Bangkok’s social enterprise (SE) start-up scene is booming. A new batch of young entrepreneurs is looking to create businesses that, instead of creating maximum profit for individuals, address social problems and generate income for those who need it most. But can the philanthropic business aspirations of young graduates really solve our social problems? Or are SE’s just a sexy new trend for a small pool of young elites?
“I get asked a lot if social enterprises are just a new trend. Even if it is a trend, it’s still doing good for society—I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” says Aliza Napartivaumnuay, whose project SocialGiver (see right) utilizes spare business capacity (like empty hotel rooms
and unused spa packages) and directs the profits towards charitable causes.
Though there has been a recent surge in the number of locally operated SE companies, support from the Thai government for the SE ecosystem has actually been steadily growing for some time. In fact, Thailand has a positive standing in the region because of its government-backed SE initiative, the Thai Social Enterprise Office (TSEO), which runs workshops, gives consultations and also pushes for policies that will create a more favorable business environment. (Even if social enterprises, unlike foundations and charities, are still taxed like commercial entities.)
Private initiatives supported by the TSEO like ChangeFusion, Unltd Thailand, Banpu and Ashoka also help kick-start new ventures through incubation programs and competitive grants. Pin Kasemsiri, the founder of internship platform CareerVisa, which has recently been hosting a series of one-day career workshops to help Gen-Yers discover their career potential (see BK Now, page 32), explains how these programs can help young businesses flourish: “What started as a side project—something I explored at university—grew a lot from the Banpu Competition. If a social enterprise cannot identify a social problem that needs fixing and develop a sustainable revenue model, it can’t succeed.”
Not all start-ups want to be heavily dependent on outside help, though. Chairit Imjaroen, founder of the charitable ice-cream brand Farmsook, which provides finance and education to children from underprivileged backgrounds, is skeptical of extra support being given to SE. “We’re just like any other startups,” he says. “Some succeed and some fail. We have to change the mindset that we need extra support. Sure, it’s not easy, and can feel even harder when you’re trying to achieve two things at the same time. But normal businesses don’t get that extra support. We all just have to work at it and not develop a cycle of dependency on financial grants.”
For the next generation of wannabe SE startups, the channels of formal education are growing, too. Two years ago, Thammasat University started an accredited Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship (GSSE), and there are now plenty more courses at leading business schools across the country, as well as regular youth camps and workshops that serve to educate, train and inspire socially conscious entrepreneurship—Sasin Centre for Sustainability Management at Chulalongkorn University and Srinakarinwirot University’s regular talks and workshops are just two examples.
But professional consultation and mentorship systems are still in their infancy, which means many rely on networks of friends and experts from different fields for support. That’s where groups like Thai Young Philanthropist Network (TYPN) and Ma.D Hub for Social Entrepreneurs come in, which serves as a social hub for startups working on like-minded projects. “Anyone can just approach us,” explains Ma.D. founder Preekamol Chantaranijakorn. “We started off as a co-working space, but it just didn’t make sense to charge people who want to do good for society. So now we provide free space for social entrepreneurs to discuss new ideas, and also bring in experts in different fields for training workshops. We try to connect like-minded people, because that’s how things start. We’re also planning to run our own incubation program in the near future.”
Ma.D Hub for Social Entrepreneurs
Achiraya Thamparipattra, founder of Hivesters, also another great local online marketplace for socially responsible lifestyle activities, believes that the main problem in Thailand is the false perception of SEs. “A lot of people still think that a social enterprise is an NGO, which is not the case. We are just a group of passionate people who want to create good businesses that not only solve social issues, but are also profitable and scalable. Thailand needs more and more people to be a part of the movement and help create positive changes.”
So what is the likelihood that we’ll be seeing any of these new SE startups in five years’ time? “There are actually many success stories,” says Viria Vichit-Vadakarn, founder of GSSE and GLab, a social innovation lab that supports the Thammasat program and runs skill-training workshops on Human-Centered Design and Social Innovation Tools. “They’re just not well-documented.” The Doi Tung Development Project, Grassroot Innovations Network, the Abhaibubejr Hospital Foundation and Cabbages and Condoms are just a few notable local success stories.
Aliza of Social Giver sees great potential in the future of locally-grown social enterprises. “People just need to see that social enterprises can be as successful as any other startups. They need to realize that these sort of ventures are not out of reach, not foreign, not limited to just businesses outside of Thailand.”
