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Interview with Akkanut Wantanasombut – Chula Researcher and Founder of Community-based Social and Solidarity Economy Platform

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths in the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, ILO interviewed Akkanut Wantanasombut, researcher at the Institute of Asia Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, and founder of “Tamsang-Tamsong”, a community-based social and solidarity economy platform.

Could you tell us about yourself and how you got involved in the social and solidarity economy?

My name is Akkanut Wantanasombat. I’m a researcher at the Institute of Asian Studies in Chulalongkorn University and founder of “Tamsang-Tamsong,” a community-based delivery platform that aims to create a business model that benefits stakeholders in the ecosystem. This vision is aligned with the social and solidarity economy (SSE) approach that is outlined in the ILC resolution concerning decent work and the SSE.

Could you tell us about your motivation for starting the “Tamsang-Tamsong,” community-based social and solidarity economy platform?

I have been researching platform economy for years, mainly focusing on its impact on workers being affected by a new form of work in general and those working for platform companies in particular. I found that stakeholders in the platform model, consumers included, tend to be exploited by the platform companies. And the platform companies themselves also lose in the process. They invest large amounts of money to create network effects, to reach economies of scale and increase the number of users. In the end, nobody benefits. In the case of Thailand, this was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when the government had a lockdown policy. People could not leave their houses, so they ordered food from delivery platforms. Many restaurants had no choice but to join food delivery applications to survive. At the same time, those who became unemployed due to the pandemic affected economy joined food delivery companies as riders.

The food delivery business has grown due to the pandemic. Platform companies increased their commissions from restaurants which in turn caused them to raise their food prices. At the same time, platform companies also reduced riders’ wages. All these matters made me realize we need a better and fairer business model. I came up with the idea of creating a co-owned food delivery and ride-hailing platform where stakeholders in the ecosystem can operate according to benefits that members and community will receive, beyond profit. This is aligned with the SSE principles and values as outlined in the ILC resolution.

Creating a platform is not very difficult – but making it fair for all stakeholders, especially with the economic activity involving many stakeholders is. For our first pilot, we tried a multi-stakeholder cooperative. We invited three parties, namely, restaurant owners, riders, and consumers, to participate in the meeting to agree on the process.

Later, we designed the platform according to these agreements. We facilitated discussions so that different parties can learn main lessons from other parties. We then decided on working procedures, delivery fees, operation costs, and co-contribution. Since our model is community-based, we managed to solve problems that the profit-driven platform cannot. For instance, the consumers can order food from three restaurants in one order because the restaurant in the neighbourhood is not far, while big platform only allows the consumer to order food from one restaurant per order. This helps us reduce the transaction cost.

There is no conflict between stakeholders because we have a rotation administrator on standby to help if someone needs it. We have workshops for restaurant owners, mostly elders, and motorcycle taxi drivers, who need to familiarise themselves with the technology. We invite local bank branches to open a bank account and introduce mobile banking with help from volunteer students from Chulalongkorn University.

All these activities create positive unintended outcomes, which we believe will lead to improved well-being for the wider community. Since our first pilot initiative in June 2020, we are now working in different communities in Bangkok and provinces. Our challenge is to find proper procedures that can apply to other communities with different social contexts. With the lessons learned, we can expand, scale up, and even work with other enterprises to revamp into SSE entities.

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Chula’s encouragement and support for research is excellent for teachers, students, and the public.

Associate Professor Dr. Suchana Chavanich Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University

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