Ruang Sooksawasdi

Ashoka Fellow
Thailand,
Fellow Since 1989
Joint Friends of Rural Development

Citation

This profile was prepared when Ruang Sooksawasdi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Thailand's heavy reliance on sharecropper agriculture leaves an increasingly wide gap between many working farmers and the landowners. Ruang seeks to restore healthy cohesive rural communities for everyone, but especially for the young, for women, and for the poor. He's pursuing a number of financial, organizational, and educational means to this end.
Focusing first on savings and investment, he is promoting village savings through the use of rice and buffalo banks, specialized institutions that lend and receive payment in kind. Ruang also is developing village banks that collect and lend money. He has strengthened these institutions in a number of ways, including their management processes and the managers.
Ruang's approach is built up from a number of small practical design improvements. For example, unlike the conventional credit unions that ask members to save a small set amount per month, he seeks large deposits in the cash-rich harvest months and little or nothing in the lean months. This approach nets larger deposits over the full year than flat-rate schemes.
His approach to managers and group members alike involves extensive awareness and skill building. He regularly involves spouses, contrary to usual practice, recognizing that involving a village's women brings a dimension of commitment and engagement well worth the extra costs.
Ruang's work is already bringing measurable results, ranging from a reduction in the use of expensive and often environmentally harmful inputs to improving market access. However, he has increasingly come to believe that the many separate strands to his approach need to be welded together. Consequently he is now building a new prototypical tripartite rural organization consisting of area farmers, farmers' organizations (including those he is helping build up), and development workers. Through this group, Ruang plans to launch interlinked programs to promote savings and farm investment, to provide agricultural training programs, and to back both up with nonformal education (including regarding how best to handle the environment).
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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