What We do

Community Welfare

Community Welfare

A social safety net which communities design and manage themselves

Communities in Thailand have a long tradition of helping each other and finding ways to look after their own most vulnerable members, within their limited means.  Community-based welfare, which recognizes and builds on this tradition, started in 2004, when community networks around the country recognized a big need.  With CODI’s support, they organized several national meetings to discuss the issue and set welfare as a key point in their national development agenda.

The first welfare funds were started by poor communities themselves, with their own money.  Communities across the country agreed that each member would contribute one baht a day, or 30 baht (US$ 1) per month to their welfare funds.  This simple, easy contribution system was something everyone could understand and everyone could afford.  “One-baht-a-day” became the catchphrase for the new community welfare fund movement.  Most urban poor community members cannot access any of the government’s social welfare programs, and for them, these community-funded and community-managed funds provided badly-needed help in times of need, when there were births, illnesses, emergencies or deaths.

In 2005, CODI began supporting these efforts with seed grants to help communities set up subdistrict-level welfare funds which take care of everybody, according to locally-set needs and priorities – covering such things as medicines, hospitalization, elderly and handicapped needs, children’s scholarships, HIV treatments and even schemes to promote good health.  Each network set its own procedures and parameters for their welfare program.  These subdistrict-level welfare funds were a tool to bring all the stakeholders in that constituency to work together on the issue of welfare for all – communities, subdistrict authorities, local NGOs and academics.  The funds were managed entirely by community people, who kept on putting in their “one-baht-a-day”.  But they were also able to leverage larger and larger matching grants from the central government, CODI and their local authorities, and the welfare funds grew in size and capacity.

In 2007, the Thai government recognized the potential in this people-driven welfare movement and initiated a national policy of supporting them, in which local governments would match the amount contributed by people, to double the funds’ capacities.  The process quickly spread to all 76 provinces.

These community-managed welfare funds are very important because they provide basic social safety net protection to people on the ground, according to systems they develop themselves.  And this welfare is not something that the government gives only to those it considers very poor or miserable – this kind of welfare is something the poor “give and receive with dignity.”  Because each community decides what benefits their funds will offer, there is no template and a lot of creativity in how the funds meet various welfare needs.  For example, many communities doing Baan Mankong housing projects are opting to build “welfare houses” (baan klang) into their new plans, where elderly, poor, homeless or handicapped people can stay and be looked after by their neighbors, with special funds to help pay for their basic needs.

When the first city-based CDFs were being formed in 2009, it seemed natural to bring this community-managed welfare process under their umbrella, and the first city-level welfare funds were established and managed by the urban community networks.  Many of these city-level CDFs began with welfare funds and expanded later with other funds for housing, livelihood and housing insurance.  These new city-level welfare funds supplemented the community-level welfare funds that most communities were already running, and were likewise funded partly by “one-baht-a-day” contributions from anyone in the city who wanted to be a member, and partly by grants from the local and national government.  They greatly expanded welfare coverage to more people in these cities – and many can now receive benefits from the welfare funds at both levels.  Some groups have broadened the welfare concept to use the funds to support housing for the poorest community members or families affected by disasters, or to support income generation and community enterprises.

Community Councils

Community councils provide a tool to enable a more balanced local development

Very often, local people have little control over the effects of market-driven globalization and various government development projects that come to their communities, and no say in how those forces and projects affect their lives, livelihoods and localities.  This disconnect between the larger economic and political forces that determine development and the reality of people’s lives on the ground creates a form of development without roots.  Community councils are a tool for balancing the two.

Community councils are platforms which strengthen the horizontal network of communities within a rural or urban sub-district (ward), giving people who live in that ward a legitimate, collective platform to discuss development issues, work together and initiate development projects of their own.  Community councils were initially organized on an informal basis, but the 2008 Community Councils Act gave a legal status to these important citizen bodies, which include representatives from as many communities within the ward as possible.

A ward will typically include several rural villages and small towns, as well as all kinds of community groups.  Besides meeting regularly to discuss local issues and develop policy recommendations to present to local government, community councils develop community master plans and implement a variety of development projects of their own, including welfare programs, livelihood projects, and programs to support sustainable agricultural production.  Through CODI, which has been supporting the national community council process since 2008, community councils have access to the national government and cabinet.  Today, community councils are registered and active in more than 7,406 rural and urban wards around Thailand.

Healthy Community

This national program helps urban poor communities grow and produce healthy food right in their settlements

BANGKOK, THAILAND: Nattaporn Jetjamnong, a member of HomeNet Thailand, sells crops from a community-run garden. She is also a home-based worker, although her income from stitching is irregular. The community garden gives her, and other workers, income security and provides food for their families.

In 2013, the Government’s Thai Health Promotion Foundation entered into an unconventional partnership with the national network of urban poor communities, to develop community-managed projects in which community members grow safe, healthy, organic vegetables and fruits in pots, planter boxes and on common land and around their houses in low-income communities, under its “Green Healthy Community Program”.  The foundation provided budget and training for community members (and especially school children) in how to grow organic food in pots and small spaces, and the community network coordinated the project and spread around the learning.

Hunger and poor nutrition are problems that can be invisible in low-income communities, where family incomes go up and down, and they are getting worse as health problems from pesticide-laced produce and corporate junk food become more common.  The Green Healthy Community Program gave communities a means of addressing these problems and creating awareness through action which allows them to start right away producing their own healthy food, even in very limited spaces.  In the process, the program has built new channels for sharing ideas on safe food production and expertise about gardening techniques between households within communities, between communities within the city, and between cities and regions, through the existing urban networks.

In the first year, 100 urban poor communities in 40 cities took part in the program, and most of them were veterans of Baan Mankong housing projects.  But as the process has continued and expanded, a program of individual community projects has become a more strategic and more citywide program of healthy food co-production, in which poor communities in 70 cities (and a few rural areas also) are now working with their community networks, with CODI and with their local governments to survey local food security problems and needs, and work together to develop citywide strategies to incorporate the growing of healthy fruits and vegetables in low-income communities, as well as promoting greater self-sufficiency in food production.

As a result of this program, which is being enthusiastically taken up by more and more communities all the time, some 40% of Thailand’s low-income urban communities have now become green:  growing their own organic vegetables, improving their community environments with vegetable gardens and fruit trees, reducing their expenditure on food and empowering community members (and especially children and youth) to learn how to garden, to nourish themselves and to take greater control over the food they eat.

Quality of life improvement


Community Network