scarcity was so severe to the point that wildfires broke out frequently. As a result, members of the community decided to leave their homeland and find jobs in other areas,” Laksanee Thitichotrattana, head of the village told the Nation newspaper.
“As a community leader, I realised that the main problem was due to the water shortage in our area, and I also realised a need for change. I travelled long distances to the town to meet with the local authorities and ask if they could help us solve our challenges.”
Through “Love Water”, villagers are now moving from severe drought to reaping the rewards of better water management and improved fertilization. Incomes are up almost $100 per month per household and the community electricity bill is down by just as much.
Coca-Cola worked with a local organization to develop an abandoned wasteland and build a solar-powered water system to provide clean water for villages and for agriculture.
Cooperation between the private sector and the local municipalities helped facilitate knowledge sharing. As a result, Ban Non Kha has transformed into a model community for sustainability.
In addition, the new solar-powered system provides enough water to share with two other villages located nearby, which further benefits an additional 500 households.
Love Water has since provided over $5 million in funding for water projects across Thailand, impacting more than 1 million people.