Mountains by the sea in Vietnam

Research Fund

SEAC's Research Fund provides support to LSE academic staff at Assistant Professor/Assistant Professorial Research Fellow level or above, in addition to SEAC Associates outside LSE.The Fund aims to promote high-quality research on the region by LSE academics.

Applications to the Research Fund are now closed. For any queries or more information on this scheme please email:

I am delighted to support the establishment of this Centre to enable LSE to consolidate and strengthen its education and research on the Southeast Asia region among students, researchers and faculty members.

Professor Saw Swee Hock

 2021 - 2022 Academic Year

Tech beyond Silicon Valley: Examining the development of Singapore’s high-tech ecosystem

Economic geographers have long sought to explain the development of new, innovation-based industries. To do this, they have drawn particularly on the US technology sector, in general, and the concentration of digital technology industries around Silicon Valley in particular. The result has been a series of seminal studies about the emergence and development of clusters of innovative activity (e.g. Saxenian 1994; Kenney, 2000; Storper et al., 2015). The ‘Silicon Valley model’ has inspired policymakers across the world who have used a similar toolbox but, often, achieved very different results (Lerner, 2009; Klinger-Vidra, 2018).

However, the focus on the Silicon Valley model ignores other examples of success in the development of innovation-intensive industries (Breznitz, 2021). For example, the Singaporean ride-hailing company Grab had the largest NASDAQ IPO of any South East Asian company. But the story was very different to that of Silicon Valley, as the Singaporean government – through Temasek, a state fund – was a major early investor, and the entrepreneurs involved were highly networked into the ruling party. Yet there has been little work on the development of the digital tech sector in Singapore.

This project would address this gap with a detailed case study of the development of Singapore’s digital technology sector, understood as firms which use digital tech as part of their growth – this would include Singaporean firms such as Trax (computer vision), Patsnap (internet software), Hyalroute (fibre), and Matrixport (Fintech). Funding from SEAC would help us investigate the political economy of the development of Singaporean digital tech, the wider policy lessons of the approach, and the problems it raises.


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Professor Neil Lee, Principle Investigator

Professor Neil Lee is Professor of Economic Geography in the Department of Geography and Environment. He joined the Department in 2013, having previously run a research team in a think-tank. He convenes the Cities, Jobs and Economic Change theme in the International Inequalities Institute and is Director of BSc Geography with Economics

His research considers economic development, innovation, public policy, and inequality. Recent studies have included work on institutions and economic development in Africa and China, regional inequality and political polarisation in Europe and the United States, and innovation policy in Kuwait. Current projects include a major ESRC funded project constructing new measures of regional inequality and a book, due 2023, on innovation and inclusive growth.



Augustin Boey, Co-Investigator




 2020 - 2021 Academic Year

Seasonality in the Anthropocene: social constructions of Singapore’s ‘haze season’

Widespread burning of tropical peatlands is now considered to be an annual event in equatorial southeast Asia. The fires cause poor air quality (‘haze’), affecting the health of millions and lead to diplomatic disputes between places that burn and the places downwind that suffer in the smoke. Our project focusses on the emerging social construction of the ‘haze season’ in Singapore.

Seasonality is a conceptual tool for societies to make sense of their surrounding physical environment. The expectation of recurring seasons allows people to organise their livelihoods around these environmental changes. Through analysis of traditional and social media, and surveys, we aim to investigate the emergence of the haze season and how it has been defined by society. Our research seeks to evaluate the extent to which a new seasonality may lead to normalisation (e.g. desensitisation) of the phenomena and how this has impacted haze mitigation efforts (e.g. activism) and adaptation behaviours (e.g. wearing masks, staying indoors).



Dr Thomas Smith, Priciple Investigator

Thomas Smith is Assistant Professor in Environmental Geography at the Department of Geography & Environment, LSE. Tom is a geographer and environmental scientist, specialising in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the role of biomass burning in the Earth system. Tom enjoys highly collaborative field and lab research focussing on smoke emissions from wildland fires. He is particularly interested in tropical peatland environments and the complex interactions between agricultural practices, peatland degradation, peat fire emissions characteristics and their associated impacts.



