296th Meeting – Tuesday, November 13th 2007

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

A talk by Carol Grodzins, Vice President, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, and Nikom Putta, Ashoka Fellow. Translator Ken Kampe

Present: Ken Kampe, Kim Stogner, Deb & Chris Brilker, Thomas Ohlson, Louis Gabaude, Jamie Uhrig, Perry Ueisenflla, Carl de Cleene, Winnie Tan, John Thorne, Heidi Berkmüller, Klaus Berkmüller, Adrian Pieper, Dianne & Mark Barber-Riley, Katie Stout, Jason Fourmet, Renee Vines, Keiko Samuels, Eric Skaar, Shane K. Beary, Oliver Hargreave, Ralph Kramer MBE, Natthirah Kramer, Reinhard Hohler, Nell van Amerorger, Christa Crawford, Bodil Blokker. An audience of 29.       

Carol Grodzins, Vice President, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
Carol leads Ashoka’s Global Fellowship program, realizing the collective potential of 1,800 Ashoka Fellows in over 60 countries. Her past experience has been in the areas of international development, higher education, health, and grassroots organizing. Following a B.A. in Russian language and literature, Carol served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a teacher in Sarawak, Malaysia. The Peace Corps experience turned her attention to the challenge of creating healthy populations and so she next studied nursing at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Summary of the talk

Carol asked that we reproduce this extract from Bill Clinton’s new book, which she says provides an outline of the content of her talk.

“Giving:  How Each of Us Can Change the World” by Bill Clinton. Published by Alfred A. Knopf  2007

Chapter Nine

Giving to Good Ideas

The world is full of people with good ideas who are willing to give their all to implementing them but don’t have the money to get started. These ‘social entrepreneurs’ can change the lives of millions of people for the better if only they are helped to follow through on their ideas.

The movement to identify and fund social entrepreneurs in a systematic way, indeed the very term ‘social entrepreneurs’, was the brainchild of one man. Like many of the world’s greatest givers, Bill Drayton is not well known outside the global NGO community. But to those who believe in the power of private citizens to improve society, Drayton is a hero. After graduating from Harvard College and Yale Law School and studying economics at Oxford, he worked in management consulting at McKinsey & Company for ten years, then at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Carter administration. At the EPA, Drayton pioneered the notion that business had to be made a partner in protecting the environment through market-based incentives like emissions trading and replacing regulations that micromanage business decisions with overall pollution targets that let businesses determine the most cost-effective way of meeting them. In 1980 he founded an organisation to promote social and economic innovation and called it Ashoka, after the 3rd century B.C. Indian emperor who unified most of South Asia with his humane, progressive policies. In Sanskrit ‘ashoka’ means the ‘active absence of sorrow’. The organisation’s logo is an oak tree – the symbol of strength and health – which, as we all know, grows from a tiny acorn.

For years, Drayton had been talking to friends and colleagues and traveling the world trying to determine whether it was possible to identify new powerful ideas for systematic change and excellent social entrepreneurs capable of implementing them before the viability of the idea or the entrepreneur had been proven. He became convinced that it could be done and that he should spend his life doing it. Ashoka began its operations in India with just $50,000 of his own money and money he raised from friends.

One of the first Ashoka Fellows was Gloria de Souza, a Bombay teacher who believed from her own experience that old-fashioned, passive rote learning was boring and ineffective with most of her students. She used the environment to teach children to learn by doing, to think rather than memorize, to problem-solve rather than to repeat. She made learning active, creative, and fun. De Souza had a burning desire to see her approach adopted across India. Ashoka believed in her approach and in her ability to sell it and in 1981 gave her a four-year grant to cover living expenses so that she could pursue it. By 1985 she had persuaded Bombay’s school board to introduce environmental studies with her learning methods into 1,700 schools. Within three years, nearly a million students were learning her way. By the end of the decade, the Indian government had made de Souza’s environmental studies program part of the official curriculum in the first three grades. An independent evaluation showed that students learning by de Souza’s method scored twice as high on reading tests as those who were taught by rote, and mastered writing and mathematics three times as fast. Gloria de Souza was Ashoka’s first acorn.

By 2006, Ashoka’s budget had grown from $50,000 to $30 million, its fellows from one to more than 1,800 in more than 60 countries on five continents.  They have done amazing things in health care, education, economic development, and in advancing equality and social justice. They were all selected through a rigorous process that was based on the potential of ideas to have national impact, their entrepreneurial capacity to implement and sell them, their persistence in staying the course and making appropriate changes when their plans didn’t work out, and their willingness to keep at it for as long as it takes to succeed.

