In this episode of the Social Innovation Asia podcast, Michael Waitze and Daniel McFarlane were fortunate to converse with Stéphane Rousseau, the Director of International Field Immersion Courses at the School of Global Studies at Thammasat University. He brings an enormous wealth of experience to the conversation after decades of humanitarian, human rights, and civil society work across Asia and the Pacific.
Over the years, his work has presented many ethical and moral challenges. It is not the uplifting work many people think it is, Stephane suggests. The people you could not help or the people left behind are the ones that stay in your memory.
Without referencing social innovation specifically, Stephane provides multiple examples of how people and organisations have subverted structures of power and created innovative approaches to address pressing social problems. Listening to Stephane, it is evident social innovation is nothing new. It just has a new label and a fresh look.
Stéphane discusses how in the early 1970s, French doctors, frustrated by the then-international humanitarian regulations (e.g. giving only to the sovereign States to decide) that were impeding their capacity to intervene for the victims of war, set-up Médecins Sans Frontières. They continue today as an organisation of impartiality, independence and neutrality.
In his work for The Global Fund in Geneva, he has observed the power of involving those who are afflicted by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, in programs to end these epidemics and revitalise the communities impacted by them. They work harder than anyone to stop these epidemics and relieve the people impact by them. Stephane points out it often requires a power shift and cultural change to give voice and power to the people that are best positioned to enact change.
In humanitarian work, Stephane highlights that it is usually soft skills and emotional intelligence that enables someone to make a sustainable impact. In his work as the Director of International Immersion Programs, he is supporting young people develop the skills and intelligence to make a positive difference in the world. Every summer he welcomes public health students from University of California to experience life on the Myanmar-Thai border at Mae Sot and examine how health and well-being can be improved in refugee and border communities. It is through these experiences his students gain the emotional skills that will support them for years to come.
Stephane is developing new immersion programs in the region to incorporate students from multiple disciplines so they can experience boundary spanning, which Stephane describes as the power of bringing together the skills and perspective of different fields. Boundary spanning also sums up his unique skills and expertise developed over 25 years working across the region.