MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA aka “Mr Condom”, Founder of Population Community Development Association (PDA)

Condoms and Cabbages, Thailand

Condoms, Microcredit and Bamboo Buildings

Mechai Viravaidya is known in Thailand as Mr Condom. It is safe to assume that he has a condom in his wallet at all times since the rubber is key to his grand plan: making Thailand a more resilient country.

As an innovative economist, Mechai made it his priority to help develop his country. In 1974 he founded Population and Community Development Association (PDA), an organisation that effectively curbed population growth in Thailand – the average had been 7 children per family with a 3.3% annual increase in population – applying his trademark pervasive humour to the campaigns. Mechai initiated condom-blowing contests where over a five-year period over 320,000 teachers mastered the activity, held Miss Condom beauty pageants, and created the Captain Condom mascot, that is also available as a Halloween costume. In 1975 he established Thailand’s first social enterprise to help fund PDA: the restaurant and resort Condoms and Cabbages was conceived, which has now become a chain of twenty locations offering condoms instead of after dinner mints – “our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.”

Mechai’s knowledge of economics and population growth is solid (from 1979-81 he was a research associate at Columbia University’s Center of Population and Family Health), yet his tactics were extravagant. PDA’s message was pure – “the condom is fun when your mind is not dirty” – and he rallied the Thai government, police force and even Buddhist monks (who blessed the condoms with holy water), to support the campaign. Police handed out condoms in traffic in the “Cops and Rubbers” initiative, and in 2011 after a meeting with Mechai who was a Senator at the time, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wore a condom-studded hat as a bid to raise public awareness of HIV and AIDS on World AIDS Day. The stunt gained free publicity and surely contributed to the 7.7 million lives estimated by World Bank to have been saved as a result of PDA’s campaigns. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s popular support was not so successful (his political career ended the same year).

A master showman, Mechai is also a social entrepreneur who after his success with contraception focused his attention on the eradication of poverty. In 1975 he established one of the first microcredit programmes to support long-term financial sustainability in rural villages. This programme later became known as the Village Development Partnership (VDP) that over a 23-year period transformed 25,000 villagers into “barefoot entrepreneurs”. Understanding the importance of education in overcoming poverty and inspiring good citizens, Mechai established the Mechai Viravaidya Foundation (MVF) to open the Mechai Pattana School (constructed solely of biodegradable bamboo) that provides free, private education to underpriviledged secondary school students. Here they complete a “Barefoot MBA” that includes experience in the school bank, along with project-based learning modules out in the rice fields or in water conservation. In return for the degree, every student must plant 365 trees and carry out 365 hours of community service.

So what do condoms, microcredit and bamboo buildings have in common? The Condom King Mechai, Thailand’s “weapon of mass protection.”

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Country: Thailand

Type of Education: Bachelor of Commerce at Melbourne University

Awards: Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health in 2009, 2008 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, 2007 Gates Award for Global health, the United Nations Population Award (1997) 1995 he was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia, for “service to Australian-Thai relations and contributions to the world AIDS debate” and in 1981, United Nations Gold Peace Medal.

Foundation Affiliation: Skoll Foundation, Qi

Pathway to Impact: Pathway of Passion

Impact Area/s: Basic Material Needs – adequate livelihood; Health – Strength, feeling well;  Social Relations – Ability to help others; Freedom of Choice & Action

Organisation Type: Non

Facts & Figures: Mechai Viravaidya served as Chairman to several of Thailand’s biggest companies including Krung Thai Bank, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Company, and the Telephone Organization of Thailand. He was also the Ambassador for UNAIDS for a ten year period (1999-2009) and today, as a testament to his success, “Mechai” is now slang for condom in the Thai language.

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Twitter: @MechaiV

LinkedIn: mechai-viravaidya

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About the author Helena Rosebery

After completing a Master of Communication (Food & Culture) from Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy, Helena Rosebery followed her heart to Zürich where she is inspired everyday by the resilience and greenness of her home-grown herbs. Helena employs words and coloured pencils to professionally communicate all that is – and is not – in the pursuit of a more ethical world.

2 Comments

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