In Summer 2018, the School of Global Studies started a new initiative by sending first-year students from the Global Studies and Social Enterprise (GSSE) program to spend a month living with different ethnic groups in northern Thailand. The school adjusted its Community-Based Learning Initiative (CBLI) 1 course to provide this opportunity for in-depth study of community life. Being a first in terms of intensity and length, the initiative was an adventure for both the students and SGS.
The motivation behind this change stemmed from the school’s mission: GSSE is a BA program that aims to turn its graduates into changemakers. In pursuing that goal, students design their own social innovation projects and they are taught to use human-centered design to create solutions to social challenges throughout the program. The program thus challenges students to be proactive and creative, and to gain hands-on experience outside the classroom. But while we’re encouraging them to tackle problems head-on, our lecturers also caution students to not jump to solutions without taking the time to gain a deep understanding of the community context. In fact, community members themselves possess resources and skills which can be utilized to improve their situation. It is therefore important that students develop an understanding of community livelihoods and existing capacities for self-help. This awareness ensures that social innovations introduced by changemakers do not duplicate or even discount existing livelihood strategies. Otherwise, one’s solution becomes another’s problem.
considerations, SGS arranged for first-year students to conduct strengths-based
research in the Pua district of Nan province, where they would live with
different communities from the 11th of June to the 6th of July. Nan is home to
a diverse hilltribe population and the host communities included the Hmong,
Lua, Lue, and Mian ethnic groups.
Whereas most field immersion projects require zooming in on
a central social issue, strengths-based research gives students a rare
opportunity to remain open throughout the process while collecting information
about local skills and assets. At the same time, students learn to practice
their research skills including asset-mapping, appreciative interviews, and
ethnographic techniques that they learned in class.
The highlight of the field immersion course is a final
presentation in which students present their research data to members of the
host communities in the form of 15 min video clips. The presentations allowed
the community members to see the community’s economy, including their
traditional skills, resources, values and aspirations through the eyes of the
The clips below have been created by students who stayed with Hmong (video 1) and Lua (video 2) communities. The data presented is illustrative of the depth of the CBLI 1 field immersion experience and provides a sound foundation for potential future social innovation projects in the region.