Social Entrepreneur of the Year (30 Jun 09)

Congratulations are in order for MR Disnadda Diskul, secretary-general of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, who was recently recognised by the Schwab Foundation as the Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 for the region of East Asia.

The Schwab Foundation was set up in 1998 by Klaus and Hilde Schwab, founders of the World Economic Forum, as a complementary foundation to promote entrepreneurial solutions and social commitment with a clear impact at the grassroots level.

MR Disnadda Diskul (left) receives flowers from MR Nudeetretip Kamalars at Siam City Hotel hosted by the Diskul clan.

The Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum work closely together with the selected Social Entrepreneurs that are funded to participate in the activities of the World Economic Forum, which is a global community of world leaders in business, government, academia and civil society, showing that the two poles of business and civil society can work together to improve the state of the world.

Selection of the social entrepreneur of the year is based upon three main criteria: Innovation, sustainability and direct social impact. On the foundation board are the likes of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, former first lady of South Africa Zanele Mbeki and Grameen Bank Bangladesh managing director Muhammad Yunus.

MR Disnadda has been the driving force of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation and its offshoot, the Doi Tung Development Project, both of which were established by the late Princess Mother of Thailand to eradicate the opium trade and reforest the northern region of Thailand.

Since its inception in 1988, Doi Tung has successfully implemented the Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development (Sald) approach, which "provides disenfranchised and poor communities with health services and truly sustainable economic alternatives, ultimately improving their quality of life, their access to educational opportunities and the environment".

Following its success in northern Thailand and the border areas with Burma, other countries including Burma, Indonesia and Afghanistan have looked to Doi Tung for assistance in introducing the Sald approach to their own internal problems, which Doi Tung has adapted to suit the needs and socio-cultural environment of each location. Yet all projects follow the same three-pronged pillars for integrated development: Health, livelihood development and education. This is no overnight remedy, and only after decades of hard work will the final goal be achieved - total community-owned and managed sustainable business units.

After all his success with the Doi Tung Development project, is he ready to retire? Hardly.

He has been successfully selling his latest project to the government, from the very top to the grassroots level officials. Called "The Road Towards Putting the Gold Leaf on the Back of the Buddha Image: Carrying on the Royal Initiative", this ambitious project comprises one million activities throughout the country.

"I was trying to imagine what would make HM the King happy. He has done so much for the country, and the least we can do is carry on what he has initiated. Do you know Thailand gets 700 billion cubic metres of rain a year, with the northeastern region getting 236 billion. Of that, only 2.7 percent gets collected. Why don't we create a monkey cheek project like His Majesty has initiated around Bangkok?

"Most of us are trying to prevent flooding around Bangkok. Why not look at the source of the river rather than the mouth of the river? We should try and reforest the watersheds of the Nan River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River. The villagers of Amphoe Song Kwae, Nan province grow corn, but they suffer from insecticide poisoning. I also discovered that Nan province spends millions of baht a year buying eggs. So we will introduce poultry farming to the villagers, which will help them earn more money than growing corn, and reforest the corn fields instead. This will be part of the 80-by-100,000 rai reforestation project to mark HM the Queen's 80th birthday in 2012."

He is currently preparing a shopping list for corporate sponsorship. Everything will be based on the Doi Tung's integrated, people-centric development, and educational institutes have been invited to evaluate the Key Performance Indicators. He promises that for once, everything will be above the board. Dr Kasem Watanachai is the chairman of the project committee, while MR Disnadda himself is chairman of the executive committee, with Thanpuying Putrie Viravaidya as his deputy.

"The world has come full circle," he remarked. "It has been proven that the 'isms' - communism, socialism and most recently, capitalism - do not work. A whole new terminology is being coined; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Social Entrepreneur (SE). I believe it's time to take a little less and give a little more."