For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re sitting down with women across East Asia and the Pacific who are taking on leadership roles and working towards an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Growing up during the Asian Financial Crisis, Phonchan Kraiwatnutsorn would like to make positive changes in Thailand. For the past decade, she has been inspiring Thais to become changemakers through her social enterprise, School of Changemakers.
What inspired you to start working in the School of Changemakers?
Looking back when I was a teenager in my first year at college, Thailand was suffering. This prompted me to think of how we can better safeguard our society and create a great social impact. Clearly, I wanted to become a changemaker! And by doing so, I have been working with several non-profit organizations in Thailand for the past 10 years to help empower youth. From many years of experience working with young people, I found that more than 95 percent of the younger generation would like to be involved in solving problems faced in society but the majority of them have never started because they don't know how and where to start. They needed a support system. That’s why I started working with “
Ashoka Changemaker Schools
”, a program under Ashoka: Innovators for the public in Thailand and changed this program in 2017 to a social enterprise to help build the right ecosystem to enable youth to become changemakers.
How was your work impacted by the pandemic?
Our work is to support people to start and scale their social projects and enterprises. Like others, most of our projects was delayed and we had to move our workshop and consulting sessions online. From time to time, we needed to send our changemakers some care packages through the snail mail. The most challenging part for us is to witness our changemakers struggling with their plans that keep changing and adapting with the lockdowns. During the pandemic, many Thais experience poor mental health and wellbeing. We have also seen rising numbers of people in poverty and unemployment. Therefore, we aim to provide more support for potential changemakers in these areas.
Do you think the pandemic has presented new challenges for women in Thailand? What challenges?
Even in normal times, before COVID-19 women needed to shoulder duties both for family and the workplace. COVID-19 causes women increased stress from job losses and childcare as most kids are now spending more time learning online at home.
Do you think the pandemic has created any positive changes for gender equality in Thailand?
With the impact from COVID-19, the progress has been slowed as the focus has turned to solving economic hardship. The positive changes I have seen from the school is that there are an increasing numbers of projects relating to gender equality such as an LGBTQ project initiated by Muslim students. Another progress I have seen in Thailand is that, the Civil Partnership Bill that would allow same-sex couples to register as life partners, entitling them to rights and benefits under the law similar to those of married, heterosexual couples, was passed by cabinet to parliament in July last year (2020).
This year's theme is 'Women in Leadership' - is there a female leader that inspires you? Why do they inspire you?
So many of them! I learn from previous generations who lead with values and nurture collaboration through building strong relationships. I also learn from observing previous female supervisors that what is more important than strategies and innovative ideas is the art of cultivating relationships. To achieve the result, we need to enhance working relationships among colleagues and empower them.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women take up leadership positions in Thailand?
To empower girls to be in leadership positions, I believe we need to understand how boys and girls form identities differently since leaders are born from a strong sense of self-awareness and commitment for self-betterment. As we run Changemaker Education programs with schools and universities in Thailand, we saw differences in leadership among boys and girls. Girls may need a different approach to support them to become leaders. Girls are usually good at keeping things in harmony so we may empower them to have other personality traits for example to be more outspoken and to better handle conflicts.
Why do we need women representation as leaders
To ensure that the world is developed in balanced perspectives.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
To watch people learn, grow and discover their passion.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
I am a reformed workaholic. Fortunately, I ticked off all my wish list a while ago. I live now to serve other people’s dreams. Through School of Changemakers, I would like to build supporting systems for changemakers and create 1% of changemakers in Thailand in my lifetime. Before my retirement, I also want our school to have enough endowment fund so those who run the program after me don’t have to struggle with fundraising.
What is your lesson as a leader?
Leadership is not just about getting things done. It’s also about helping people develop and perform and focus on the needs of others before you consider your own. This is the concept of servant leadership that I believe in. Also, to be a leader, you need to be a learner.
Do you have any advice for women in Thailand?
Apart from women leadership, we need women fellowship. We need more women supporting women at all tiers of our careers, and we need a stronger and deeper sense of community to mentor female students at their schools, as not every young girl is fortunate enough to have a supportive environment at home.
**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.