Nonprofit organizations having difficulty getting the resources they need? It is an all too common problem.
About half a year ago, Irawadee Thawornbut, a high school student in Thailand, founded a social enterprise called Sandee for Good (SFG) to solve this issue. “I noticed that people donate within their area or near their home, making it difficult for remote nonprofits to access resources. So I wanted to create an online marketplace where donors from anywhere in the world can donate to organizations”, says Irawadee.
Starting an organization is always challenging. However, it is even more challenging when you’re in school, and a girl facing society’s gender norms and expectations. When asked about what it’s like, Irawadee simply replies “I do not pay so much attention to those societal norms. Instead, I focus on doing what I have to do.” For International Day of the Girl, UNICEF talked to Irawadee about what it means to be “Unscripted & Unstoppable”. On this day, UNICEF wants to celebrate all modern-day “she-roes”, and inspire others.
How does a young girl start her own enterprise?
“From a young age, my family exposed me to people with different chances in life. I wanted to do everything in my ability to better their lives,” she says. After spending time with local organizations, she found many of them were not getting what they needed donated because they are not specific enough in their asks.
Irawadee’s lightbulb moment came during a visit at an elderly home in Phuket: “One time, they asked for donations of water through their social media, and ended up with way too much water. At the same time, another local organization that I know needed more water. We ended up having to deliver the extra water to different provinces in the south of Thailand.”
“At that point I realized that communication is a big deal: some nonprofits don’t have enough while others have too much. I wanted to create a platform that allows nonprofits to communicate what they need more efficiently.”
Age and gender: challenges or opportunities?
“It has been my first year of work. One of the biggest challenges has been to manage my time, and balance school vs. SFG. I manage by setting priorities and organizing my time accordingly. It can be hard, but I am happy with the process of learning and becoming more efficient.”
“There are definitely challenges in being a girl, but when I go to organizations, I don’t focus on that. I try to do what I came here to do, regardless of my gender and age. I even think that being young can be an advantage: people like to listen to youth who know what they want to achieve and have a clear plan.” Irawadee encourages every young person not to shy away from talking to adults and organizations, but instead to walk up to them with a strong plan.
Despite her own experience, she realizes that society often “pushes young girls to think they won’t be able to start something and achieve the same things as boys”. For instance, Irawadee sees few other young girls leading their own organizations. “It could be because some families expect their daughters to get married and become mothers early on. I want to help every young girl know that it’s ok for them to have dreams and to try to achieve them.”
Looking back, Irawadee points out the importance of growing up in a supportive and nurturing environment. “I was lucky enough to study entrepreneurship in the US, where adults valued young people’s ideas. But to get those opportunities, your close environment and support system plays a big role. My mom didn’t care if I was a girl, and she never doubted that I could achieve anything. She used to tell me: just dream, and work your way to it.” Irawadee believes that the support she received from her parents really shaped her mindset.
Teaching tech to level the playing field
For Irawadee, the main hurdle that keeps many young girls from reaching their full potential is “inequality in the chances that one is born with”. Irawadee thinks that tech could help solve the issue, specifically through training people in the community with tech skills and coding.
“With tech, women can achieve the same as men. More women in tech would benefit the field, since women approach problems differently. Women are better positioned to explore angles, solutions, and tech that serve the needs of fellow women.” More than anything, Irawadee calls upon everyone to “work together to create tech solutions that suit everyone’s needs.”
What’s next for Irawadee and Sandee for Good?
Irawadee is very proud of SFG’s achievements so far. “We work closely and maintain good relationships with five different nonprofits, and check in on them monthly.” In addition to the impact of donations, Irawadee is happy that her work also influences the broader community through awareness.
Irawadee wants SFG to “expand in a maintainable way, to sustain the close and valuable connections with each nonprofit.” But that doesn’t mean nothing new is happening. The team is working to add new nonprofit organizations, collaborate with bookstores for donations to schools, and develop a new initiative for volunteers to donate skills.
All in all, Irawadee hopes that the organization can run on its own in the foreseeable future, so that she can work on innovating other solutions. One of the biggest personal milestones for Irawadee has been to “organize and manage a start-up that can fix real-world issues.” With eyes on the future, Irawadee puts her hopes in start-ups. She believes their flexibility allows them to effectively address issues, without depending too much on rules. With better education – especially in modern skills such as tech – and support for young entrepreneurs, anyone could create an organization to solve societal problems.
As a final tip for all young “she-roes” in the making, Irawadee added:
“I want girls to not doubt their ability to do anything. You shouldn’t care about or be intimidated by any stereotype. For change to happen, we should not give too much significance to the way things are currently done. Believe in yourself and your ideas, and don’t give up just because you don’t have enough experience or knowledge. If you see an opportunity, try to pursue it. In the process, you’ll gain a lot of useful experience and knowledge. In order for gender stereotypes to disappear, you already have to live like they no longer exist.”