This is part of a series of articles highlighting the valuable work that Microsoft’s Community Affairs Managers are doing in Asia.
Miles of land sprawl out sporadically dotted by houses and farmlands. Sometimes a hawker peddling food or wares on a cart cycles by. Completing the picture would be those who, unfortunately, are missing from this scene typical of agricultural communities.
Supahrat Juramongkol, Microsoft Thailand Community Affairs Manager, organises most of the Citizenship activities she heads in areas that are lagging behind in terms of poverty reduction
“They are: young men who are struggling because of poor harvests, and haven’t had a stable income season after season; teenagers who can’t afford school and don’t have the skills or experience for decent-wage jobs,” Microsoft Thailand Community Affairs Manager Supahrat Juramongkol recalled of the participants she has met while organising Microsoft’s corporate citizenship programmes.
The results of Thailand’s recent economic growth and poverty reduction programmes have dispersed unevenly, with income and opportunity inequalities still persisting in some of the less developed provinces. Poverty is dominant in rural areas: 88 percent of the country’s poor live in rural areas, with the North and Northeast regions particularly underdeveloped. The dire poverty cycle cripples generations in many ways, and leaves many disadvantaged young men and women prone to exploitation.
“Without a fruitful harvest, you can’t afford higher education for your children. Without sufficient education, they can’t get decent-wage jobs, let alone have any real savings. People aren’t able to simply ‘help’ themselves out of poverty,” Supahrat explained. “We want to intervene, and, hopefully, break the cycle with informal education.”
Supahrat organises most of the Citizenship activities in areas that are lagging behind in terms of poverty reduction. These have mainly been information and communication technology (ICT) training to help provide more employment and marketing outreach opportunities for those from disadvantaged communities. In a project with Population and Community Development Association, Microsoft provided ICT training to help expand income opportunities; the programme reached 34,000 youth leaders, youths and villagers.
Microsoft’s ICT training programmes also aim to raise awareness about the effective ways of using and producing digital content. Participants learn how to source for market rates for crop prices, connect with customers via social media and develop websites to promote their products.
Supahrat and her colleagues also worked closely with many nonprofits in Thailand to set up 68 Community Technology Skill Centres in the North and Northeast regions to provide easier access to computers and the Internet.
Another project, organised in conjunction with anti-trafficking NGO The Mirror Foundation and its networks, helped 30,000 vulnerable victims develop the necessary IT skills to secure decent-wage employment or go on to advanced IT training. Supahrat recalled, “The participants, mainly from hill tribes, were potential and actual victims of trafficking. They were pessimistic about their future, and the training gave them hope.” Armed with their new computer literacy, these participants now have the confidence to seek better employment and are less vulnerable to exploitation.
The projects that give Supahrat the greatest sense of pride are: Building Employability through Technology and Entrepreneurship Resources (BETTER), and its follow-up programme E-BETTER — both are focused on building IT capacity and generating better job opportunities in Thailand and in ASEAN. The programmes are developed through close collaboration with the Department of Skill Development and the Ministry of Labour in Thailand, as well as the Kenan Institute Asia. To date, about 160,000 people have benefited from this programme.
Under Supahrat’s leadership, Microsoft Thailand has received a total of five Excellence Awards from the American Chamber of Commerce’s CSR programme, and was also recognised for its US Creative Partnership programme, which builds knowledge-economy job skills by engaging Thai workers in public and private development.
What are her tips for others working in CSR? “You need great partners to multiply project impact, you need to think of win-win strategies and always be passionate about what you do.”