Social enterprise is a concept that the Thais are already familiar with. Social enterprises use their profits and channel it towards a positive impact on society and the environment at large. Consumers are increasingly holding companies accountable to carry out corporate social responsibility. They see social enterprises as a convenient and interesting way to give back to society. The Thai government has placed a number of incentives for the growth of social enterprises. It is this government-backing that sets it apart from the social enterprises of other countries and which has contributed to a boom in Thai social enterprises. Top 10 of Asia takes a look at its list (presented in random order) of the top 10 movers and shakers of the Thai social enterprise scene.
Founded by Dwight Turner, Courageous Kitchen currently operates a profitable social enterprise offering cooking classes to tourists and expats in Bangkok. It works to transform the lives of marginalized youth in Bangkok using the power of food and education. Its recipe for rehabilitating the community it serves combines feeding the hungry, funding basic needs of the most vulnerable and providing free education. The company’s outreach is funded through its social enterprise hosting tourists for unique Thai cooking classes and street food tours.
Doi Tung Development Project
The Doi Tung Development Project (DTDP) is administered by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation (MFLF). MFLF was founded 29 years ago by the Princess Mother. It is a Thai non-profit organization working to improve the livelihoods of marginalized communities through social services and entrepreneurship. DTDP aims to foster harmonious coexistence between humans and nature. It was established in northern Thailand, a region that previously led the world’s illicit opium poppy production. The project’s main objective is to create a sustainable livelihood for the people to be lifted from poverty, sickness and a lack of knowledge.
Established in 2014 by Passawee T. Kodaka, Folkcharm is an ethical enterprise that partners with natural cotton farmers, artisanal communities and local craftswomen to present apparels and products with the right blend of contemporary living and traditional wisdom, offering quality clothing and lifestyle products made from locally grown organic and chemical-free natural-dye hand-woven cotton to the market. Its mission is to communicate the philosophies and values of local traditions and craftsmanship and stories of makers through sales of the products, community tours and hands-on workshops. It now works with over 50 home-based women workers, farmers, cotton yarn spinners, weavers, tailors, seamstresses and craftswomen in Loei Province and Bangkok.
Baan Unrak Children’s Village
Baan Unrak, translated from Thai as “House of Joy”, was founded by Donata Dolci in 1991. It is a children’s home and community development project in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand. It provides food, medical care and education to over 130 children from Thailand, Burma and includes the neighbouring Mon and Karen States. In addition to the home, Baan Unrak founded an accredited primary school in 2004 in order to provide formal education for its children. Its women’s project is aimed to address the many issues faced by needy women along the border by providing vocational training, jobs and English lessons to single mothers and women.
HiveSters is a travel social enterprise with the mission to preserve the disappearing culture and bring more income to artisans in the local communities in Thailand. It is co-founded by sisters Achi Thamparipattra and Mint Thamparipattra who grew up in their family travel business and with backgrounds in business and social development. HiveSters has been working with more than 300 artisans around Thailand, whether in art and performances, crafts or cooking. It trains them to be ready to welcome and share their passion with travellers who are looking for unique and impactful experiences. The training includes service, storytelling and entrepreneurial skills. It provides first-time access to the tourism industry for many artisans.
Cabbages and Condoms
The modern Thai social enterprise movement can be traced back to Cabbages and Condoms. Established in 1974 by Mechai Viravaidya, a safe-sex activist and founder of Thailand’s Population and Community Development Association (PDA), all profits support the PDA and its programmes in primary health, education, HIV/AIDS, rural development, environment and water, among others. The clever name, world-class food and noble cause have made it a restaurant full of longevity, not looking to stop anytime soon.
Founded by Somsak Boonkam in 2013, Local Alike puts the idea of sustainable development into the core of community-based tourism practice in order to make villages in Thailand more self-sustained and to empower communities to gain positive impact from tourism while offering authentic travel experiences to travellers around the world. Its core is community-based tourism (CBT). It would like to use CBT to help the locals get what it deserves. CBT can create income distribution as the locals have to be responsible for different roles required in each trip. It provides the locals with CBT knowledge in order for them to be able to sustain themselves when the village is open for tourists.
Elephant Nature Park
Co-founded by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert in 2013, Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Province. By 2013, it opened an offshoot in western Thailand called the Erawan Elephant Retirement Park in western Thailand and by 2016 there were branch elephant parks in Surin and in Cambodia. It operates under a business model in which tourists pay to visit and help care for the animals (which includes dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand), and can stay for extended periods.
WANITA Social Enterprise arose from the belief that to communicate with others, a space should be created to reflect the story, way of life, and culture through the products made by the women’s group from the Deep South. Years of unrest in the southernmost provinces have forced women to seek out greater financial benefits for their family. WANITA is a women-led and community-based social enterprise that aims to create interest in both the social and financial dimensions to improve the quality of life of the people in the Deep South of Thailand. It believes that sustainable development is possible through business growth in tandem with social responsibility and environmental undertaking. It is an influential enterprise with almost 700 members from 56 groups of women in three southern border provinces and four districts of Songkhla Province.
The New Heaven Reef Conservation Programme (NHRCP)
The New Heaven Reef Conservation Program (NHRCP) is a marine research, protection, and restoration training programme on the island of Koh Tao. Established in 2007 by Somsak Boonkam, its programme is a social enterprise organisation that seeks to manage the marine resources of the island where it lives, while concurrently educating and increasing the capacity of local stakeholders and visitors. To date, it has trained thousands of students in its 2-4 week programmes, giving them the skills needed to assist in its on-going marine conservation projects, other projects worldwide, or to start their own marine conservation programs where none currently exist. It has also published over 15 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as dozens of papers from its student’s thesis projects.