Nurturing Minds: Early Childhood Education in Thailand

Early childhood education (ECE) is foundational for lifelong learning and development, presenting unique challenges and opportunities for growth in Thailand. Amid the dynamic interplay of advancing educational goals within emerging Asian economies, the need for targeted, effective ECE interventions is increasingly evident. In Thailand, where 85% of children aged 2 to 5 already benefit from some form of ECE despite compulsory education beginning at age 6, the focus extends beyond enrolment figures.

The report delves into the ECE landscape in Thailand, providing a comprehensive analysis based on extensive research and insights from various stakeholders. Through the examination of a selection of 12 ECE initiatives by local NGOs, community organizations, and government-backed programs, the report uncovers the diverse mechanisms through which Thailand is addressing the needs of its youngest learners.

The study offers valuable insights into the innovative practices and challenges in delivering quality early education in Thailand. It underscores the important role of private investment—from corporations to individual philanthropists—in propelling the ECE agenda forward and offers recommendations to boost the sector’s effectiveness and sustainability.

Arthur Huang
Founder and CEO
Chinese Taipei

Published date: 1 December 2023

Arthur Huang is the Founder and CEO of Miniwiz, a circular upcycling technology company dedicated to transforming consumer and industrial waste into high-performance materials. His expertise in structural engineering and architecture has played a crucial role in Miniwiz’s groundbreaking initiatives in ESG engineering and upcycling since the company’s establishment in 2005. Miniwiz’s efforts have been well-recognized by the international community: It won the Wall Street Journal’s Asian Innovation Award in 2011 and was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2015.  

As part of our “Build Back Greener: Addressing Climate Change in Asia” report, CAPS spoke (virtually) to Arthur in February 2022 to understand Miniwiz’s core values and the process of translating such values into innovative solutions within the ever-evolving environmental, social and governance (ESG) landscape.  

CAPS: Arthur, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Miniwiz is deeply committed to realizing a truly circular economy, one that is based on reusing and recycling to preserve resources and lessen the environmental footprint. Could you share with us the premise behind Miniwiz’s work?  

Arthur: Of course. I would like first to emphasize that the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint is by reusing resources rather than simply recycling them. Recycling invariably presents environmental challenges due to the requirement of waste segregation, which exists in almost all such schemes in developed economies. Unfortunately, this process not only devalues waste materials but also causes secondary pollution as additional processing is needed, leading to a trash conundrum.  

This is precisely why Miniwiz has tasked itself with reusing as much of the original configuration as possible when turning waste into scalable resources. It is essential to understand that technology plays a pivotal part in achieving this objective, and it works hand in hand with environmental activism to build a fairer and more sustainable planet. These two elements should be linked together, albeit they are often perceived as separate.  

CAPS: How have you put these ideas into practice?  

Arthur: We strive to unlock the potential of upcycling, which involves reusing waste in its current state and refurbishing it to create a higher-quality product. Drawing from my own experience in structural engineering, we convert low-value waste into high-performance building materials and modules as alternatives to existing carbon-intensive products.  

For example, commissioned by the Nan Fung Group in Hong Kong, we have conducted a series of experiments to transform post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into 3D-sublimated textile fabric designed for interior spaces. The material exhibits not only splash- and abrasion-resistance but also acoustic and antibacterial qualities, marking critical technological breakthroughs. 

** In a follow-up with Arthur in November 2023, CAPS learned that this collaboration successfully repurposed over 140,000 disposable water bottles as curtain wall systems for the newly opened AIRSIDE mall in Hong Kong. The surfacing itself contributed to a carbon footprint reduction of more than 48,000 kg.  

CAPS: Do you collaborate with other companies to help grow the circular economy? 

Arthur: Yes, we do. Interestingly, several of our innovative ideas have stemmed from collaborations with the Fubon Group, a conglomerate with diverse business interests including banking and telecommunication. A case in point is making wireless phone chargers out of recycled surgical masks, with each charger composed of nine recycled masks at a low cost. The Group even invited us to display the manufacturing process in front of its employees as part of their ESG initiatives. All of this points to how ESG demands can organically expand the notion of a circular economy. 

