The road to entrepreneurship

Than Wai Aung, a Myanmar migrant worker in Thailand, turned himself from a construction worker into a mushroom entrepreneur with the help of the ILO's C-BED business skills training.

Feature | Bangkok, Thailand | 01 September 2014
BANGKOK (ILO News) – Than Wai Aung, 44, was a construction site worker until 18 months ago, when he attended a training course that transformed his life.

Than Wai left Myanmar 16 years ago and moved to neighbouring Thailand, spending most of those years working on construction sites, building housing estates in northern Thailand and the capital, Bangkok.

A small mushroom farm in the suburbs of Bangkok nurtures a big dream for Than Wai Aung, a Burmese migrant worker who aspires to be an millionaire entrepreneur in three years. With the help from the ILO C-BED training, he is on the road to entrepreneurship.
Three years ago Than Wai visited relatives in Ratchaburi province, along the border with Myanmar. There he saw local people growing mushrooms for a living. He decided to move there and attend a mushroom growing class run by a Thai government agency.
© ILO/J. Wongpaithoon 2014
“Construction work is very hard. And as I love to be with nature, growing mushrooms appeals to me,” said Than Wai, “But it didn’t go well as a business during my first year. The local market in Ratchaburi was not big enough to sell my crop. My mushrooms rotted,” he said.

Than Wai moved back to Bangkok, spending a lot of time looking for a place to rent where he could grow his mushrooms. He made sure he found markets where he could sell his products. He rented a small strip of land sandwiched between two fish ponds on the outskirts of Bangkok. There are two markets in this area.

He did not know how to calculate his income and expenditures, making it difficult to save money.

Learning the business ropes

That prompted him to attend a business management training course designed by the ILO’s Community Based Enterprise Development (C-BED), and funded by the ILO/Japan Multi-bilateral Programme. The innovative training programme for business start-ups teaches by sharing the experiences of other trainees, helped by facilitators who direct the sessions by asking  appropriate questions and following the C-BED modules provided by the ILO.
© ILO/J. Wongpaithoon 2014
“I never knew that I had to charge for my time, and include things like gasoline and car rental into my costs,” said Than Wai, who used to rent a pick-up truck to deliver his mushrooms to market, costing him Baht 300 a day. “I have now learned to calculate my costs, to save money, and especially to save my time”.

Than Wai is not the only migrant worker to turn himself into an entrepreneur. C-BED has worked with more than 40 partners in Thailand, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic in the past two years. More than 1,600 people have received training on business development. Particularly well suited to marginalized and vulnerable communities, the C-BED approach has helped rural migrants and displaced people, refugees and asylum-seekers, ex-combatants, people with disabilities, school-leavers, vulnerable women and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The C-BED designed training tools are simple and practical,” said Sho Sudo, Programme and Operations Specialist for the ILO/Japan Multi-bilateral Programme. “94 per cent of those reached have never before had access to entrepreneurship or business development training opportunities, and the majority of small business owners report improvements in their enterprise”.
The C-BED designed training tools are simple and practical,” said Sho Sudo, Programme and Operations Specialist for the ILO/Japan Multi-bilateral Programme.
After attending the training course, held at the premises of one of the C-BED partners, the National Catholic Commission on Migration, Than Wai stopped delivering his mushrooms. Instead, he asked his vendors to come and collect them from his farm. He dropped his prices, but saved time and other costs, including truck rental and petrol. He now spends the time saved tending his crops. He now earns about Baht20,000 (US$628) net profit a month.
“I used to work without a goal. Whatever I earned, I spent it,” said Than Wai who now uses financial management software provided by the NCCM, together with the C-BED training, to record income and expenses on his computer. “If you don’t know how to save, you will remain an employee. But I want to be an employer.”

Than Wai is expanding his business. He has hired one more worker, who is also a migrant worker from Myanmar. He is looking for a bigger piece of land to enlarge his farm, and wants to hire three more workers. His goal now is to double his production and produce 70-80 kilograms of mushrooms every day.

“The training gave me a goal. I can see that in two or three years time I will be an entrepreneur,’’ he said.

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