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.

By January 2018, community-managed welfare funds were operating in 5,600 rural wards, and the community networks in 67 cities were operating city-level welfare funds.

Community Welfare Fund figures
(as of June 2018)

  • Total number of community-managed welfare funds now active (in both cities and rural wards, covering a total of 54,233 rural villages): 5,938 funds
  • Total number of welfare fund members: 5,319,217 people
  • Average number of members per welfare fund: 896 people
  • Total amount in these welfare funds: 52 billion baht (US$ 422.5 million)
  • Average amount of money per welfare fund: 29 million baht (US$ 71,515)
  • Total community contribution to all these funds: 71 billion baht (US$ 272.1 million)
  • Total number of beneficiaries of welfare support: 1,710,230 people