Our business partnerships go beyond Taiwan to all corners of the world, and one such instance is the previously mentioned collaboration with the Nan Fung Group in Hong Kong. Other leading property developers there such as Sino Group have also embraced our upcycled materials as their ESG solutions in the design and construction of shopping malls. 

CAPS: Speaking of ESG, what related trends have you observed in Taiwan and other economies you work in? 

Arthur: There is a notable trend in which the governments of Taiwan and Singapore are increasingly incorporating ESG themes into procurement and development projects. In Taiwan, this is particularly noticeable in initiatives related to public land development. This shift is likely motivated by public institutions seeking to showcase their ESG commitment to constituents, such as reducing emissions and benefiting the local economy. 

In the private sector, smaller companies often face resource, knowledge and capacity constraints when implementing ESG programs. Larger consumer companies, with whom we have partnered, intend to do good but struggle to have full control of their supply chains. This lack of control poses increased difficulties for them to effect meaningful ESG impact. On the other hand, the banking and real estate industries have shown significant interest in ESG initiatives, primarily due to the long-term nature of their projects. 

CAPS: How have these changes impacted Miniwiz?  

Arthur: Taken together, these shifts reflect a growing market demand for our sustainable products and services. While Miniwiz operates in various economies, we have refocused on Taiwan since the pandemic. This decision allowed us to engage in the previously discussed ESG-oriented procurement contracts with the government and the largest real estate developer in Taiwan. We could bid on these contracts at market prices comparable to typical technology companies, and these projects amounted to over US$1 billion.  

Such tremendous ESG procurement opportunities have, in turn, allowed us to reshape our business model. We have invested more resources in waste collection and enhanced our technological capacity to transform waste into sustainable materials locally. Seen this way, these substantial procurement volumes can translate into a significant force in influencing local transformation, ultimately disrupting long-established supply chains.  

Another way of looking at these procurement contracts is that the profits generated can be redirected to our operations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, gradually expanding our global reach. 

CAPS: Finally, with respect to the private sector, what do you think could be done to drive impactful ESG outcomes?  

Arthur: One positive step corporates can take is to integrate ESG components into their current research and development (R&D) projects. This way, R&D can serve as a means to promote not only technological progress but also industry transformation towards greater sustainability. This also brings us back to the idea I said earlier in our conversation – harnessing technology for doing good. 

The Legatum Prosperity Index

Legatum Institute

The Prosperity Index aims to help identify specifics action to be taken to contribute to strengthening the pathways from poverty to prosperity across 167 countries, as well as providing a roadmap as nations chart their way through and out of the pandemic.

2023 edition: Read it here.

2021 edition: Read it here.

2020 edition: Read it here.

Asia Development Outlook (ADO) Series

Asia Development Bank

ADO 2023
This publication highlights brighter economic prospects for Asia and the Pacific amid ongoing challenges. It forecasts growth across the region’s developing economies of 4.8% this year and in 2024, up from 4.2% in 2022. Read it here.

ADO 2022
The 2022 report outlines economic prospects in developing Asia amid global turbulence and lingering pandemic risks. It discusses the implications of school closures and the conflict in Europe, and explores mobilizing taxes for development. Read it here.

ADO 2021
The 2021 report reflects on the fallout of Covid-19 and its impact on growth trajectories in Asian economies. It pinpoints new virus outbreaks and vaccine delays as key short-term risks to the region’s economic outlook, with long-term risks being consequences of prolonged unemployment and disrupted education. A thematic chapter explores the drivers and impacts of green and social finance. The infusion of private capital will be critical in boosting the funding necessary for a resilient and inclusive recovery in Asia. Read it here.

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood (Malaysia)
Executive Director
Sunway Centre for Planetary Health

Published date: 14 March 2023

Professor Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood is the Executive Director of Sunway Centre for Planetary Health, hosted at Sunway University, Malaysia. Established in 2021, the Centre focuses on the climate emergency, creating healthy cities and achieving sustainable food systems, recognizing the centrality of good governance, effective communications and an education revolution to effect long-term system level changes to the relationship between planet and people. It forms part of Sunway Group’s focus on achieving sustainable development in Malaysia and fostering regional cooperation for environmental action.