Felicia Liu, Co-Investigator

Felicia Liu is a PhD candidate at the Departments of Geography at King's College London and the National University of Singapore. Her research interests cover climate finance, corporate sustainability and the nexus of climate science production, communication and policy-making. Her doctoral thesis studies the development of climate finance in three Asian financial centres; Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Prior to commencing her PhD, she has conducted research in regulating sustainability reporting in Hong Kong and Singapore. On top of her graduate research, she is also engaged in research related to the governance of nature-based carbon sinks in Southeast Asia. Felicia is a part of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre Early Career Researcher Network.

   2019 - 2020 Academic Year


The Kleptocrat’s Accomplice? The Political Economy of Professional Intermediaries and the Plunder of Poor Countries

This project examines the role played by lawyers, accountants, and other professional service providers in enabling the transfer of illicit money out of resource-rich but people-poor countries and into the financial systems of developed economies in the West and, increasingly, the East. High profile investigations by journalists exposing the 1MDB, Luanda Leaks, and Panama Papers scandals, have highlighted the part played by professional intermediaries, sometimes internationally-branded firms operating in major financial centres, in helping globally mobile elites move, launder, and protect ill-gotten gains. The project asks what drives the decisions and behaviours of these professionals as they manage the tension between the pressure to bring in new client revenue and the obligation to comply with anti-money laundering requirements. It analyses and compares four jurisdictions: Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and Dubai. It examines how the behaviour of professional service providers in each jurisdiction changed in response to the historical evolution in the institutions regulating money-laundering and to major media investigations exposing professional service provider complicity.

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Dr. Omar Shahabudin McDoom, Principal Investigator

Dr McDoom is an Assistant Professor in Comparative Politics in the LSE’s Department of Government. Before entering academia, he worked for the World Bank on international development policy and strategy. He is also an Attorney admitted in New York.


Strengthening Landscape Governance: comparing institutional designs under rapid change in Papua, Indonesia



Rural landscapes throughout Southeast Asia are changing because of agricultural commercialization, and a growing concern about forest conservation and reforestation. But are these new environmental initiatives inclusive and effective? In some locations such as Papua – the most eastern province of Indonesia on the border with Papua New Guinea – local people and human rights groups are worried that forest policy will actually hurt local agriculture and reduce the opportunities for development experienced by local people.

In this new research project beginning in January 2020, two members of the London School of Economics and Political Science will undertake detailed field research to identify lessons for integrating national forest policy with local development in the Indonesia province of Papua. The research will compare two zones where commercialization and forest policies have been undertaken in different ways. The objectives of this work will be to advise national and international approaches to forest policy, and to represent the views of local people.

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Prof. Tim Forsyth, Principal Investigator

Prof. Tim Forsyth is professor of environment and development in the Department of International Development, LSE. He has undertaken research in various places in Southeast Asia, and especially in Thailand. He is the author of Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: The politics of environmental knowledge in northern Thailand (University of Washington Press, 2008, with Andrew Walker).


Prof. Gill Shepherd, Co-Investigator

Prof. Gill Shepherd is a visiting professor in the Department of Anthropology, LSE. She has worked with the Overseas Development Institute and Centre for International Forestry Research. She has specialised in inclusive politics to landscape governance in the tropics and has advised international organizations such as the World Bank, the European Commission, United Nations, as well as with the UK’s Department for International Development’s Multistakeholder Forestry Programme in Indonesia, including Papua.




  2018 - 2019 Academic Year


The Palm Oil Concession Moratorium and its Spatial Impact on Deforestation


This project aims to analyse the effectiveness of the 2011 Moratorium on Palm Oil, Timber and Logging concessions, issued by then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in compliance to the REDD+ agreement reached by Norway and Indonesia in May 2010. The Moratorium sought to halt the conversion of primary forest and peatlands into palm oil, timber and logging estates, thus slowing down the intensive deforestation processes which characterised the Indonesian land-use sector in the previous decades.

