Somsook Boonyabancha

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1991


This profile was prepared when Somsook Boonyabancha was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Somsook is developing the methodology for "land-sharing", an urban land use innovation built around a mutually beneficial deal between urban squatters and the owner of the land who wishes to develop for commercial purposes. The slum dwellers get new, better, if more dense housing on a back portion of the plot in dispute, and the owner gets the street-front portion freed for immediate development. Everyone wins. The slum dwellers get more than quality housing at agreed affordable cost and they become legal and secure. They also emerge, in Somsook's way of orchestrating such deals, organized and able not only to negotiate but to go on and deal with other problems.
The owners and developers rescue most of the value of their investment opportunity, which otherwise very probably would remain mired in a limitless quicksand of politicized conflict. Such conflict produces only costs and is painfully un-Thai. Somsook's win-win land-sharing deals also helps the cities: ending the stalemate which has been immobilizing important properties facilitates more rational, efficient urban development.
In 1988 Somsook moved to bring her ideas and values to bear beyond Thailand; she, together with a number of NGOs in Asia, founded the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights. She served as its first Secretary, but now hopes to shift to a title-less but more flexible role. Through the Coalition she has brought together the groups, working for better housing conditions all across Asia, and she provided the leadership that has helped them put an informed international spotlight on important or disturbing problems (e.g., evictions in Korea or older workers in Hong Kong reduced to living in long rows of tiny cages stacked three high, to develop new understanding, to provide training, and to support initiatives in the fields members wish to lead. For example, the Coalition is now beginning to investigate rural as well as urban evictions and is helping Vietnam learn quite unfamiliar decentralized approaches to managing its housing.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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