CAPS spoke to Dr. Jemilah in late 2022 to learn more about planetary health – the intersection of human health, planetary health and sustainable resilience – and the role of private social investment in addressing existential crises in the Asian region.

CAPS: Dr. Jemilah, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Could you start by explaining the relationship between the health of people and the health of the environment?

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood: It’s abundantly clear by the events of the last three years that the health of humanity is intrinsically linked to the health of the planet. There are limits to the amount of stress the planet can take before we start to experience systemic collapse, until those tipping points that science is telling us to be worried about are reached. When we start transgressing those boundaries there is a massively negative impact on the systems that are important for humanity: health, food, water, energy. This damage in turn impacts on our economic well-being, our social cohesion, gender relations, equality, education, everything. One event can generate cascading crises, as we saw during the pandemic when we experienced this up close and personal. There are so many things that are affected when health is not protected.

CAPS: That sounds incredibly complex.

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood: It’s complex because, when it comes down to it, everything in nature is connected. The disconnection is with us – we are not connected anymore. This is because our political, economic and social systems have evolved in ways which are simply not sustainable, not respecting the limits of the Earth’s ability to provide for us, to clean up our messes, to process our trash and the toxins we create, to protect us from poorly thought through development choices. And it’s starting to more immediately touch upon a lot of sensitivities. For example, in Malaysia, the massive flooding in late 2021, generated a huge tension in politics. People felt that the government wasn’t taking care of them. People didn’t talk about climate change until it impacted them, until the triple crisis of the pandemic, the floods and then economic recession became very personal.

There is no escaping the fact that human beings drive environmental and planetary destruction, whether through their own consumer behaviors, though silent acquiescence to damage caused by big businesses and corrupt politicians or simply through participating and accepting the poorly thought through development decisions our leaders and private sector managers make – decisions that don’t take into account planetary boundaries or respect for nature. So, we are trying to get people to flip it and see things from a different perspective.

CAPS: How easy or difficult has it been for you to get people to shift that mindset?

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood: Every crisis provides opportunities. In the immediate aftermath of disasters it’s easier for us to talk to governments, to say, “Here’s the situation, you need to act.” The pandemic provided a significant opportunity to open dialogue on the need for more sustainable change and better risk management. The government has included planetary health and climate change in its development plans. The caretaker Prime Minister at the time called for a planetary health roadmap. We have a sustainability centre, bringing the SDGs into our development planning, and we’re setting up a sustainability fund so that we can look at what innovations can happen at the community level to drive sustainable transformation. It is still tricky, but it is not impossible.

I think that everyone needs to use this opportunity, making sure we don’t forget that the pandemic showed us the need for speed, to keep driving forward the transformational change that must happen now, especially because governments and people have so many competing priorities. For the normal person on the street, it is about, “How do I bring food to the table?”, and for politicians, it’s about, “How do I survive?”. For businesses, “How do I make money?”. Doing business well and right means good business outcomes. For governments, making the right policy decisions will ensure better political survival and thriving. But the ultimate driver of positive change needs to be us – the people. Changes in our behaviors will be reflected in changes in our institutions which will generate change in our interactions with the Earth.

CAPS: We often hear people say that sustainability and climate change seem too big and too complicated, and it’s difficult to know where to start. How would you respond to that concern?

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood: There’s no short-term or easy solution to this. This is going to be hard work for a long time to come – but we’re running out of time to get started. In my opinion, the most important thing is education. How do we build an awareness of the importance of the environment, of sustainability, of planetary health? It needs to start from a very young age, in schools.

At the University, we prioritized incorporating planetary health as a central theme, no matter what discipline you are in. We are piloting a course now, that will become mandatory from 2024. Every student entering Sunway University will need to complete a seven-week course on planetary health and community service before they graduate. In the process of educating people, you create greater awareness and develop leadership skills.

