Thai Harvard grad using e-commerce to fight poverty

Armed with an MBA from Harvard University, Thai jewelry designer Proud Limpongpan recently launched an e-commerce business selling traditional jewelry products crafted by villagers in northern Thailand and she is using a share of the profits to fund social projects that lift villagers out of poverty.

Recently, Proud launched a website for her jewelry based in New York City.She describes her jewelry as an elegant blend of the high fashion of New York with the ancient silversmithing techniques of the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna, the area in Thailand where many of her artisans are found.

“I simply want to give back to the community that has been producing these crafts for generations,” Proud told students in Bangkok attending a presentation on the admissions process for Harvard Business School.

She stressed that her approach to business is not simply about making profits. It is also an opportunity to promote social change. The artisans she works with are based in northern Mae Hong Son province where her website says that 64 percent of the people are living the below the poverty line, and 40 percent do not have access to clean drinking water and adequate waste disposal.

She pledges that for every $50 dollars spent on her jewelry she is able to provide clean water and sanitation for one villager for an entire year. Proud works with the Karen Hilltribes Trust to help fund water pipeline projects for villages in Mae Hong Son. The Karen are a hilltribe people that live in both Thailand and Myanmar.

Born in Thailand, she was fortunate, she says, to be sent to study in England when she was 13 years old. She graduated from Harvard Business School in 2015 and went to work for a private equity company that invested in consumer brands. One was a jewelry brand and that got her interested in jewelry design.

She realized that the traditional jewelry designs found in Thailand possessed a beauty and appeal that were practically unknown internationally. Even at home, local people did not understand the value of their creations.

That inspired her to take the leap from being a company employee to becoming an entrepreneur.

As much as her business training and acumen have helped her succeed, so have the cultural traits and approaches she absorbed while studying, living and working in the West.

“I have a lot of Western ideologies that might make me seem to be headstrong in terms of Thai society but it has enabled me to work very well in business and the private sector,” she told students.

Most importantly, she maintains her sense of mission in helping those who are less fortunate. By 2021, she expects her company to have helped at least 10 villages with water and sanitation, form partnerships to help address health issues among villagers, and she has plans to open a vocational school to teach students jewelry making skills.

“The next generation of great designers and craftsmen is waiting for us all to help make their dreams come true – to grow and pass on the invaluable knowledge and skills of their home by working with multinational brands around the world,” her website says.

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