Interview with with Dr. Sooksan Kantabutra, Advisor,
Sufficiency Economy Research Project, Bureau of the Crown Property, Thailand
Q: What is Sufficiency Economy?
A: The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy, I believe, is a way of life for anyone including business organisations. The philosophy is applicable not only in Thailand but also elsewhere in the world as practising it will enable sustainability for an individual, a community and the country. Sufficiency Economy has three core components:
3. The requirement for a self-immunity system.
Q: Is the concept too idealistic to be put into practice?
A: No, I do not think so. I think everyone can apply it provided one tries to understand what it means. The application of the concept is quite obvious in the agriculture sector in Thailand. There are several developing countries taking interest in it.
Q: Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) has been one of the topics most often discussed and debated for years. But its application among nonagriculture businesses in Thailand apparently remains low. Why is that so?
A: There are many businesses applying the SEP, some without even realising it. And there are also listed companies using the SEP as a guide. Take Kasikornbank (K Bank) for example. K Bank has been doing this, perhaps unwittingly, from the day one. Now they seem to be realising that what they have been doing - implementing Corporate Social Responsibility, for instance. They are making investment, or donating money, without looking for profit. Nowadays, K Bank, Siam Cement Group, TISCO, Thai President Foods, all acknowledge that they are putting SEP into practice. They need criteria to not just to maximise short term profitability but take care all of the stakeholders as well as the society.
Q: What is Siam Cement Group’s experience in translating the Sufficiency Economy thinking into practical policies?
A: For example, during the 1997 Asian economic crisis, Thai baht lost its value. If you are a self-centered businessman what would you have done is to sell the baht and buy US dollars so that your company will survive. But there are those wh did not go that way even though have huge amount of local
currency. Instead they worked harder to expand the market overseas to bring in the US dollar. This is about morality. SCG (Siam Cement Group) is actually a good example because the Crown Property Bureau holds the majority of the share ofSiam Cement Group and therefore whatever SCG has done is according to the Philosophy.
Q: How should SEP help businesses in risk management?
A: Risk Management has become popular for the past 10–20 years but this philosophy has been around long before. It is consistent with the self-immunity mentioned in SEP. However, risk management does not include such a factor as ethics. You can be a smart person and doing a risk management but you cheat other people, then you are not ethical. In other words, the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy is more conclusive then risk management.
Q: While SEP is very much relevant to economies in the age of rapid globalisation, what are the chances of Thailand successfully applying it in mega-projects? What are the constraints?
A: We have to talk about the development problem in this country. First, we have been expanding the gap between the rich and poor as we’re trying to bring in foreign investors into the country.
The government policy in doing this may benefit upper middle class people and also rich people while the poor get poorer. The main obstacle to our development policy is having two extreme groups of people, one thinking this way, another that way. SEP is something different. You have to think what your core competency is first. If we follow the King’s advice and promote the development of the people in agricultural sector, we will not have this kind of problem.
The social gap will be very minimal and overall development will grow be as smooth as possible. Mega-projects may be necessary to stimulate and the economy but the problem is you have to plan well to make sure that there is no corruption, make sure that the money you spend helps people and helps create jobs.
Q: Corruption and greed always is a threat to SEP projects, either big or small. What could be the solution?
A: This is a national problem and a serious problem too because right now Thai people cannot differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. I think we have to look at this problem from many perspectives. We may need ethical politicians. The government head, or the prime minister, should be a model.
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