Ashoka tripled in size from 1999 to 2002 and is still growing and expanding its mission. Besides supporting social entrepreneurs, Ashoka now develops groups and networks of them to reinforce each other and accelerate their impact, and it provides infrastructure support, including access to financing for expansion, ties to the business and academic sectors, and opportunities for partnerships with others doing compatible work. At the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative, Ashoka committed to raise $50 million to expand its search for social entrepreneurs in Western Europe, Africa, East Asia and the Middle East.

Bill Drayton looks more like a college professor than a world-beater. He is modest, very thin, wears old-fashioned big-framed glasses, talks softly, and is polite, almost courtly in manner.  He is brilliant, with a wide knowledge of topics both prominent and obscure. I ran into him not long ago at an event in Washington and was struck, as always, by the unusual combination of power, kindness, and humility he projects. A quiet man who set out to change the world by giving citizens in every nations “the freedom, confidence, and social support to address any social need,” he is still at it, the perfect model for all other social entrepreneurs he finds and empowers, and many others he’s never met. Bill Drayton’s story and those of other promising social entrepreneurs, including some outstanding Ashoka Fellows, are told at great length in David Bornstein’s fine book ‘How to Change the World.’ If you’re particularly interested in this kind of giving, I highly recommend it.                          

Ashoka is a citizen sector organization (CSO), not a non-profit: Defined by what we are, rather than by what we are not. Learn more at www.ashoka.org/citizensector.

Nikom Putta is an Ashoka Fellow. The following is a paper describing of his activities in Northern Thailand, and the reasons why he is an Ashoka Fellow. 

Nikom Putta

Organization:    Ping River Watershed Management Project; Wildlife Fund Thailand

Address:           418, Moo 7, Chiang Dao Sub-District, Chiang Dao District, Chiangmai 50170
Phone: +66-5345-5785     Email:  pingwatershed@hotmail.com     Website:   www.pingwatershed.org

 Short Summary

“Our main objective as conservationists should be to save Thailand’s remaining natural habitats and ecosystems. Intricately woven into this objective are the realization and understanding that people are an integral part of natural ecosystems and they cannot be left out of any of the projects to protect and conserve these areas” [1]

Nikom Putta’s main achievement has been the creation of a successful conservation movement by involving all concerned parties - the local communities, the media, government officials and policy makers - in the management and protection of the natural resources in the Upper Mae Ping River Watershed in Northern Thailand. Unlike other environmental activists he has worked with rather than against policy makers to ensure the participation of local communities and indigenous minorities in the development and management of their land and resources. The Ping watershed is a rare example of successful protection through negotiations between local people and the state.

 The nature of the problem

The 2,100 sq km. expanse of Chiang Dao region in the Mae Ping river watershed is home for diverse flora and fauna and various different indigenous populations (primarily Musso, Lisaw, Karen, Igor, Hmong, Kachin and Plong). Most local residents are farmers, and therefore rely heavily on the forest, wild animals, and other land and water resources. The natural environment of the Ping River watershed area has been seriously damaged and depleted due to human activity. The forest cover in Thailand, a major proportion of which lies in the north, has declined from over 60% in 1950s to around 26% in 1995 according to government estimates while conservation groups maintain it to be around 18%.[2] Northern Thailand with the densest forest in the country has been the most severely affected with a 6% decline in forest cover between 1985 and 1995.[3]

Since much of the area’s resources fall under government regulations, locals are prohibited from drawing on resources near their townships. These regulations, however, do not effectively prevent the local people from intrusions, illegal poaching and logging and often lead to conflicts between the officials and the residents. Moreover, local communities tend to clash over areas that are not under government protection as they are held through a system of common ownership. Many different communities often own or control parts of the same watershed or forest area while no village has much individual incentive to protect the shared resources. As common owners compete to harvest resources the areas are depleted of all valued materials. Furthermore, locals often do not understand the relationship between the environments of the highlands, forested hills, watersheds, and rivers. Many people fail, for instance, to grasp the impact of their destructive activities on communities living downstream from them.

Despite the Constitutional recognition of the public’s right to participate in the management and preservation of natural resources, the senate has refused legal rights to local communities to manage the forests and the watershed areas. As a result, the indigenous communities that have belonged to the forest for years as well as the local Thai villages have been in a constant clash with the government over the natural resources. Economic development and modernization have been synonymous with deforestation and a loss of traditional knowledge. While the elders of the local communities (especially ethnic minorities) have been engaged in the community networks to resolve conflicts and develop better management systems, the youth are rarely involved in learning about their natural environments. This disengagement is exacerbated by the lack of environmental learning and activities in the educational system.

