AIT Office of Public Affairs
Dr. Twarath Sutabutr is the President of the Office of Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD), an autonomous public organization in Thailand under the Office of the Prime Minister. Dr. Twarath is a public servant by career, a geotechnical engineer by training, and an energy policy & planner by experience and has held important positions, serving as the head of Thailand’s team in multilateral agencies such as UN, IEA, APEC, and ASEAN. His works in energy planning spaces include a cross-sectional portfolio, such as the ASEAN Plan of Action in Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2010-2015, Thailand Integrated Energy Blueprint (TIEB) 2015, Energy 4.0 & Smart Grids Master Plan, and the innovative Local Energy Planning (LEP) initiatives.
He completed his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999 and a Master’s in Geotechnical and Transportation Engineering in 1992 from the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). He is the former President of the AIT Alumni Association Thailand Chapter from 2018 to 2019.
This month, a team from the AIT’s Office of Public Affairs talked to Dr. Twarath to discuss his new role at OKMD and his academic life at AIT.
Could you tell us about OKMD and your role?
Currently, I serve as the President of the Office of Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD). It is a public organization that oversees a learning process.
The learning process, a vital part of society, is continuously changing and has now become a lifelong process. The scenario is evolving as we move forward in the 21st century with the advancing digital technology, the internet, and social media. Hence, many people taught in one field could re-learn, re-train, and re-inspire themselves on new things. We must also link the knowledge beyond school with digital and cyberspace.
OKMD was established in 2005 under the premiership of Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra and is mandated to facilitate the learning process outside the school system. We are a supplemental tool of the government to help Thai citizens learn more outside school. It has two subunits: Thailand Knowledge (TK) Park, which is located on the 8th Floor of Central World, and Discovery Museum, which I am in charge of, situated close to the Grand Palace.
OKMDs mission for the next decade is to ensure that we are not just providing the learning process on the physical platform but also Thai Society would take on the more advanced learning process in the digital space.
Do you conduct regular programs? How do you plan to move forward in making this change?
We want to stimulate more demand for knowledge-based tourism that helps people get an in-depth understanding. At OKMD, we create a network and generate interest and demand. We have a network of museums in Thailand belonging to various government organizations. They showcase a wide range of Thai history and culture. So, we create several knowledge-learning packages for different people based on their interests.
Recently, we had a program on Thai classical music; the visitors learned about Thai music, the best collection of old records, turntables, and other materials. It was done in the Department of Public Relations, which houses a fascinating collection of Thai music from the 60s and 70s. These records were kept out of the public eye for a long time. Once we discovered this, we created a package to promote it. It is also vital to focus on knowledge transfer. For such topics as classical music, you must find an expert or a ‘guru’ who explains it well, talks, and inspires everyone.
Do you market this to tourists as well?
We plan to, but we must tailor this as many of the themes and issues are Thai-oriented. However, we can market some of the broader aspects of Thai culture to tourists. The knowledge-learning process is similar to demand and supply. Thailand has ample supply; we have museums, learning centers, and libraries. Nevertheless, we need to generate demand for these.
It is a new kind of learning since you are not just relying on textbooks but observing, being inspired, interacting with experts, and experiencing it first-hand.
What are your immediate plans?
For the next twelve months, I aspire to take the metaverse progressively. I have been talking to experts and believe that the metaverse can be a new learning space for people. For instance, I won’t even have to go to the museum to learn about history or art. I can go to the metaverse to get the digital twin and find an expert who will explain it. Thus, the metaverse can be a new type of classroom, and I would like to pursue an idea of vision that OKMD can be a core center to make sure that metaverse can be used in the new learning space.
One example of the OKMDs current project is the Knowledge Portal. It is an internet-based portal with AI equipment to help people search or navigate through things they would like to learn. For instance, when one desires to learn about cooking via the internet, they want to know the ingredients and processes, which is good. Through the Knowledge Portal, we go deeper, from informing them about the history of the recipe and the ingredients and letting them know what they are making. This portal is one of the landmark projects we are developing, and we hope to launch this project very soon.
