Mechai keeps on thinking out of the box
"Think out of the box" has become the slogan of Mechai Viravaidya, the man who has created innovative solutions to ease national problems like family planning, AIDS reduction and community development.At 71, his mind is still sharp enough to link his name to the slogan. Mechai has just come up with a new model, believed to help reduce poverty, empower community and enhance social and economic development. (Sorry, details will be published in later articles.)
During an interview last week, he proved that he still thinks creatively.
Talking about women's role in supporting their families and communities, he mentioned something about Thai Airways International that could somewhat answer why the national carrier has been in doldrums.
At the World Economic Forum, Jon Fredrik Baksaas, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Telenor, mentioned that half of his company's workforce was female and coincidentally half of its clients were also female. To him, the value chain is complete, having women catering services to women.
Mechai expressed his surprise that through its 52-year history, THAI had never welcomed a woman to its board of directors. "It shows that whoever is empowered to nominate directors has problems with their mothers and don't trust their mothers."
On another subject, he complained that schools nationwide are under-utilized. In a year, they serve students for 8 hours for fewer than 300 days in a year, though the properties could serve more.
On an alternative school in Buri Ram, Mechai Pattana School, he proudly said that the school's flagpole is a bit higher than the national flagpole. It is intentional, as he believes a nation can be strong only when its subjects are united. At this school, students do not need to sing the national anthem every morning at 8am like those in other schools. They do it at 4.30pm and not everyday, as the sunshine at 8am is too strong. Instead of getting students lined up on a barren cement ground, as the school's director, he allowed them to stand in the shade. The ground where the pole is located is covered by vegetables grown in plastic bags by the students, something that is financing the school's expenses.
Among the products are "ATM mushrooms". It is named so, as mushrooms can be collected twice a day and automatically generate revenue to the school.
At this school, the gate is shaped as a buffalo horn, to mock a Thai joke that "some people are as stupid as buffalos". To Mechai, "I mock them back. These people are not stupid. They just don't have good teachers."
Among 44 Thai consonants, two - Khor Khon and Khor Kwai - share the same sound but is written differently. The first one, with a slight mark on top, refers to people while the latter without a mark refers to buffaloes. But now, the latter is used even when we refer to people. "It's as if we are animals. I have to praise the man who decided to put Parliament near the zoo. He had such long-sighted vision!"
It's not surprising that he was able ton convince the Army to support his AIDS campaign 20 years ago, when the government dared not to admit the presence of the fatal disease for fear of losing tourists. So, he revealed the statistics for soldiers with the disease. The alarming rate showed that without prevention, few Thai men would remain to protect the country.
More innovative ideas have followed, when he came up with new development programmes, to the envy of many NGOs.
At 71, Mechai feels energetic enough to remain creative. No retirement is in the picture, as long as he can work.
"Some people die instantly after retiring from something they have worked on for over 30 years. To me, we climb up to the top bit by bit and we should also go down the hill bit by bit. I still don't want to die," he said.
It seems he would stay around for a long time. When informed that a company wants to donate old beach umbrellas, his eyes were lit up. He even doesn't mind being called a "beggar", as long as begging helps his projects and brings him more smiles.