The Population & Community Development Association, ThailandThe Challenge
Sep 14, 2010
Thailand in the mid twentieth century was caught in hasty economic development. With the swift growth of industry, however, came the rapid growth of the Thai population. In 1947, Thailand’s population was 17,442,680 strong; by 1970, this number had doubled to 34,397,370, with an annual growth rate of 3.2% and no sign of slowing. In 1960, 4,316 infants were born to every 1000 married women; by 1970, the fertility rate had increased to 4,692. The swelling of Thailand’s population caused strain on the country’s resources, diminishing the agricultural land and water sources available to the Thai people. This alarmed the central government in Thailand; and in the March of 1970, a national population policy – and its official “Many Children Make You Poor” slogan – was adopted.
The Entrepreneur and Solution
Former government economist Mechai Viravaidya was greatly aware of the looming danger of overpopulation in Thailand. In 1974, he founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) as a means of supplementing and strengthening the population policies of the Royal Thai Government. For effective family planning to take place in Thailand, Viravaidya knew, individuals must personally understand and embrace the significance of responsible reproduction.
Thus, in structuring PDA’s approach to curbing the population in Thailand, Viravaidya emphasized community participation. He focused on recruiting and training local residents – from both rural and urban areas – to educate the rest of their communities, disseminating information on family planning and distributing contraceptives. Through PDA, Viravaidya managed to reach out to and educate more than one-third of Thailand. In fact, so vast was the scope and success of Viravaidya’s programs that condoms are now frequently referred to as “mechais”, after the charismatic entrepreneur.
Viravaidya has since expanded the Population and Community Development Association, in both size and social mission. His organization currently employs over eight hundred staff and twelve thousand volunteers, managing eighteen PDA centers across fifteen provinces in rural Thailand.
In addition to his continued efforts in promoting reproductive health education, Viravaidya has led PDA to take on responsibilities in providing primary health care, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, income-generation, small-scale rural enterprise promotion and youth development, among others. Most of his focus is placed on the rural communities in Thailand, espousing “empowerment of the poor”, though many are tailored to target specific groups ranging from factory workers to adolescents to hill tribe villagers.
Viravaidya supports the Population and Community Development Association’s extensive list of services and campaigns with proceeds generated from the PDA’s restaurant and resort businesses. Viravaidya initially launched the Cabbages and Condoms restaurants and the Birds and Bees Resort to promote family planning, educating local residents and foreign tourists through the establishments’ theme of “safe sex”. Viravaidya’s restaurants and resort quickly gained popularity, however, and have now expanded to multiple locations throughout Thailand. Along with PDA’s other social enterprises, they now provide 65% of the funds used to sustain PDA’s programs.