People may have been interested in environmental issues for several years now, but it is only recently that we have seen real action being taken to reduce environmental problems. An obvious example is the reduction in the amount of plastic being used and people using cloth shopping bags instead of plastic ones. However, some people are thinking bigger than this. Sitta Marattanachai is one of the impressive UK alumni recognised as part of the 2020 Study UK Alumni Awards in the social impact category. She has founded a hackathon community that engages young determined minds to solve environmental issues in a new way.
Q: Where did your interest in solving environmental issues and protecting the environment in a sustainable way come from?
A: It started back when I was studying in the UK. My life was surrounded by news and activities relating to innovation in environmental protection. The UK announced that it would stop using coal and nuclear power and use offshore wind power instead. This was significant news. I participated in a hackathon that aimed to solve global warming and air pollution in London, as well as a seminar on power and carbon policies organised at the UK Houses of Parliament. I was surrounded by scientists and politicians who had the common aim of wanting to find a solution. They gave me hope and inspired me to get more involved.
Q: Is the hackathon you have started similar to the one that you participated in the UK? Please tell us a bit more.
A: I adapted the knowledge I gained as a participant in the UK to suit the problems we have here in Thailand. I named the hackathon Smogathon and chose the dust and smoke problems in Northern Thailand as the main theme. I brought together young people from different institutions who were all keen to meet one another, brainstorm and come up with innovation through creative thinking, taking into account human behaviours.
Q: What was the outcome?
A: Using a social movement to solve a problem is a new phenomenon. We no longer just wait for the government to act. I received several concrete ideas from the 12 teams of young people.
Q: How do you support these young people?
A: Over the past 2 years, my role has been to provide advice and guidance, e.g. on ways to access data, tools that we can use, such as NASA’s satellite map, as well as ways of obtaining funding. This is one of the challenges: young people will not necessarily know how to write to request funding. It is a problem within a problem, and such problems might be too hard for one person to deal with. Working as a team is therefore important.
Q: In addition to your work on environmental issues, we have heard that you are working on a project related to the Covid-19 outbreak.
A: I set up a website, www.thaicovid.co following a problem we experienced on our family Line group. Many people are aware that fake news is being shared every day. There was strange advice on coping with the outbreak and I felt agitated. Every time such a message appeared, I looked for the facts. In the end, I decided to set up this website to gather all the necessary information, without inundating people with news or drama. If there is anything that you would like to know about Covid-19, just visit ‘thaicovid’. It is being regularly updated. (Laugh)
Q: Finally, would you like to leave a message for the younger generation who are interested in playing a role in developing society? This can be related to topics other than environmental issues.
A: Be brave. Trial and error. Dare to try something. Dare to lend a hand to help other people. Dare to speak out about problems. Dare to support people who are doing well but do this in a way that you are not hurt. We do not have to become successful quickly. We can learn gradually.
Photo credit: Smogathon Thailand 2020