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ON A NOBLE MISSION TO HELP THOSE IN NEED
Arch Wongchindawest started his career as a consultant for non-profit organisations. He also worked with several UN agencies, local and international organisations. In 2014, Arch founded Socialgiver, a lifestyle and travel startup that raises funds for local charities through selling ‘deals’ from top brands. In an interview with Top 10 of Asia, he talks about what inspired him to establish his company and how they successfully impacted and transformed many lives in Thailand.
“I initiated my first project in 2010 to organise a citywide exhibition across Bangkok that featured 100 installation art pieces by hundreds of volunteer artists. Along with a core team of 30 volunteers, we were able to attract partners like UNESCO, UNV and Red Cross to support it,” says Arch Wongchindawest. From there on, Arch has initiated and supported numerous events and campaigns aimed at public engagement or fundraising for a range of causes.
In 2014, Arch founded Socialgiver, a lifestyle and travel startup. “Socialgiver helps customers achieve maximum social and environmental impact when they splurge on traveling, dining, and other new experiences with over 300 selected brands across Thailand,” says Arch excitedly. “When you use Socialgiver service, all the profits from your purchases go to fund amazing life-changing projects.”
“While helping smaller non-profit organisations, I discovered that a critical problem they faced was a lack of funding, stemming from a sole reliance on donations. What adds to this problem was that every non-profit would be competing for this small pie, donation power, and as time went by, the cost and competition for this was leading to great inefficiencies, distractions, and loss of impact,” shares Arch.
Arch enjoys travelling, savouring nice meals and gaining new experiences but he has always felt guilty for spending money on those things. “I know that $100 a night in a hotel room could put a child through school for a year or a $20 meal could provide clean water for a whole classroom for months. A single holiday could profoundly change so many lives. I asked myself, what if I could spend on these things but have the money instead to go to support charities? That’s how Socialgiver started,” says Arch.
Arch and his team approached hotels, restaurants, activities, events and asked them to donate a portion of their service capacity. “The donation will become GiveCards that, upon purchase, would directly fund a range of amazing projects across Thailand. When people purchase anything on Socialgiver, 100% of the profits are donated to charity,” says the inspiring social entrepreneur.
“Socialgiver has now become a network of over 300 generous brands who, together with their customers, care about giving back to society to help drive it forward,” says Arch. “For charities, this is a new lifeline which allows them to tap into the ever-growing consumer spending power, allowing them to make a difference every time people spend money on their lifestyles.”
Travel, dining and related activities are key components of people’s lifestyles everywhere around the world and Socialgiver capitalises on these in its business. “We want to make “giving” a part of everyone’s daily lives, and we think if people could easily become more socially responsible in an attractive way, then it would lead to real change,” says Arch with enthusiasm. “You can simultaneously contribute to changing lives while going on holiday, eating out or getting a spa treatment. In the bigger scheme of things, we see a world that has become increasingly unequal and we’re hoping that Socialgiver can help bridge that gap between those who have been most fortunate and those left furthest behind.”
“Customers shop on Socialgiver.com or mobile app for great deals from leading hotels, restaurants, and activities across Thailand. Socialgiver also makes your shopping experience even more special by donating 100% of its profits from your purchases to help create impact and sustainability for important causes,” says Arch. “Socialgiver offers a brand-new way for people to support local projects. It is breaking barriers between consumer spending and donations to fuel impact. We help projects raise funds, increase the level of transparency and increase their effectiveness through collaboration. With Socialgiver, people or organisations can now carry out their key missions more effectively by focusing on where change is needed the most.”
Socialgiver has been bootstrapped until today. “I think a lot of startups use the funds they have raised from investors as a factor for success. But for us, we take pride in using as little resource as possible to achieve as much impact as possible,” says Arch proudly. “For us to be able to make it this far without multiple funding rounds like other startups would need is something we are all really proud of. When the time comes for us to raise funds for scaling up, I believe our investors will appreciate it too.”
