Business School project aims to help improve sustainability in Southeast Asia

Katherine Moss

Researchers from Kent Business School (KBS) have concluded a pioneering two-year project in Southeast Asia to assist developing countries to meet sustainable development goals by building new expertise and capacity in Operational Research (OR).

The project, entitled Improving Community Resilience & Sustainability Through Operational Research Capacity Building in Southeast Asia (CREST-OR), was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). It was led by KBS in collaboration with the universities of Southampton and Lancaster and aimed to address challenges in four main areas – disaster management, food security, transport Infrastructure and smart cities – in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Operations Research is the discipline of applying advanced analytical methods, such as data analysis, simulation and mathematical optimisation, to make better decisions and identify solutions to complex problems.

The KBS team, which featured Professor Maria Paola Scaparra, Mr Graham Adutt, Professor Jesse O’Hanley and Dr Kathy Kotiadis, recently travelled to the region to visit local universities, discuss the development of OR programmes and run a collaborative workshop involving policymakers and practitioners to scope out OR projects addressing key development challenge areas.

The project concluded on 31 March, with a final workshop taking place in Siem Reap, Cambodia on 29 March. The final event consisted of a hybrid workshop with teams joining virtually from other venues in Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia and the UK. There were also participants from nearby Southeast Asia countries, including The Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand.

Prof Scaparra said: ‘Operational Research has significant potential to contribute to meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A majority of the countries we are working with lack the research capacity to develop and apply relevant OR methodologies and we want to step in and change that.

‘An overarching aim of the project is to establish a long-term UK-SEA partnership to build research capacity in OR methodologies, improve community resilience to natural disasters, and achieve national sustainable development goals in the region. Throughout the project, we ran a series of capacity building events aimed at advancing the OR research capabilities of Southeast Asia researchers at different career stages and stimulating the formation of new institutional links among project partners. The project culminated with the establishment of the SEA OR Network (SEAORN), which hopes to become a self-sustaining OR community for supporting longstanding initiatives in Southeast Asian countries through engagement of policymakers and practitioners at national and local levels.’

Dr. Tharith Sriv, a CREST-OR co-investigator from Cambodia, remarked: ‘Through this project Cambodia – and I think the other participating countries from Southeast Asia as well – gained many benefits. As well as increased OR expertise, the teams from Southeast Asia have established connections with UK key OR experts and established the SEAORN. I hope that these connections and projects continue to grow and help us achieve the SDGs.’