Adding to the damage due to mismanagement and conflict in the area are ill-conceived mega-projects and tourist attractions. One primary example is the tourist cable car proposed in 2004, to the top of Doi Luang Chiang Dao, an ecologically fragile mountain considered sacred to local people. The cable car was proposed as a mega tourist attraction to invite foreign investment in the area without any consultation with local communities. The project threatened the culture and the ecosystem of the mountain which is a limestone resource. Another tourist attraction currently running is the Night Safari Park in Chiang Mai. An estimated 1.15 billion Baht have been invested in this zoo that holds around 900 animals. The negligence of the Night Safari’s management has allegedly led to the death of over 100 animals since its inception and is also known to be encroaching on Doi Suthep-Pui national park in Chiang Mai's Muang district. [4] The Night Safari has also been steeped in controversy because of its plans to import wild life from Kenyan forests, and the mistreatment of animals.

 How Nikom addressed the problem

Nikom Putta has been tirelessly campaigning and working towards improved community participation in the management and resuscitation of natural resources in Northern Thailand. He has educated and led the organization of local communities, and engaged the government while being a chief critic of environmentally and culturally unsound projects.

 Upper Mae Ping River Watershed Movement (1997-2003):

Nikom started by helping local communities in the Northern Ping Watershed see the damage their activities (such as tree-cutting, soil erosion, and water pollution) wreak on other communities downstream. He challenged community members to draw maps of the region showing their community resource base and identifying other dependents. Through this elementary mapping exercise, Nikom demonstrated the extent of competition for resources making evident the need for collaboration between villages to maintain the resources.

In each village, Nikom created a core group of individuals, most of them senior members of the communities, who kept him updated on the happenings and helped him plant and spread alternative sustainable practices and economic activities agreed upon by the group. Nikom promoted dialogue between community groups and individual villages that share the same resource base with the goal of developing consensual, locally developed plans for soil, water, forest, and biodiversity management.

After enabling local communities with the skills and the organization to manage the rich natural resources, Nikom worked to synthesize and spread these models through academic forums and community radio networks. At the next level, he connected these communities to policy makers through campaigns and petitions for a community forest law giving legal control over the management of forest land to local communities. In their campaign, Nikom and the community networks of the Upper Mae Ping have raised articles 46 and 56 of the new Thai Constitution that allow for traditional communities to participate in management, maintenance, preservation and exploitation of natural resources.

 Upper Mae Ping River Basin’s Forest Resuscitation Project (2003-2007)

After mobilizing and educating communities, Nikom launched the Upper Mae Ping River Basin’s Forest Resuscitation project to take his conservation movement to the next level. Utilizing the community networks he had supported over the past years, Nikom has helped create a system to prevent illegal logging, and reforest and reinvigorate wildlife in the Chiang Dao National Conserved Forest. [5]

This project addresses the problem at several different levels:

·        Reforestation: First the area of the forest is clearly demarcated and the areas under the direst need are identified and reforested first. They are planted with saplings that conserve water and serve as food for wildlife.

·        Maintenance: Village Committee members are trained and held responsible for the maintenance of the reforested areas. Community networks meet regularly to monitor illegal logging, encroachment or any other issues and devise action plans for each situation.

·        Alternative livelihood creation:

o        Construction of a small dam,

o        Agro-forestry,

o        Fish breeding 

o        Food plots in the forest.

 Local Civil Society Promotion through Sustainable Natural Resource & Environment Management (Current)

Nikom’s most recent project, this initiative in Chiang Dao district aims to enable youth groups to actively participate in civil governance and environmental conservation in collaboration with other civic groups. Nikom has launched his pilot in the Upper Mae Ping Watershed where youth groups are well organized and can serve as a core group in implementing local natural resource management.

Nikom sees this project as an important next step in order to bridge the gap in education through a local curriculum in natural resource management and to ultimately create a more sustainable model for local governance and civic participation.

 Campaigns and advocacy

In conjunction with the conservation movement Nikom has been an important voice against ill-conceived government projects. Examples of some his most important campaigns are:

·        Cable Car to Doi Luang Chiang Dao Mountain: Nikom led a successful media campaign against the extremely controversial project planned in 2004. He was crucial in distributing information on the environmental and cultural damage the tourist attraction would have caused. [6] He was also a leading voice in advocating community consultation and participation to develop eco-tourism in this area.