This project is attempting to answer the following questions using a unique spatially defined dataset on land-use, forest fires and oil-palm production, combined with econometric methods for impact analysis:

  • Has the Moratorium been effective in slowing down deforestation within its declared perimeter? Have there been differences in the rates of deforestation observed among the three different land-use designations?
  • What are the industry-specific drivers of deforestation in the agricultural and land-use sector?
  • Is it possible to assess whether the presence of foreign investors, namely Multinational Enterprises, has intensified the deforestation process? Which characteristics of the Multinationals involved in the Indonesian agricultural sector play a major role in their propensity to clear forested land?
  • Is there a causal link between rural poverty and deforestation? Do Multinationals take advantage of relative deprivation in rural areas to perpetrate heavier deforestation practices?

Dr Ben Groom, Principal Investigator

Ben Groom is an Associate Professor of Environment and Development Economics in the LSE Department of Geography and Environment. 


Dr Charles Palmer, Principal Investigator

Charles Palmer is an Associate Professor of Environment and Development at the LSE Department of Geography and Environment. 


Lorenzo Sileci, Research Assistant

Lorenzo has recently completed his MSc Environmental Economics and Climate Change (Distinction) at LSE, with a thesis on palm oil-induced deforestation in Indonesia. 


  2016 - 2017 Academic Year

Funded research projects


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Vietnam’s Position in the Global Textile and Apparel Industry: implications for regional investments, trade, and labour

Focusing on the case of Asian trans-national producers, this project will address the main investment and trade shifts that will take place locally and regionally as part of Vietnam's accession to the TPP and the implications of these shifts for Vietnam in regard to labour rights.

Principal investigator: Dr Shamel Azmeh, Visiting Fellow at the Middle East Centre, LSE.


From Alternative Development to Sustainable Development: a case study of Myanmar

The Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia has been a major opium-producing area in the world since WWII, making drug policy a significant issue in the region. This project aims to establish Sustainable Development as the key framework for drug policy reform in Myanmar above current policy recommendations that focus on the symptomatic issues surrounding problematic drug use.

Principal investigator: Dr John Collins, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Unit, United States Centre, LSE.


Explaining Shifts in U.S. Burma Policy: the role of foreign policy entrepreneurs

Myanmar’s democratic reforms have followed a prior major change in U.S. Burma policy, namely the Obama administration’s decision to re-engage the military regime in 2009. This project will examine the major shifts in US policy toward Myanmar and explain these as instances of successful foreign policy entrepreneurship. 

Principal investigatorDr Jürgen Haacke, SEAC Director and Associate Professor in International Relations at LSE.


Developing a General Equilibrium Model for Vietnam to Capture the Economic Impact of Social Protection Programmes

Vietnam’s national social protection strategy has been more comprehensive and effective than that of many countries in Southeast Asia. This project will develop a new social accounting matrix and a General Equilibrium Model to represent Vietnam’s economy and to offer a comparison point with Cambodia, where the social protection strategy struggles to materialise.

Principal investigator: Dr Stephanie Levy, Guest Lecturer at the Department of International Development, LSE.


Communal Violence, Mujahedin and Child Fighters: a history of the Ambon Conflict 1999-2003

The objective of this project is to analyse the causes and the dynamics of the Ambon conflict, an understudied communal conflict which saw large scale violence between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia. Part of the project will also focus on the not insignificant number of child fighters involved in the conflict.

Principal investigator: Dr Kirsten Schulze, SEAC Associate and Associate Professor in International History at LSE.


Property before People: real estate assets, inequalities and contestation of property rights in Southeast Asia

This project aims to understand inequalities associated with real estate asset accumulation, and people’s contestation of property rights in Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore and Vietnam. By examining the changing perception of these issues would provide insight into how housing inequalities are closely related to the broader structural issues of state legitimacy and social stability.

Principal investigator: Dr Hyun Bang Shin, SEAC Associate and Associate Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at LSE.