Thailand: Cabbages, Condoms, and Myanmar

[p]Early in the evening of our second night in Bangkok, we had the opportunity to meet Virayaidya Mechai and Hakan Skoglund from Population and Community Development Association (PDA) Thailand’s largest NGO, and Greg Miller from Oxford Capital, through the Blakeley Foundation’s support. [/p]

[p]It was a great honor to meet Khun Mechai, who has had an active political life as a two time Senator in Thailand, and done a great deal to reduce HIV and population growth rates in the country. Khun Mechai’s PDA aimed to bring down the population growth rate, improve child mortality, and fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS by targeting grassroots and urban communities. PDA created sexual health clinics for poor underserved women, provided in class education and games about family planning and sexual health, distributed condoms widely, and even created the restaurant chain Cabbages and Condoms (where we ate). Since, the HIV/AIDS rate has decreased dramatically and the country’s birth rate has fallen from 3.4% to less then 1% in large part to the efforts of PDA![/p]

[p]Hakan Skoglund, President of Population & Development International Inc. (PDI), part of the Mechai Viravaidya Foundation, also joined us, and explained many of these finer points. Hakan, who has a long standing interest in the role of education in development, also explained how the organization is hoping to partner with local organizations in Myanmar to see how effectively they might be able to implement a similar campaign in the sister country.[/p]

[p]Lastly, we had the opportunity to meet Greg Miller, a regionally based advisor at Oxford Capitol who is developing a private equity fund that will work with local partners to identify key projects worth investing in – a crucial need at a time when many local small and medium businesses in Myanmar seem to be suffering from a dearth of access to funding.  Greg already has fantastic contacts on the ground, and travels to the country at least once a month. For Greg, however, a key facet of the process is to develop a system that isn’t exploitative, that builds a skilled team of experts in the country to make the most sound and beneficial investments, and work with the country’s development as it moves forward. In relation to our own work, knowing more about what small and medium enterprises need in their own words could be interesting.[/p]

[p]In discussing the interests of PDA and Oxford Capitol in Myanmar, I realized we could serve a dual role with our work by also connecting these groups with local partners. We will be working through CBOs and local NGOs to reach different income earning segments of the population, and will be learning about many groups that are doing significant local work for those communities.  These groups in turn have extensive knowledge about the people they help and what their own organizational needs might be. For partners coming in, we all agreed, local groups are best suited to know how to tackle their own problems, from expanding knowledge about family planning and STD transmission, to understanding the financial needs of their households and businesses. With support and outside knowledge,  groups like PDA and Oxford Capitol could help make a difference in communities in Myanmar.[/p]