Another important milestone that Socialgiver has achieved is impacting over 300,000 lives through the projects it has funded. “Because we fund a range of different issues, we use ‘lives impacted’ as a common denominator to measure the total impact from all the different projects. Every time customers make a purchase, we will automatically show them how many lives thy will impact. On top of that, they’ll also get updates about the projects’ major successes”
“2020 was an incredibly challenging year for most of us. But when the pandemic hit Thailand, we did one thing differently. We chose to stand together and help one another,” says Arch. “We gave our support behind the frontline healthcare workers and community volunteers, and did whatever we could to help stop the spread.” Since the beginning of 2020, Socialgiver shifted its entire company’s focus to fight COVID-19. “We translated important content, compiled hospital needs across the country, procured and sent essential supplies, campaigned and supported grassroots initiatives to support vulnerable communities that are most impacted.”
“It was an incredibly important year for us, and a year that made us very proud of the work that we do. Yet our path for most of the year was not always clear,” reminisces Arch. “We decided that if we were going to go down, we’d end with a spectacular project that would save countless lives. We raised over eleven million baht within a few months with the help of many generous partners, our customers and supporters that truly believe in the work that we do. Thankfully, Socialgiver survived. We were given a lifeline by Dr. Harald Link of B.Grimm Group and his family who gave us the opportunity to explain the importance of our work and our vision of a more collaborative, generous and compassionate world. In 2020, we welcomed B.Grimm as Socialgiver’s new official sponsor.” Thanks to them, Socialgiver was given the resources required to shift its model, to revive its team and to launch a new campaign which would introduce the company to many new wonderful giving partners who were also ready to fight to help revive tourism while also lending a helping hand to projects and people who were unable to cope with the devastating impact of this crisis.
“We’re eternally grateful that hundreds of businesses and thousands of people joined our call to action and that made a huge difference both for our survival and for the impact that we were ultimately able to create,” says Arch. “Unfortunately, our big plans for the end of year campaign were disrupted by a fresh wave of COVID and we realised that 2021 has thrown us another big challenge. Now with a much larger team, we’ve been able to address challenges faster, more effectively and at an even larger scale. We initiated a new project called Thailand Recovery Fund which is currently trying to drive change at a national level”
Arch provides the vision, ideas and the creative solutions when a problem arises or when major decisions need to be made. “I am fortunate to have my co-founder, Aliza Napartivaumnuay, and COO, Kanchita Kitjansian to keep everyone motivated, goal orientated and working effectively together as a team at Socialgiver,” says Arch. “I provide ongoing sources of inspirations such as diving deeper into certain projects and help run some projects when we see opportunities that can bring about real change. Other times, it’s about painting a clear picture of where Socialgiver could be in a few years’ time and what we need to do to get there.”
“I want to live in a world where people take care of each other, where there is no suffering and where there is an abundance of opportunities for everyone. The systems and culture today spurs inequality and I hope that Socialgiver can help bring about a new movement of socially conscious consumers and businesses, who also believe in creating a better world rather than maximising profits at anyone else’s expense,” says Arch. “Socialgiver is an idea of a giving economy, a way in which sharing resources creates a winning solution for every stakeholder.”
The entrepreneur has always been passionate and dedicated to his professional life for the past ten years. “Moving forward, I would like to focus more on empowering teams of aspiring changemakers and to invest and advise the next generation of social entrepreneurs,” says Arch, who feels that there is a lack of impact driven investors and advisors in Thailand. “Our ecosystem could develop much further if only I could fill this gap. I really do want to have more time for my personal life but for some reason, the work I do keeps pulling me to always want to do more. It’s often hard to say no when you know how many lives could be made better.”
“Starting a social enterprise was much harder than I thought. My advice for those who are interested to start a social enterprise is to get ready for how tough it will get. When I started, I thought it would be quite easy. We had a great model for society that benefits everyone that got involved and I thought that everyone would want to help,” shares Arch. “However, it turns out that everyone needed convincing and reminding, and many times they just wanted too much for themselves and giving wasn’t important to them.”
“It would have been much easier to operate a regular business compared to asking people to help our society. If you are interested in starting a social enterprise, be prepared for things to cost three times as much and take three times longer than you think it will at the start. People often think that success depends on how much you want it, but actually the more important question you need to ask yourself is what are you willing to sacrifice to make it successful?”