By Office of Public Affairs
The SDG Open Hack Bangkok project is an Institute-wide collaborative initiative by the Asian Institute of Technology with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and its partners, the University of Geneva, and Open Geneva. The project includes three phases. In the first phase, the first edition of the SDG Open Hack Bangkok was conducted at AIT, followed by three nominated students attending a month-long SDG summer school in Geneva. In the third phase, winners of the SDG Open Hack will undergo an incubation program at the AIT Entrepreneurship Center. The initiative provides an excellent opportunity, and exposure for the students and participants to broaden their knowledge of the SDGs and design innovative solutions for today’s growing challenges.
As part of the second phase of the initiative, three Ph.D. students, Sharaniya Vijitharan, Natural Resources Management; Akkarapon Chaiyana, Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems and Yung-Hsin Lin, Urban Environmental Management, participated in the SDG summer school at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, as Ph.D. coach under the course “Open-source health solution” held on 4 July to 29 July 2022. The summer school consisted of six groups, each with three students and one coach, whose goals were outlined by the Global Fund. The students were from different countries, including Portugal, Singapore, Laos, Canada, and Congo.
In the first week, groups were formed using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based program. Stating that the program was filled with learnings and new experiences, Yung-Hsin said, “This was the first time I learned about such an interesting experiment. The AI-based program analyzed data collected from a questionnaire and proposed the ideal composition of each team. Effectively, the teams included members with strong leadership skills, new ideas, diligence, and hard work”.
Speaking about the program and the opportunities to meet and interact with professionals in the field, Akkarapon said, “The program resembles a long-term hackathon event. Each week, the program had a professional in each criterion to guide the challengers’ comprehension of each procedure and encourage us to create new work developed during this summer school.”
In the second week, the students discussed their topic and met with expert professionals in the field. At the end of the week, the teams pitched their ideas. In the following week, they created an application. The summer school offered students opportunities to be inspired by insightful stories. To further enhance learning, representatives from different well-known organizations shared their experiences linked with Sustainable Development.
Sharaniya expressed that the exposure was an incredible opportunity and a wonderful memory. She said, “This experience offered us a chance to gain new knowledge and expand our understanding of critical thinking, problem-solving, team spirit, and time management while working on a new challenge in a world-class university. Furthermore, an opportunity to work with team members from different fields of expertise and countries has added to my knowledge and skills. I have learned how sustainable development goals (SDGs) can be achieved when we propose a novel solution to a challenge.”
Yung-Hsin said, “I am confident that the experience we gained would be an unforgettable and inspiring one that will have a long-term impact on our future pathway towards sustainability.”
The program was not just limited to making a prototype; students were exposed to an enriching experience. Akkarapon said, “We visited many places and enjoyed each other’s company. As the days were longer in summer, we got to see different places in Geneva like the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Jet d’Eau (water-jet), French border, Geneva lake, and Grindelwald mountain.” The students also visited the Red Cross museum, United Nations, Global Fund, and World Health Organization.
All three students received different awards. Sharaniya’s team won the “Most Novel Solution”, Akkarapon’s team won the “Most Feasible Solution,” while Yung-Hsin’s team won “Best Presentation.”
The students also utilized the opportunity to explore Europe. Talking about how her dream to visit Europe came true, Sharaniya adds, “I got to visit Germany, Netherlands, and France. The weather was also good and feasible for various activities. It was simply breathtaking.” Akkarapon was able to visit his family in Germany and explore places. He said, “During my visit to Hamburg, Germany, I got an opportunity to join Christopher Street Day (CSD), an annual LGBTQ+ celebration and demonstration held in several European cities for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and in opposition to prejudice and exclusion. It was an amazing feeling. I even travelled to Austria.”
Yung-Hsin says the last time she visited Geneva was during winter; she was excited to be there in summer. She shares, “I felt like I visited a whole new place because the experience was so different and amazing. I enjoyed going around Lake Geneva, which was so big we could see only one side at once. Therefore, on one of the weekends, I travelled to Montreux on the other side of the lake to see what it is like and to enjoy the famous Jazz Festival. I also hiked to the highest peak in the Swiss Jura, the Mont-Tendre, at 1,679 meters above sea level.”
The students on their return to AIT had a debrief meeting with the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Prof Shobhakar Dhakal, and expressed their gratitude towards AIT, UNITAR, the University of Geneva, and Open Geneva Summer School for the incredible opportunity. “We thank the organizers for hosting the program in a well-managed and timely manner, and the accommodation and transport facilities are remarkable. We encourage all students at AIT to apply to such programs as it opens a new avenue of experience. It really helps us grow to be a better version of ourselves and increase our zeal to help others”, say all three students in unison.