Whether it’s a roadside somtum stand in Sisaket or a decorative, three-story shophouse in Bangkok, small businesses stitch the fabric of Thailand’s economy and culture. Still, in a time of great technological advancement and as entire industries scramble to avoid the pitfalls of technological disruption, many wonder how Thailand’s three million small businesses can survive.
Dr. Wimonkan Kosuma is not one of those people. In fact, she is as optimistic as ever about the future of small businesses. The sunny outlook of Dr. Wimonkan, the Deputy Director General of Thailand’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP), stems from the accessibility of digital technology.
The major technological advancements of the past, such as steam engines, could only be accessed by colossal corporations swimming in cash. In the digital era, however, anyone with a smart phone can tap into e-commerce platforms, robust logistics systems and online payment mechanisms. Indicative of the simple power of digitalization, Dr. Wimonkan pointed to a street vendor in Khon Kaen who has begun selling mum (sausage) on an online platform and has since seen her revenue surge.
For Dr. Wimonkan, seeing small businesses succeed is not only good for the economy but society as well. She vividly recalls when the Tom Yum Goong Financial Crisis hit Thailand in 1997 and soon spread across Asia. During the crisis, small businesses cushioned society by providing local jobs and inexpensive products and services as Thailand’s currency lost value at a dizzying rate and economic turmoil ensued.
In the wake of the crisis, the Thai government, too, recognized the importance of having strong small businesses and established OSMEP in 2000 for the express purpose of guiding all policies related to small and medium-sized businesses. Dr. Wimonkan, who worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time, jumped at the opportunity to join the new agency in 2002 as the Director of the International Cooperation and Policy Support Department.
In this role, she connected with Kenan Foundation Asia because of its long list of international partners and a history of helping small business succeed in the global economy. With OSMEP still relatively new and knowing that Kenan could deliver high-quality work in an international setting, Dr. Wimonkan called on Kenan to organize a regional APEC seminar on behalf of OSMEP in 2003. The seminar was a huge success, and the relationship blossomed from there, as OSMEP and Kenan have since implemented more than a dozen projects to help small businesses form clusters, enhance quality standards and enter international markets.
Today, as Thailand enters the Industry 4.0 era, Dr. Wimonkan says that OSMEP’s role is to help small businesses achieve digitalization, transformation and internationalization. Kenan remains a key partner in achieving these goals. In the past year, the two have organized another regional APEC seminar to help small businesses adopt e-commerce into their operations and implemented a capacity building program for betta fish breeders to leverage e-commerce platforms to sell their fish overseas.
“Kenan has always been wonderful,” Dr. Wimonkan said. “We know that we can count on Kenan for its professionalism and expertise.”
For more than 15 years, Dr. Wimonkan has been a tireless champion of Thailand’s small businesses. And throughout this time, Kenan has remained a loyal and trusted partner, a trend unlikely to end in the digital era.