·        The Night Safari Park in Chiang Mai: Nikom has been a chief critic of this project which serves as a tourist attraction and is known to be harmful to the wildlife in the park. In March 2006, Nikom collaborated with several NGOs to launch a media campaign to highlight the mismanagement and mistreatment of animals at the Night Safari zoo[7]. His campaign led to negotiations with the Kenyan government to put a stop to the export of wild animals into Thailand. Kenya has a put a hold on the export of the 300 animals under question.

·        Community Forest Law: Nikom has been pushing for a community forest bill for the right for communities to control natural resources, which will be crucial in resolving conflicts between officials and local communities. Nikom represents Chiang Dao communities at the district level and has facilitated community participation by organizing forums and by actively involving local governing bodies.


The implementation of the Upper Mae Ping River Basin Management Project resulted in the establishment of community organization networks such as the Mae Ping River Community Forest Network comprising of members in 54 villages (covering most of Chiang Dao district), the Mae Ping River Resuscitation and Conservation Network with members from 28 villages living along the Mae Ping River bank, and the Water Resource Network with 72 villages who manage water resource in the form of small dam. The networks’ activities help prevent illegal logging, boost local unity, peacefully solve people’s fights for local resources, and allow the people and state agencies to communicate.

In January 2003, the Parliament in Thailand passed a resolution identifying the Upper Ping Watershed as an ecologically fragile area in need of urgent resuscitation through community participation. This area became the pilot project for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to adopt the model of public participation with emphasis on collaboration among all constituents. Following this ruling Nikom launched the Forest Resuscitation project.

Nikom is most recognized for pioneering the revival of this heavily deforested and damaged area while creating mechanisms for alternative sources of livelihood and natural resource management in agreement with local lifestyles and the ecosystem.

Along with enabling communities to better manage their natural environment, he has also been a key voice in representing these communities in the wake of damaging development projects. Nikom was successful in making the communities’ concerns heard when they were not consulted in the case of the cable car project in Chiang Dao, which was ultimately cancelled.

At present, he continues to critique the Night Safari by exposing the treatment of animals in the tourist attraction and was successful in temporarily preventing the import of wild animals from Kenya. Another policy change crucial to better management of natural resources is the Community Forest Bill which will enable locals to legally manage the land and resources they inhabit. Without this bill they are not ensured support from the governing bodies and are therefore more prone to conflict. Furthermore, the Senate’s suggestion to exclude establishment of community forests in reserves has threatened the current support community networks get from governing bodies.[8]

 National and international significance

Nikom Putta has created a model for natural conservation in Northern Thailand that can be replicated across the nation. Nikom is currently working with the goal of equipping the civil society in all of Thailand to better manage their natural resources with youth empowerment programs and by creating a natural resource management curriculum. He hopes to be able to bring the necessary changes in policies that exacerbate the conflicts over resources, such as the community forest bill.

5. Background Information

Originally from a local farming village of the Upper Mae Ping Watershed, Nikom first got involved in environmental work after a field trip to Khao Yai National Park while he was working in Bangkok. He went on to become a ranger at Khai Yai, where he was moved to protest against the violence used by the rangers to keep locals out of the park. It was in this job where that he came to the conclusion that it was necessary to work with and not against local populations.

Next, Nikom found a job with World Wildlife Fund International of Thailand, where he worked for over ten years. Shortly after starting his new job, he returned to the national park, this time through a Wildlife Fund of Thailand community forestry program for local people. This time, he had a chance to develop his own projects and learn a great deal about the relationship between deforestation and poverty, and the need to work with local people to address resource issues. In 1997 he returned to his home and launched the Upper Mae Ping River Management project.

 A most interesting, informative and compelling evening, professionally conducted by Carol and Nikom. After an extensive question and answer session the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged Carol in more informal discussion over drinks and snacks.


[1] Quote by Nikom Putta.  Kempf, Elizabeth, Indigenous People and Protected Areas: The Law of Mother Earth, James & James/Earthscan 1993, pg 167.

[2] “Community Forest Management Working Groups 2000 in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam: Status Report & Work Plan,” Report of the Regional Community Forest Management Workship: volume 1, Asia Forest Network (www.asiaforestnetwork.org).

[3] Thailand Environment Monitor 2000, The World Bank (http://www.worldbank.or.th).

[4] Bangkok Post, Thursday 23 March 2006 (Article Enclosed)

[5] http://www.wildlifefund.or.th/upper_mae_ping_river_basin.html

[6] http://www.chiangmai-mail.com/071/news.shtml



[8] Assist. Prof. Rakpong1, Prachan The Promotion of A Participatory Network and Power Decentralisation:, Case Study: Community Forest Network, Upper Mae Ping River Basin, Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai Province. Department of Public Administration, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, 2006-07-27.