Ten Years and More of SEASREP
Maria Serena (Maris) I. Diokno
On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, the Advisory Committee on the Toyota Foundation’s Vision and Initiative reported that the “Southeast Asian Studies Regional Exchange Program embodies the achievements of the Toyota Foundation’s 30-year involvement in Southeast Asia. It has been a success in terms of the promotion of reciprocal exchange within the Southeast Asian region and the development of young researchers” (First Interim Report, 23 February 2004). This conclusion was reached after the external review of SEASREP in 2002.
The generation and dissemination of knowledge about the region and support for promising, young scholars remain at the top of SEASREP’s agenda. In the next decade SEASREP intends to engage more vigorously in the formal education sector by conceptualizing innovative courses on Southeast Asia and offering advanced (non-degree) seminars for graduate students, faculty and research staff. As SEASREP broadens its network in the region, it aims as well to develop active links with Southeast Asian specialists in other parts of Asia and the world. The collaboration between SEASREP and KISEAS (Korean Institute of Southeast Asian Studies) is just the beginning of new partnerships.
To carry out these plans, Taufik, Charnvit, Shaharil and Maris—SEASREP’s founding members—decided in early March 2005 to dissolve the Foundation and in its stead, establish a nine-member Board of Trustees. The Board’s primary task is to set the thrust and general direction of SEASREP, appoint the Executive Director and members of the Selection Committee, and commission an external review every five years.
The changing of the guard signals a new decade of SEASREP. In a letter to Yumiko Himemoto-Hiraishi of the Toyota Foundation (8 March 2005), SEASREP’s closest friend and long-time partner, I explained the reason for these changes.
The Foundation members are proud of their achievements these past ten years. Not only have we professionalized the selection process—and thereby ensured the integrity of the Foundation’s grant programs—but improved the quantity and quality of applications, a point our consultants have made on several occasions. SEASREP has also gained recognition in the region and indeed, even outside it. Apart from our vibrant grants program, the most telling proof of such recognition is the establishment of two similar (and very well-endowed) programs in the region: Ford Foundation’s Asian Studies in Asia program, and Nippon Foundation’s Asian Public Intellectuals. Both followed the SEASREP initiative. Moreover, in one capacity or another, members of the Foundation have taken part in these two programs—a clear demonstration of the Foundation’s stature in the region.
Equally significant is the vastly expanded SEASREP network. A good number of our “alumni” received subsequent grants from other programs as a result of their track record with us. We have brought in young and new scholars into our Foundation-initiated projects. The transformation of our traveling classroom into a formal three-credit course is further proof of the inroads we have made into higher education in the region.
Pleased as we are with what we have built over the last ten years, the Foundation members also recognize the challenges ahead and are prepared to confront these challenges. It is in this spirit that the Foundation proposes changes in its organizational structure. Our proposal aims to further raise the visibility of SEASREP in the region and other parts of the world, and strengthen the institution’s capacity to sustain itself over the long term. By sustainability we refer … to … the capacity not merely to respond to, but also anticipate, developments in the field of Southeast Asian studies and in the region and larger world as well.
Finally, and not least, we are immensely grateful to you and the Toyota Foundation, as well as the Japan Foundation, for the support and confidence you have given the Foundation. We also deeply appreciate the counsel of Profs. Ishii and McVey; we could not have found better or wiser consultants. The Foundation has, indeed, been privileged.
For all these reasons and, may I add, the most fundamental one—the founding members’ collective passion for and commitment to studies of the region, in the region, by members of the region, these changes were proposed and accepted.
On a sentimental note, Kuala Lumpur holds special meaning for SEASREP’S founders. We first met there in 1994, to constitute ourselves as a Foundation and craft the blueprint of what came to be SEASREP’s grants and exchange program. How serendipitous that the founders met again in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, this time to put a happy ending to the Foundation after an exciting and exhilarating decade.