Yongchai Jerdampai

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Thailand
Fellow since 1992
Information for Development Foundation
This description of Yongchai Jerdampai's work was prepared when Yongchai Jerdampai was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992 .

Introduction

Yongchai Jerdampai is assisting citizens' organizations to join the communications revolution. He has established a computer network that will enable such organizations to exchange information within urban and rural Thailand as well as internationally.

The New Idea

Yongchai's communications network will be quicker, more substantive, more flexible, and less expensive than what is currently possible via phone or fax. The network will also increase understanding and cooperation between organizations working in urban and rural areas.Yongchai states, "A prerequisite for effective social action is access to relevant information. Accurate and timely information is necessary to understand a situation, to plan and coordinate actions, to prepare convincing material for campaigns, to acquire human and material resources." Yonchai's goal in creating this computer network is to create new, more responsive communication between service organizations. Computer communications are faster, cheaper, and more effective than other means. While the network will originally concentrate on providing e-mail communications between organizations, an information system to support social development activities will be a natural product of the network. Through the network, activists and social action organizations will be able to share up-to-date information on their activities, research, political analysis, and other valuable information with Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. In addition, the network will serve as a means of communication for urgent human rights action and other campaigns. This non-traditional connection will also alleviate the communication gap between service organizations in Bangkok and those in other provinces. Ultimately, it will help these organizations to become a truly more unified national force.

The Problem

The service and citizen organizations' network in Thailand is weakened by ineffective communication. The telephone and fax have several limitations. Expense, inefficiency, and inability to transmit all the relevant background information combine to undermine what could and should be a stronger and more unified voice of advocacy for people in Thailand. The computer, which has great potential for this purpose, has been completely under-utilized by citizens'organizations. One reason is that they have great difficulty attracting and retaining computer and technical personnel.Private voluntary organizations primarily attract those whose main interest is working with people, not technology. Service organizations in Thailand have been slow to computerize both because of the expense and lack of technical orientation among their workers. While many organizations now have computers, they are generally under-used, particularly for communications.In addition, there is a disturbing and growing gap between rural and urban organizations, aggravated by ineffective communications between the two. Those working upcountry often feel isolated and ignored by Bangkok organizations, while those whose duties keep them in the Bangkok and urban areas report a lack of backup and support from rural organizations.Major holes and discrepancies flaw mainstream information systems. Whether the subject is a particular organization or a large political issue, it is often difficult to obtain accurate information. A computer network offers a discrete avenue of communication which is useful under normal circumstances and especially valuable in times of social or political turmoil.

The Strategy

Yongchai's organization, Computer and Information Services (CIS), offers two services to social service and citizen's organizations. First, CIS provides the technical training, support, and leadership required to help an organization work with computers more effectively. He offers his services at a fraction of the cost charged by private computer consultants.Giving this support service provides the groundwork for realizing his goal of establishing an effective citizens' organization Computer Network (C-CAN) that will connect, and thus help mold, these groups into a truly national movement. This will make citizens' organizations more effective in accomplishing their social action goals, as well as in leveraging their communications equipment expenses. With the advent of high-speed modems and technical improvements advancing each year, electronic mail and computer networks will become even more cost-effective than fax transmissions. In addition to facilitating connection within Thailand, local service organizations will be able to access an international network through C-CAN. To keep down the cost for each organization's membership in the network, CIS plans to open a computer school whose profits he hopes will underwrite the organization. The school will target members of citzens' organizations and the public.

The Person

Yongchai combines an academic background in electrical engineering with a strong interest in computer science and voluntary organizations. He worked for a while as a full-time volunteer for local citizens' organizations. His social activism was fostered by the student movement in Thailand, and he has since concentrated on putting his technical skills to work for the citizens' movement. Having noticed a dearth of technical skill in citizens' organizations, he has spent the last ten years helping them become more self-sufficient in this area.