Essentials: How to get in touch
Thai Social Enterprise Office (TSEO):
Ma.D Hub for Social Entrepreneurs:
Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship Program (GSSE):
02-564-3089-91 ext. 77057 sgs.tu.ac.th
The SE startups worth your support
“People already want to do good; they just need someone to make it more fun, convenient and accessible.”
Aliza Napartivaumnuay, co-founder of SocialGiver
Who they help: New social projects, small enterprises, foundations and charities
How they help:
By partnering with local businesses, SocialGiver gets you great online deals which make use of spare business capacity—like empty hotel rooms
and un-booked spas. Each baht you spend on a gift card gets converted into a social coin, which then gets distributed to social projects like SavingNepal, Food4Good and The Swimsafe Sharks. Users can vote on where their money
goes, leaving the consumer in charge of what they do—and don’t—want to support. These guys are also representing Thailand on the world stage this July at the Ventures competition in San Francisco.
“Lots of companies are using their CSR budget for good—all of the 12 schools for the blind in the country now have access to Lensen as an educational tool.”
Chatchai Aphibanpoonpon, founder and CEO of Klong Dinsor
Who they help: Children with blindness
How they help: Klong Dinsor has developed an educational tool to facilitate blind children’s learning process through art. The Lensen drawing kit is really simple: draw on a velcro-like board using a specially-developed wool pen, which rolls out a yarn that gets stuck in the velcro. Kids are then able to feel the shape that they’ve just created. At present, the drawing tool is also being distributed abroad.
How to get involved:
Lensen drawing kits are available for purchase at www.klongdinsor.com
. They also organize events during which the blind and volunteers can exchange experiences with one another. For the latest updates, go to www.fb.com/klongdinsor
“We make sure that we only work with communities that are ready. Profits generated will never go to just a single individual. That’s what community-based tourism is meant to achieve.”
Somsak “Pai” Boonkam, co-founder and CEO of LocalAlike
Who they help: Hill-tribe and agricultural communities
How they help:
This tour company says hotels
and agencies are reaping too much of the income generated by Thailand’s tourism industry, rather than the small villages and communities that the tourists actually come to see. LocalAlike works on the ground with villages that are ready to accept tourism, and teaches them how to manage and plan tours by themselves. They are then connected to customers through LocalAlike’s online marketplace, which also compiles detailed profiles and user reviews. Profit is split 30:70 between LocalAlike and the community, with five percent from each party’s share ring-fenced to address development issues within the community.
How to get involved:
If you haven’t planned your next trip, there are plenty of options to choose from: village homestays
, day trips and half-day trips. It also offers customized corporate tours. Find out more at www.LocalAlike.com
“We’re different from other NGOs because we’re actually a part of the community. We’ve helped create a new community of women that otherwise would not have been able to come together.”
Asma Nakasewee, founder of Wo-Manis
Who they help: Widows and orphans who have lost family members to violence in the Southern provinces of Thailand
How they help:
In an area plagued with violence, the loss of family members means mental and financial strains on those left behind. Wo-Manis is a social enterprise from Pattani province that creates jobs for widows by training and employing
them to create handmade products like scarves, shawls, hijabs and other accessories. This utilizes the skills that already exist within different communities of women in the South. Social media is used as a tool to raise awareness, which has in turn developed into an e-commerce platform. In addition, a portion of the proceeds goes towards funding education for local orphans.
How to get involved:
They’re currently in the process of developing a new website platform, but products from their old collection can still be purchased at www.fb.com/womanisscarf
or on Instagram at wo_manis.
Farmsook Ice Cream
“We’ve helped over 500 children and raised over a million baht.”
Chairit Imjaroen, founder of Farmsook Ice Cream
Who they help: Underprivileged children
How they help: Farmsook Ice Cream not only holds classes on how to produce homemade ice cream, but also teaches basic business skills to children from disadvantaged homes, orphanages and foundations, mainly targeting children aged between 13-18 years old. The ice creams which the children produce are distributed and sold, with proceeds reinvested into the training program, as well as syphoned into a fund to support the children’s future commercial business practices. The CEO was also one of the speakers at TedxBangkok, organized earlier this month.
How to get involved:
Their tasty ice creams are available at Cafe Velo Dome, TCDC Shop, Ma:D and more (see full list at www.fb.com/farmsookicecream
. Pre-order delivery also available at 083-137-9705.