An innovative model that provides companies with the framework and expertise they need to effectively engage with communities is Thai Business Initiative in Rural Development, or TBIRD. TBIRD operates under the concept of “Privatising Poverty Reduction”, and it links sponsoring companies or organizations with communities in an effort to tackle the root causes of poverty. The approach focuses on empowering communities to help themselves. The concept of TBIRD was founded by Mechai Viravaidya, the founder and chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), one of Thailand’s most diversified and successful non-profit development organizations. He is an internationally renowned figure, and is known in Thailand as ‘The condom king’ for his cheeky and highly effective approach to HIV prevention. Mechai argues that poverty is largely a result of lack of business skills and access to credit in communities, and that businesses are in a unique position to guide the poor out of poverty.
PDA’s pioneer TBIRD company, Swedish Motors Corporation Pcl. (Volvo), worked with PDA to establish a separate company called Meero to implement a rural development project that emphasized marketing. After a preliminary survey and feasibility study, a sapling plantation was proposed for a poor corn-growing village approximately 150 km. from Bangkok because there was a booming market for trees for landscaping golf courses and real estate development. Meero provided market information, technology for growing and transplanting trees, financing, and marketing assistance. In the beginning, about 20 families were involved, and the planting area was only about 8 hectares. By 2005, more than 500 families in 11 villages in earn their living from planting trees. The trees are not only purchased in Thailand, they are also exported to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
For each tree planted a sum has been contributed to a village bank to generate income for capital formation. An elected banking committee, comprising 50% women, operates the village bank. The bank provides seed money for the establishment of new micro-businesses, reduces dependency on exploitative moneylenders, encourages savings, and promotes gender equality.
With the cooperation of Siam Cement Co., Meero has also provided training to villagers on the construction of cement ponds from curved concrete roofing materials for intensive hybrid catfish production. Two ponds were built for 2 village schools for a school lunch program.
Through TBIRD, sponsors have the opportunity to engage in socially beneficial business activities, while villagers have the chance to become owners of community-based industries. TBIRD offers the business community an opportunity to be good corporate citizens and display their social responsibility in the public eye.