Fellow Since 1989
Thai Farmer Foundation
This profile was prepared when Asok Prasanson was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Americans, British, and some others are encouraged to give more to philanthropy by public policies that reward such gifts with partially of setting reductions in tax. Asok has created a very successful functional equivalent for Thailand--a spiritual reward earned by channeling giving for local development through the village wat (Buddhist temple).On festival days villagers traditionally make contributions of rice and other goods to their wat and its monks. These gifts sustain both. They also bring merit and therefore a happier future to the villager making the offering.Asok has added a new developmental dimension to this pattern. The monks announce that 80 (or so) percent of gifts at the festival will go into a new village development fund, which they will help oversee. The fund will be used for low-cost loans to villagers, e.g., to buy a farm animal, or for village development investments.This arrangement makes contributing to the wat far more attractive than before. Donors will have access to affordable credit and community infrastructure investments, and they get the trusted services of the monks in the bargain. Moreover, they will earn far more merit with their new, much larger contribution to the wat than they would have before.This new arrangement also works well for the monks. The increase in overall giving is so great that their modest share is typically as big absolutely as it had been before, when they used all of the smaller contributions to sustain themselves. Moreover, their new involvement in the development of their area increases their stature and overall influence.Asok has so far successfully launched this spiritual tax deduction model in 15 villages.Asok complements this financial and organizational innovation with a wide range of other community organizing and financing techniques. He has instituted Cattle Bank project, which alleviates the shortage of cattle and the high costs of renting them. The 17 Villages Women's Savings Group upgrades the management of individual savings, provides low-interest credit, provides security for members, and stimulates other collective efforts. The Ban Non Bow Women's Project manages a window shade sewing industry that has, in the seven years since its inception, become the largest producer of shades in the Northeast. One hundred forty-one families started the project as an alternative to begging; participating families now number 293. To further the success of these initial steps in community organizing, Asok helped create the Villagers' Development Organization, aimed at bringing village leaders together to solve social and economic problems.