Ok let me explain a little bit. We started 39 years ago. Today, we have 28 companies. And the profits can only be used for reserve, business expansion and charitable activities. And now we’ve been able to get funds from the Gates Foundation, to help expand social enterprise in Thailand. And last year we helped to establish 53 social enterprises through 2 universities and a bank. So our job today is to help expand. Most other "social enterprises" don't help other social entrepreneurs develop, but mainly take care of themselves. We thought that we want to help and of course we didn’t have the money, so we got it from the Gates Foundation. I believe that the only way to survive as a development agency or a third sector is to do it with a social enterprise. You can be a foundation but you must also have a social enterprise.
Apart from that we have now established a school, which is a secondary school and all students are taught to do business. Hence, the school has turned into a school to produce social entrepreneurs and rural development workers and change makers. I think we are the first school in the world to help produce social entrepreneurs. It’s called bamboo school.
How would you call yourself?
Oh I just call myself Mechai. Some call me the "Condom King" because I started the family planning program and anti AIDS program. Some call me change maker, some call me social entrepreneur, some call me social engineer. Call me by my name, it’s much better.
But do you identify yourself with being a Social Entrepreneur?
I don't identify myself with a particular terminology. I’m trying to make positive changes in the lives of people who deserve attention and our help. And that’s also the main reason I’ve founded PDA. Well, the first part we did was the family planning. Then we went from family planning to HIV AIDS, to poverty eradication, getting companies to partnering with villages, and then on to social enterprise and then education. So we’ve gone through 5 mountains.
Was it a a natural evolvement?
Yes. You start up somewhere and then you develop over time. In Thailand we used to have 7 kids per family 40 years ago, and it was important to do something related to education and family planning. After about 28 years, we came down from 7 children per family to 1.2 today. And the population growth rate from 3.3% to 0.4%. From family planning we then went on to AIDS, which as a very natural expansion step for us. According to UN AIDS, we were able to help reduce new infections by 90% over a 12 year period, and according to the World Bank we’ve been able to prevent about 7.7 million individuals from being infected. Thereafter, we started looking at poverty eradication, trying to help people live a better life, hence also a natural development for our organization, follow by education. So all in all, we can say that each development step was a natural one.
Is that what drives you, these success stories? Or what is it?
Well, it's not necessarily the success, but the job itself that drives me. I truly enjoy what I do. I’m addicted to my work. And my advice to other people is “don’t take yourself too seriously”.
What does your organization look like and what's your role in it?
We have 28 companies, we have many people running it. For example, we have 19 restaurants, including one in England, called cabbages and condoms. It’s been at the top of the list in trip advisor as well. And in Bangkok we have about 250 people every night at our restaurant in Bangkok. We have 19 outside Bangkok. A lot of international people come to our restaurants. Of course when they come in here there are condoms everywhere. We’ve got Santa condoms, you got Tiger Woods dressed in a condom, you’ve got all sorts of flowers out of condoms, and lights covered with condoms. And it’s a great tickling find for people who have been shy and they take photos like crazy. And we give out condoms after the meal.
PDA is a non profit, tax-exempt organisation. I guess it’s the same as 501c in America. We do not have a law in Thailand as a social enterprise. So we are a company, we pay 35% tax. But what we do with our profit is the key issue. At PDA, I’m the chairman. I used to be sort of the executive chairman but now I’m just a chairman and we have other people running it. We have the 28 companies, we have different people running things. The purpose of the 28 companies is to generate profit so we can use the profit for activities operated by the PDA - our public service / charitable activities. It is important that we earn our own money to do good, because you cannot rely on other people's money forever.
Are these 28 companies also social enterprises in themselves?
Yes these are all social enterprises. We are about 70% financed by the companies. We could be a 100% but there are people who want to continue to give us money because they think we create value in the world. So they trust that we help them get more for their bucks. We’ll probably never be a 100% because people still want to give us money to do things because we match their donations.
So are you a break even operator?
Yeah we could be. So if the donors decided to go away we would be financially independent.
Do you have competitors?
Well, you have organisations like ours looking for funds. I would say that is a competitor in terms of getting donations of course. But in terms of business our competitors are all restaurants. No we’re not afraid of competitors. You see the whole point is that social enterprises must be regarded as just some normal business. We have to be able to compete with the best outside.
What has been your greatest success as a social entrepreneur?
Oh it’s not me as a social entrepreneur. It’s the success of the social enterprises. Our restaurants have done well, our hotels have done well. Other businesses we have sort of, supermarkets have done well. Probably the one that is most prominent would be the restaurants and the hotels. The profits from those businesses help to run PDA. I personally am just part of the team.
Did you ever perceive a clash between making money in for profit businesses and the social activities?
Why would there be a clash? Is there a clash between the government collecting taxes and spending money? Why should there be one when earning money honestly and using it to provide education, health care, and development? Our businesses are straightforward and honest. We pay tax and our economic development, social development and activities done by PDA and non profit organisation is also straightforward. Many scholars perceive that there is a clash between doing business and social development. But there's absolutely no clash.
What are your goals for PDA?
We’ve always said that our goal is to last for at least 120 years and we are now at 40. So we have 80 more years to go. Ultimately, our goal is to be relevant, to improve education, to improve people’s health, to improve the role of women, we want more women to run the country. Definitely gender equality, more than equality, we need it to be in gender superiority to reach a balance of equality later on.
How would you describe social entrepreneurship?
Well it’s trying to do good development work and realising that you cannot depend on the generosity of other people for ever. You have to help yourself. So it’s financial sustainability.
If you could today launch something new, what would it be? What's your "dream" venture?
Well I think I like education very much because that is the need and the source of a great deal of goodness and capability. So I would say education is probably the most important one. Of course that could lead to getting rid of poverty, and any other inequalities.
Is there anything you would like to add?
What I’d like to re-emphasise is that so called successful social enterprises should help struggling ones and other NGOs, and non profits, to have their social enterprises. Furthermore, we should establish at least one school in each country that develops social entrepreneurs. Not at university level, but at school level, so that they can start young, so they grow up to be honest and responsible adults.
Thank you very much! Good luck for the next 80 years+ of PDA