With operations in 50 countries and over $224 million dollars donated since its inception in 2005, the Whole Planet Foundation is a major force for positive social change worldwide. The WPF works with a global network of microfinance lending institutions by offering them grants, which are then disbursed to the local communities in which they operate. These grants allow the local microfinance offices to offer what are known as microloans — typically on the order of about $100 — to members of the community. Although a small amount by Western standards, it can be life changing for poverty stricken individuals in developing countries. The efforts of the WPF, in conjunction with its worldwide partners, have positively influenced the lives of thousands of families and individuals, allowing them to rise to a new standard of living, which often includes access to education and other essential needs.
Every year the WPF invites some of its largest annual contributors to travel to a selected destination where they are working with microcredit lenders. The trip is a chance for companies and individuals donating to the WPF to see the change their contributions are making firsthand. This year, the WPF invited the group to Thailand, where they will be visiting with the communities and recipients of their donations.
Be Green Packaging’s CEO Ron Blitzer joined the group for the second time following his trip to Brazil with the WPF last year. As a founding member of the Whole Planet Foundation’s ‘Change for Change’ fund, Be Green Packaging has been involved with the organization for many years. A long-term supporter, Blitzer was interested in seeing what kind of impact the company’s donations were having on people’s lives, this time in Southeast Asia.
After arriving in Bangkok the night before, the group started the day off touring the Grand Palace where their guide educated them on the history of Thailand, it’s people and their rich culture. They travelled through the city on some of Bangkok’s many rivers where they got a firsthand glimpse into some of the more impoverished shanty towns existing on the banks of the polluted waterways.
After a bit more sightseeing to help them adjust to the local culture, in Blitzer’s words “The real adventure began” as they boarded an all-night train to Surin to visit with the Small Enterprise Development group and microloan recipients in the field.
The group arrived at the Chamuang Village Bank house in Surin around 10am after a long, bumpy train ride. The weather was typical of equatorial regions — hot and humid. The local bank put together a presentation for the group covering their activities and programs in the area.
Chamuang is located near Tramuang in Surin province. It is a small village consisting of roughly 650 people who make string beads, key rings and other souvenirs as their main livelihood. The community welcomed the WPF team and the village Chief, Mr. Sonsok, spoke to the group through an interpreter. The community leaders served a traditional lunch of rice, veggies, fruits and tea.
Blitzer and the group observed the very real effects of the microfinance efforts in the community — the people seemed happy and content and the children all had smiles on their faces as they played with the guests and among themselves. The houses in the village were small with wood and steel siding and you could see the general prosperity the villagers enjoyed with cars and satellite dishes accompanying their homes.
After the visit to Chamung, the WPF group was off to another village where the locals made woven silk fabrics. This community had been involved in microfinance programs for the past 17 years and it showed — they spun beautiful silks and gave the group a tour to see how the material was harvested from silk worms and woven into the finished goods.
The long day ended with elephant rides (yes, elephant rides) and quality time spent time with the residents of the local community.
Stay tuned for more details of the trip as it unfolds.