Mechai Viravaidya

Population and Community Development Association (PDA)
Year founded: 

Video Video Interview

Through 18 for-profit companies, PDA focuses on community-based approaches to rural development, education, philanthropy, HIV/AIDS prevention and healthcare.

Focus: HIV/AIDS, Environment, Health, Microfinance, Rural Development, Education, Philanthropy
Geographic Area of Impact: Thailand, Cambodia
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 30,000 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 5,170,446 (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 65%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

In the mid-1970s, when rural women in Thailand were having approximately 7 children per family, PDA was launched to promote family planning and help eradicate poverty in rural parts of the country.

Innovation and Activities
PDA is one of Thailand’s largest, most diverse non-governmental organizations. It began by providing access to contraception to rural women, and was the first organization to use non-medical personnel to distribute oral contraceptives and condoms in villages and urban neighbourhoods. Thailand has now achieved one of the fastest declines in fertility in the modern era, from an annual population growth of 3.3% in 1974 to 0.6% in 2005. The average number of children per family has fallen from seven to less than two.

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit Thailand in the late 1980s, PDA used similar ground-breaking principles to promote awareness and condom use, an initiative still regarded as one of the most significant national efforts by any country combating HIV/AIDS. By 2004 Thailand had experienced a 90% reduction in new potential infections compared with infection rates in the early 1990s.

PDA’s Thailand Business Initiative in Rural Development (TBIRD) was launched in the 1980s to fight poverty using business skills and financial assistance from the business sector to support development in poorer areas. Over the past 25 years the programme has evolved into the Village Development Partnership (VDP), working in +400 villages throughout Thailand and Cambodia. It engages in rural development in five key areas: community empowerment, income generation, health, environment and education. These principles were used in emergency relief efforts to restore community prosperity after the devastating 2004 tsunami.

In 2009, the Mechai Pattana School (known as the Bamboo School) opened to provide children in Thailand’s rural Buriram Province with free private education. The school has been praised as a revolutionary model of education for effectively harnessing children’s creative abilities to solve problems. The Bamboo School also launched an integrated rural development initiative, to assist government primary schools in poor areas become lifelong learning centres and hubs of social and economic progress, a project known as the School-BIRD (School-Based Integrated Rural Development) programme.

To sustain PDA financially, 18 for-profit companies were established to help provide funding to operate PDA’s extensive non-profit, rural development activities like the Mechai Pattana School. These for-profit businesses include the Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant chain, the Birds & Bees Resort in Pattaya, and the Business for Rural Education and Development, which sells rural goods and handicrafts.

The Entrepreneur
Mechai Viravaidya studied commerce at the University of Melbourne in Australia before returning to Thailand and working with a governmental development agency as an economist. He founded PDA in 1974 and, with encouragement and financial support from the private sector, made contraception available to Thai women, resulting in 70% of couples now practising family planning. His latest social enterprise innovation is BREAD (Business for Rural Education and Development), which aims to achieve profitability and then assist PDA attain more financial sustainability through business activities like rural tours, handicrafts and e-commerce. He believes this business model will foster long-term sustainability among non-governmental organizations rather than heavily depending on third-party donations. Viravaidya has received several awards, including the 2008 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and the 2007 Gates Award for Global Health.