We also run a lot of youth engagement activities. I think that’s a factor in how we change things in the long term, through young people. They already know this is important. They know that their generation is facing an existential crisis. We give them the tools and the skills so that they are better able to handle it, but also build that transformative innovation that is required to develop solutions for us all.

CAPS: What role can philanthropists play in supporting businesses and communities to take action on planetary health? 

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood: I think philanthropy would do well to increase its focus on impact. That’s where the real value for money lies. But a lot of the time, philanthropy is not strategic. For example, when there’s a crisis, everybody pours money into relief, but funders are less willing to provide money that helps to prevent these crises from happening in the first place. I want to see philanthropists think about strategy and impact, more intelligent theories of change, and long-term progress.

Philanthropy also has such an important role to play in building institutions. I would love for our Centre to have endowments to help us do research and build the evidence to change society through education and influencing policies. We also want to influence businesses, including SMEs, to look at how they can innovate and to help them become more aware of their environmental impact. We have to get people to see that protecting the environment is good business and good FOR business.

India Philanthropy Report

Bain & Company and Dasra

The India Philanthropy Report series showcases the state of giving towards the social sector in India. It highlights the growing contribution of family foundations, which has remained resilient during the pandemic, while other sources of private sector funding have stagnated. However, the social sector remains underserved, with annual funding shortfalls compounded by the addition of pandemic-induced demands.

2023 edition
In its 13th edition, India Philanthropy Report 2023, co-created by Bain & Company and Dasra, focuses on the different funder archetypes – CSR, Retail Givers, UHNIs, HNI & Affluent Givers, their deeply correlated roles, factors and barriers influencing different cohorts of givers and actionable insights into specific enablers that can make philanthropy more effective. Read it here.

2022 edition
The report notes that as India advances towards growth and transformation, an opportunity exists to invest in and support different funder groups across CSR, family philanthropy and retail giving. Read it here.

2021 edition
The report estimates that if India’s ultra-high-net-worth families increase their giving in line with global peers (i.e., they give 2-3% of their wealth), family philanthropic funding would increase five-fold. Read it here.

The economic case to support social sector

Daily Mirror Sri Lanka

Everyone facing food insecurity and poverty during the ongoing crisis cannot be covered through multilateral and bilateral humanitarian assistance measures. Thus, there is definite scope for SDOs to bridge this fiscal gap and provide essential services and assistance to vulnerable communities that the government is unable to serve. Read the article by CAPS’ Kithmina Hewage here.

Pakistan Giving Index

Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy

The Pakistan Giving Index by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy examines the scope and nature of giving in Pakistan. Inspired by the methodology of the CAF World Giving Index, the study looks at different aspects of giving behavior, whether people are giving to charity and to whom they gave, their motivations for giving and the perceived impact of their contributions. Key findings include the need for charities and non-profit organizations to effectively communicate their work and their impact to win the trust of the public. Read it here.

Poverty and Shared Prosperity Series

World Bank Group

This series provides the most up-to-date estimates and trends on global poverty and shared prosperity.

2022 edition
The 2022 edition provides the first comprehensive look at the landscape of poverty in the aftermath of an extraordinary series of shocks to the global economy, including the pandemic.

2020 edition
For more than two decades, extreme poverty was steadily declining. Now, for the first time in a generation, the quest to end poverty has suffered its worst setback. Read it here.

2018 edition
The 2018 edition broadens the way poverty is defined and measured, introducing a multi-faceted measurement approach connected to household consumption and the international poverty line (US$1.90 per person per day). Lack of access to infrastructure and education is also included as a facet of poverty. Relative poverty within households, sliced by gender and age, is also analyzed. Read it here.

Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar: A Citizen-First Approach

Rohini Nilekani

Indian philanthropist Rohini Nilekani highlights an urgent need to shift the thinking of our role in cultivating an equitable and resilient society in her new book, Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar: A Citizen-First Approach. The book compiles 15 years of her writings on the three sectors: society, state and markets. Nilekani invites “thinkers, researchers, writers, civic leaders, and all citizens to join the important public discourse” and argues for the restoration of society as the foundational sector. Read it here.