Yet, do you still agree that traditional education has to take place?
I think education is the basic foundation for people who want to learn, so you need to have enough basics to go higher or more profound. Pursuing higher education is undoubtedly a must. Nonetheless, higher education or the whole education system must change to ensure supply can meet demand. For example, some Thai Universities and Hong Kong University, where I am on the board of trustees, already offer mixed courses so the students can decide on their journey towards achieving that degree. This gives them the freedom to pursue their interests and become a better version of themselves. During my time as a student, there were no choices. We took classes included in our coursework. So, I think the whole education system needs to give more flexibility. If an individual can accumulate good enough credits, they can become excellent and graduate with two or three degrees.
Thank you so much for sharing about OKMD and your vision. We would like to know about your time at AIT in 1992.
The most important thing about having an AIT degree is that I got my first job as a geotechnical engineer in a French company in Thailand. The AIT degree helped me a lot; I even shared my thesis with them, which they thought was impressive. I did underground construction work in 1992/93. The most notable one is the SCB complex headquarters they built, where we used new technologies unseen in Bangkok before.
In 1993, I applied for a scholarship from the Ministry of Industry, which was looking for an engineer who could analyze things about oil platform construction, a new topic back then. I got the scholarship and was admitted to MIT in an extensive research group sponsored by a consortium of oil companies, researching oil platform foundations in the Gulf of Mexico. During all this, I continued receiving support from AIT’s faculty, Prof. A.S. Balasubramaniam (Bala) and Professor Prinya Nutalaya, as well as my professors from Chulalongkorn University.
I believe that I learned the principle of becoming a sound engineer during my time at AIT. It has two critical processes: design and implementation. If you want to do something, you must have a good design and construct it as planned.
My time at AIT was filled with different kinds of experiences. Firstly, AIT has an international environment. I met many colleagues, classmates, and professors from other countries, and I got to experience and learn multiculturally.
I would say the student life at AIT was much more balanced than at other universities. The Thai education system is very much focused on technical aspects, and you don’t have much time for recreational activities. For me, AIT student life provided a good balance. Although I concentrated primarily on my education and research, I also played football and learned sports I had never played, such as hockey and cricket.
What do you think about the programs AIT offers and how it has been developed over the years to meet the region’s changing trends and rapid development?
AIT’s program was created around the development of infrastructures. It was focused on water resources, structural engineering, and geotechnical engineering, and the emphasis was to be equipped to build roads, dams, buildings, etc. I feel that AIT has led the way and produced qualified engineers in the field of infrastructure, not just in Thailand but in entire South Asia. I am sure that AIT graduates have made significant contributions to this region’s development in the last 20 years.
However, now we are in the 21st century, and things go beyond basic infrastructure, and the world is moving into digital technology. I hope AIT can continue to catch the wave and take the lead.
How are you balancing your personal and professional life? Is it too much work right now, or do you even get some time for your personal life?
Well, I try to balance my own life as well. I admit that work at OKMD is not as demanding as my previous work at the Ministry of Energy. It’s challenging, but the office culture is more relaxed and flexible. So I would say that right now, I balance better.
The credit goes to the technology; you have zoom meetings, and we have already implemented the e-office. Previously, I used to sign a thick bundle of documents in one day, but now, everything is online. So instead of signing everything, it’s a simple click. Thanks to technology, I balance my time better to do my job and have time to spend more with my family. But again, living in Bangkok, one of the unavoidable things is the traffic.
What is your suggestion to the younger generation looking to develop a career path?
Don’t stop learning because there are always new things. Follow your dreams, find the things you’re interested in and want to learn, and do learn new things every day. With emerging technologies like the internet, social media, and digital technologies, you will learn things more quickly. However, I would not discount or undermine the physical platform of learning things such as going to a new library, finding a new book, going places, observing stuff you want to know more about, and meeting people who know more about that particular subject. That is how you will indeed find yourself, and you will be amazed at how much you will learn in one day. So don’t stop learning!