A single, quick decision got this teenager into entrepreneurship.
About two years ago, Irawadee Thawornbut, who was born and raised in Phuket, Thailand, had no idea what entrepreneurship was, or didn’t know that children are also capable of running businesses –until she got an opportunity to attend an entrepreneurship programme.
“On a fine day, I decided to come out of my comfort zone and apply for LaunchX Clubs — a programme that provides training and course materials to high school students all over the world to start an entrepreneurship club at their school,” Thawornbut, now 16 years old, narrated her story for e27.
“As President of the club, I learnt entrepreneurship by having to understand the content by myself, teach other club members, and put the knowledge into action during the course of six months. During that time, my team and I started a company and we pitched at the LaunchX Asia Regional Demo Day in 2018, and became Asia’s finalist for the LaunchX Global Demo Day held in MIT later on in that year,” she added.
By then, Thawornbut had realised that she had great passion for entrepreneurship; she had developed a risk-taking mindset to create solutions to real-world problems and acquired the magic of teamwork. “I had always heard Mahatma Gandhi’s quote ‘Be the change you wish to see in this world’, but not until I attended the programme did I understand the meaning of it,” she went on.
After the successful completion of the course, Thawornbut received a scholarship to attend a six week-long entrepreneurship incubation programme, called Quarter Zero, which was held in the summer of 2018 in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. The incubator was full of innovation, positive energy, and hope.
At Quarter Zero, she was fortunate to experience hands-on how global tech giants like Google worked, how other startups failed, how to pivot etc. Furthermore, she got an opportunity to work with many like-minded high-school entrepreneurs.
“Quarter Zero was also the place where I got inspiration to be a social entrepreneur, where I noticed that the companies run by my friends were keen to create a positive impact on the society. After the programme, I saw great value in social entrepreneurship. I also learnt that creating a positive impact on the society and the communities around should always be the priority for every company that exists in the world,” she added.
With all these learnings and experiences, Thawornbut came back to Thailand with a decision to help the society she lives in. “In the island of Phuket where I grew up, my fondest memories were of helping out at nonprofits, being a translator for them, donating to them, and going there on my birthdays,” she said. “So I was thinking how I could help these organisations work better and help people more effectively and easily.”
After driving around the island and visiting the nonprofits throughout Thailand, Thawornbut found out that most of them, especially smaller ones in rural areas, had common problems — supplies of donated goods didn’t correlate with the needs of nonprofits, due to the effect of little to no communication with donors as to what they are in need of; and uneven distribution of resources as most donations are done in the city where donors can easily travel to, leaving rural nonprofits less supported.
“This is when the idea of SandeeForGood struck me,” she said.
‘Sandee’ the protector of mankind
‘Sandee’ is a Greek name which means ‘protector of mankind’. SandeeForGood, which Thawornbut started with Jirapat Hangjaraon (an entrepreneur and CEO of Global Innovative Solutions), is an online platform where all nonprofits have equal voices, no matter where the are located. The platform provides regularly-updated wish-lists from nonprofits, along with a marketplace where donors can order and pay for goods to be delivered to these organisations without ever leaving their houses.
Here is how it works: you choose an organisation listed on the SandeeForGood platform, select goods to be delivered, and purchase the items. The SandeeForGood team collects the orders from suppliers every month and delivers them to the respective organisation.
SandeeForGood currently works with five social organisations:
1- Child-Watch, Phuket (helps children affected by the 2004 tsunami, prisoner’s children, children in sex industry, abused children, children in the streets, and prevents child labour),
2- Duang Prateep Foundation, Bangkok (helps support children in the slums of Khlong Toei),
3- forOldy, Bangkok (supports elderly communities in Bangkok to live a life with purpose and happiness),
4- Umphang Hospital Foundation, Trak (helps patients at the border of Thailand and Myanmar, some with no citizenship, so they do not get the same medical care from the government),
5- The Orphanage Foundation of the Southern of Thailand (or Amir al-Mu’minin Foundation) (helps support orphans who are victims of the violence in the south of Thailand).
“There have been a total of over 70,000 baht worth of goods donated through our platform to these organisations since we started. We are currently in the stage of consulting with a mentor to create our social impact metric,” she added.
In the long term, Thawornbut wants SandeeForGood to be a platform that streamlines all types of donations, not just goods. She also wants it to enable the sharing of skills from people to people in need, all over. Thawornbut also wants to make all communication easier and make it more effortless for a person to reach out and for another to give a helping hand.
The teenager CEO also has plans to expand SandeeForGood to other countries, starting with the translation into different languages like English and Chinese.
The TV show
As she was setting up the company, a TV show called WinWinWAR Thailand was opening for auditions. The show was like The Voice, but for social entrepreneurs.
Thawornbut decided to apply for the audition as it seemed like a great opportunity to learn. Quite unexpectedly, she became one of the five finalists (from 1000-plus applicants), and received the “Creative Innovation Award” in the final round.
“On the show, I met so many other experienced social entrepreneurs in Thailand, and I did learn so much more about believing in myself and not comparing oneself to others. The irony was that the show taught me how to compete with oneself, instead of competing with others. Furthermore, it also provided me with the support in terms of mentoring and helped me develop my ideas into what SandeeForGood is today,” she went on.
On the Win Win WAR Thailand, she also met Pawoot Pongvitayapanu, CEO and Founder at Tarad.com, the first and biggest e-commerce company in Thailand. He mentored her during the show and still continues to be her mentor. “I also have so many mentors, ranging from VCs to social entrepreneurs in Thailand that I reach out to when I need guidance,” she said.
In spite of her busy schedule with all the social works, Thawornbut still finds time to go to her school, British International School,Phuket, where she is studying in Grade 10.
“As a student, I am aware that studies are getting more intense and are important. At the same time, as the CEO, I have to ensure that SandeeForGood achieves its goals and it grows and constantly improves. These are the factors that I have to balance along with spending time with family and friends. It is a challenge SandeeForGood and I are willingly facing,” she added.
As for hobbies, Thawornbut loves teaching Taekwondo to younger students (she has been doing Taekwondo since she was six years old, and is currently on black belt dan 3). Other than that, she loves reading different genres of books, painting, playing football, and going out.
The family support
Thawornbut acknowledged that her parents have been her inspiration to be a social entrepreneur. “They always believed in me and taught me so much on how to be a risk taker, be mindful, resilient, and also taught me how to recognise opportunities as they come only once. My younger sister and brother were always a source of joy, and not surprisingly, a gold mine of creative ideas whenever I encounter problems. Likewise, my whole school, including my teachers and friends, have always beens supportive from the beginning, and always offered to help in whichever way they can, like spreading the word.”
What are your ultimate goals in life?
“In the end, I want to smile knowing that I’ve given my all to improving the planet that we live in. Right now, I want to be an engineer and entrepreneur, and invent something that positively impacts people’s lives. Part of being an entrepreneur is identifying problems and creating solutions to solve those problems, no matter the solutions exist yet or not. Therefore I’ll do whatever it takes, like choosing a different path/approach, but will always head to the same goal — even if it costs me to create myself a whole new kind of job that doesn’t exist yet,” Thawornbut signs off.