Monday, October 11, 2010

TEDxChange: Mechai Viravaidya – Thailand’s Mr. Condom

Thai Tulips
 Another talk at TEDxChange was a case study in Thailand of how it had tackled several of the MDGs, by Mechai Viravaidy.  Viravaidy argues, with exquisite passion and humour, that for global success, family planning has to be added as a 9th MDG. 

In 1974, Thais had 7 children per family and the country’s growth rate was 3.3%.  By 2000, there were 1.5 children per family and the growth rate was .5%.  How did that happen?  Thailand’s Mr. Condom, came to TEDxChange to explain how in a country with a weak government and few doctors.

Viravaidya led a country-wide campaign on family planning in Thailand.  His marketing skills would be the envy of any company.  A sampling of his approaches to getting the entire nation involved include:
  •  How about games?  Well, let’s have condom blowing contests in the schools.  Let’s invent a family planning snakes and ladders game.  
  • Let’s involve shopkeepers in distributing condoms.  They’re everywhere and have the reach that Coca Cola recognized (described in Melinda Gates’ talk at the same conference).  Even floating markets became family planning outlets
  • Let’s have the monks bless the condoms with holy water.
  • Let’s get into the schools by training 320,000 teachers in 5 years.
  • Let's start a micro-credit program but only lend to women who practice family planning.
  • Let's have a 4th of July vasectomy celebration and invite American men to participate.  Hold it in the ballroom (pause for laughter) and serve hot dogs (more laughter)
  • How about branding a Captain Condom in a blue cape?  Why not start a Miss Condom pageant?
  • Wait, let’s get the taxis handing out condoms, and police on the street (the Cops and Rubber program)
  • And you cannot have a grass-roots campaign without T-shirts, right?  So, make Tshirts with interlocking condoms that look like the Olympic ring.  Make them with the words Weapons of Mass Protection – Don’t Leave Home Without It.  Make more with In Rubber We Trust.  The list of corny slogans seemed endless.
 When the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit Thailand, the same verve and focus on condom distribution was directed at the HIV epidemic, and Thailand achieved a 90% reduction in AIDS from 1991 to 2003, with 7.7M lives saved. 

The next target for Thailand was to reduce poverty.  This meant getting the business community engaged.  Viravaidy asserts that “the poor are business people who lack business skills and access to credit” and sets out to create barefoot entrepreneurs.  He says that access to credit is a human right.  Villages could earn access to a micro credit loan fund through planting trees.  He was particularly proud of one business, the local competitor to Starbucks he says, which sells Coffee and Condoms. 

Viravaidy says Thailand still needs a revolution in education.  They’ve started on this by creating school-based rural development programs. With Viravaidya involved, one can picture great strides in this area too.

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