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How People, Brands and Countries Around the World Are Living Their Purpose

Venerable Phra Anil Sakya extols the virtues of embodying your purpose, from a Buddist perspective | Image credit: KoAnn Skrzyniarz

Last week, I had the great pleasure and honour to take part in the second annual edition of Sustainable Brands Bangkok, which was founded by Dr. Sirikul ‘Nui’ Laukaikul, who many of you will have had the good fortune to hear as a speaker at previous Sustainable Brands events.

On day one, we had an opportunity to travel together to visit the Bang Kachao neighbourhood, where participants were able to see firsthand a number of community projects. Bang Kachao is a natural region inside of Bangkok covering an area of 3,089 square kilometres and is now one of the most popular eco-tourist destinations, especially for Thais living in Bangkok. The day was hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and facilitated by Arsom Silp Institute of the Arts. The final event of the day was an interactive workshop where participants came together to create a real working purpose for Bang Kachao that balanced profit, people and planet, to be presented to the government.

With the global theme this year being Activating Purpose, the main conference brought together over 40 international speakers and over 60 brands, as well many inspirational speakers and projects from Thailand - in this short space it is simply not possible to mention every single speaker and presentation, but here were a few of our favorites. Her Royal Highness Princess Kesang Choden Wangchuck of Bhutan addressed the audience on the first morning to discuss Gross National Happiness and the way in which businesses are now thinking beyond financial definitions of success to also how they can impact more positively both socially and ecologically. Her Royal Highness, who is the Chairperson of the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan, was in Thailand to establish the first international centre of its kind outside of Bhutan, which has as its mission the promotion of happiness, sufficiency and moderation.

These three key themes continued in the afternoon with workshops from Dr. Tho Ha Vinh, Program Director at Thailand’s Gross National Happiness Centre, and Venerable Phra Anil Sakya, a Buddhist monk who studied at Cambridge before becoming an assistant secretary to the late Supreme Patriarch, and who now represents the modern face of Buddhism, lecturing internationally as well as being a deputy rector for foreign affairs at Mahamakut Buddhist University.

Also that day my wife, Maria Moraes Robinson, and I talked about our new framework, Customer Experiences with Soul, which we created to help organisations apply our Holonomics framework to the area of customer experience design. In our plenary presentation we introduced the framework and discussed purpose, values, authenticity and a number of case studies in which we are applying this framework. In our workshop we introduced our new tool, The Holonomic Circle, which can help organisations explore their current customer experiences and design new experiences from multiple perspectives.

Image credit: KoAnn Skrzyniarz

The day’s program concluded with a fascinating panel session facilitated by Nui, who spoke with a number of young Thais about their projects that show how the sufficiency economy can be put into practice by finding our personal purpose.

Day three continued with yet many more equally moving, powerful and insightful talks and workshops - including Kalin Sarasin from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who presented a systemic model for the development of sustainability in an industry which employs 15 percent of the Thai working population. Bounding energetically on stage having landed just hours before was Thomas Kolster from the Goodvertising agency, who it is always a huge pleasure to listen to. Thomas’s work is extremely aligned with Holonomics, and in his afternoon workshop he developed his theme of balancing profit and purpose by looking at how advertising can be authentic and purposeful by keeping the message simple.

We also really enjoyed the afternoon presentation from Janet Neo, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific, who showed the way in which 99.5 percent of their photocopiers are now recyclable. As she said, their purpose is defined by the way in which “what they say matches what they do.” Other highlights included Harald Link from B. Grimm Group - which works closely with the Gross National Happiness Centre - talking about compassion as a business purpose; Jareeporn Jarukornsakul, who told her inspirational story from her childhood to how she came to be the co-founder and Group CEO of Thailand’s WHA Corporation; and Andy Last from Salt Communication, discussing who should own the purpose in an organisation. Andy offered a great definition of purpose, which was: “Why you exist and what people would miss if you didn’t.”

We enjoyed the presentation from Javier Goyeneche, an environmentalist entrepreneur and president of Ecoalf, a Spanish company that combines fashion design with last-generation recycled materials. Javier presented the brand’s “Upcycling the Oceans” project, which takes plastic waste from the oceans and transforms them into fibres that can be used to manufacture clothing. Javier was joined on stage with Youasak Suupasorn from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Supattanapong Punmeechaow from PTT Global Chemical, who together announced a three-year project to help remove waste from the seabed in Thailand.

On the final afternoon we received the news of the passing away of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, who created the sufficiency economy philosophy and was dearly beloved by the people of Thailand. Nui presented this quote from a speech the King gave in December 1998:

“If one is moderate in one’s desires, one will have less craving. If one has less craving, one will take less advantage of others.”

It was with great dignity that the SB’16 Bangkok team continued to the end despite having received such sad news, and the event closed with Nui paying a hugely emotional tribute to the monarch, who inspired the Thai people through many a difficult period. The afternoon closed with a beautiful musical presentation by a small group of children, who chose as their final piece a song composed by King Adulyadej himself.

I would like to congratulate Nui and the whole team for hosting another incredible edition of Sustainable Brands. All of our Thai friends, including those who we met for the first time, are in our thoughts and prayers during this period of mourning. 


Simon Robinson is the co-author of Holonomics: Business Where People and
Planet Matter and the founder of Holonomics Education, which offers
consultancy and business courses in the areas of business strategy,
sustainability, branding, customer experience design, leadership and
innovation.
[Read more about Simon Robinson]


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