Female Leaders of Sustainability

15 Jan 2024
Women leaders are taking center stage in driving sustainability in Thailand, but before the rise of ESG, there were significant sustainability projects led by women in Thailand. In the panel discussion, “Female Leaders of Sustainability,” held at Sasin on January 10, three influential leaders brought their wisdom and experiences on how they led Thailand towards a more sustainable future. “[For two decades], when ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) was still under the radar, Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra consistently spoke about greenhouse gases and global warming, yet no one cared,” said Khunying Puangroi Diskul Na Ayutthaya, Board Member of Mae Fah Luang Foundation. Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, who started the Mae Fah Luang Foundation in 1972, established the Doi Tung Development Project, which focused on permanent reforestation under the philosophy, “Cultivate Land, Cultivate People,” helping people live sustainably. Founded in 1988 within the Golden Triangle region, the project has converted the opium cultivation zone into a reforested area by addressing the underlying issues of poverty and limited opportunities. The risk-laden drug trade was replaced by sustainable coffee farming. Women were taught to sew so that don’t have to undergo prostitution. “If their stomachs aren’t full, don’t talk about education yet. Ensure they are well-fed, lift them from the survival stage,” said Khunying Puangroi, speaking about the philosophy of the Doi Tung Development Project. After the tribal people learned to make a living, education emerged as a critical factor, with efforts centered on language, literacy, and instilling core values in the community. The Mae Fah Luang Foundation and its project is a successful example of a sustainability initiative. Nonetheless, launching a new sustainable program comes with various challenges. The women leaders unanimously acknowledged the difficulty in persuading key stakeholders, such as the government, to treat their projects seriously and invest in sustainability endeavors. Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, a former strategy chief of the Pheu Thai Party and leader of the Thai Sang Thai Party, said that male politicians focused on policies that are visible, like constructing roads while women tend to look at the long-term consequences of a project and care more about health or the environment. “Women have the innate ability to foresee the future with their maternal instinct,” said Khunying Sudarat, Chairwoman of the Thai Pueng Thai Foundation. In 1998, she launched the Thai Pueng Thai initiative, aiming to assist unemployed women in securing employment and establishing their careers during a period of economic downturn in the country. As a politician, her campaigns focused on improving health and nutrition in the local communities. One of Khunying Sudarat’s initiatives is to promote health by organizing large-scale aerobic dance sessions, aiming to break records and feature in the Guinness Book of World Records. This effort seeks to provide more than 20 million people with accessibility in every province. She emphasized the importance of safe nutrition, advocating for a “food for health” approach. Additionally, she has implemented policies to reduce Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including cancer. Another aspect of her health focus involves developing test kits for formalin in fish, providing a means to assess the quality and safety of fish consumption. She also worked with farmers directly to manage contract farming operations independently. Thanyaporn Krittitayawut, Executive Director of UN Global Compact Network Thailand, emphasized the role of businesses in driving sustainability. She discussed the Forward Faster campaign, focusing on the five factors people were most concerned with: Gender Equality, Climate Action, Living Wage, Finance & Investment, and Water Resilience. Thanyaporn stressed the importance of aligning business practices with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and corporate engagement with measurable impacts. Moreover, she emphasized that sustainability as a business unit should not consider only product appeal but also thoughtful resource utilization to prevent depletion and minimize costs. When delving into sustainability initiatives, Khunying Puangroi offered valuable advice, “A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t benefit people.” Khunying Sudarat also advocates for a strategic emphasis on skill development, urging the government and key stakeholders to prioritize equipping individuals with the skills essential for self-sufficiency. She stresses, “We can’t solve poverty just by giving people money. Without tools or skills, when the money runs out, everything is gone.” Thanyaporn added that corporations should embrace Global Compact since relying solely on investors or the government is not sustainable. In unison, their insights highlight the significance of tailored and skill-focused approaches in fostering sustainable change. From environmental conservation to inclusive strategies and corporate responsibility, their experiences and initiatives emphasized a holistic approach needed for meaningful and lasting change.
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