One Man Demonstrates the Importance of Social Entrepreneurship for Community Development in Thailand
Without notice, one of Pongsuriyen Choocham’s employees stopped showing up for work. A concerned Pongsuriyen wondered what had happened and decided to pay a visit to his employee’s home. There, he encountered a man struggling with more than he had imagined. Pongsuriyen knew his employee was disabled – all of his employees are – but now his condition had worsened to the point that working was no longer possible.
Two years ago, Pongsuriyen, called Pong by those close to him, started Sichon Matyom, a tie-dye clothing brand with a mission to provide dignity, independence, and a sustainable income to people with disabilities in Nakhon Si Thammarat. When Pong met with his disheartened employee, he thought back to this mission and decided that it was his responsibility to maintain support for his friend, who, like many disabled individuals in Thailand, had nowhere to turn in times of need.
No one had to explain the difficulties that disabled people face to Pong. As a seven-year-old boy, he contracted polio, which has left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Forty years later, with his friend and employee facing an uncertain future, Pong vowed to continue providing him with the same monthly dividend as before to see him through this trying period.
For Pong, the situation reaffirmed the importance of social entrepreneurship in assisting community development in Thailand. Sichon Matyom has a simple model – it has 27 employees (or group members) who act as equal shareholders and split the proceeds from the tie-dye products evenly. Still, the business is located in a sparsely populated province in southern Thailand and isn’t exactly a money-making machine.
As the group’s founder and leader, Pong feels pressure to make sure that Sichon Matyom earns enough profit to make a meaningful contribution to improving employees’ lives. No matter how big your heart is, this can be a challenge. Pong knows this firsthand. A decade ago, he created a similar social enterprise that failed because of marketing and product design issues.
Since that time, he contemplated what went wrong and even travelled as far as Surin and Nonthaburi to learn about traditional dying techniques as well as manufacturing technologies that people with disabilities can operate.
In early 2019, Pong was hard at work trying to make his second iteration of the enterprise successful when Kenan invited him to participate in one of its training workshops to strengthen small business in Thailand under the Boost with Facebook project. Pong agreed, though he admitted, “I didn’t think the Facebook platform could help me.”
During the training, Pong learned how to use Facebook and digital marketing strategies to reach customers all over Thailand. With his interest piqued, Pong returned to Sichon Matyom willing to give the digital platform a chance.
“After I tried it for a while, a lot of new orders started coming in, most of them from Facebook,” says Pong. “Kenan’s Boost with Facebook workshop helped our business find new ways to distribute and promote our products to customers. Many people from other provinces, as far away as Phetchabun, now order from us and some have even visited our store!”
Since he began using the tools and strategies from the project, Pong has seen Sichon Matyom’s revenue increase dramatically. Most importantly, this means that more money goes into the pockets of group members, including his friend who can no longer work.
“I feel so proud when I see disabled people benefit from our business,” says Pong. “I want to give them an opportunity to get a job, earn a living, and help their families have a better life.”
To learn more about how Kenan is strengthening small business in Thailand and the region, visit https://www.kenan-asia.org/small-business-competitiveness/.