Mechai Viravaidya had a pivotal role in Thailand’s immensely successful family planning program, which saw one of the most rapid fertility declines in the modern era.
Following his education in Australia at the Geelong Grammar School and the University of Melbourne, Mechai returned to Thailand and started his career with a governmental development agency. He served as Chairman to several of Thailand’s biggest companies including Krung Thai Bank, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Company, and the Telephone Organisation of Thailand.
After his success at promoting family planning and HIV prevention, Mechai has aggressively approached the problem of rural poverty by empowering the poor through the Village Development Partnership, to build sustainable entrepreneurial capacity, community empowerment, income generating activities and environmental protection at the village level. This project, which is a partnership between a rural village and a sponsoring company, is marked by extensive community involvement as beneficiaries, planners, managers, and most importantly – as partners and leaders.
In 2008, he established the Mechai Bamboo School in Buriram province, Northeast Thailand, to
re-engineer rural education and to enable the school to be a life-long learning center as well as a hub to improve the quality of life of all community members. The Bamboo School aims to foster a new generation of rural youth who are honest and innovative social entrepreneurs and community development leaders. Today, with the help of the private sector, over 150 small rural schools have begun to adopt this concept and have begun to take on a greater role in their surrounding communities.
For his efforts in various development and educational endeavours, Mechai has been bestowed with numerous awards, recognition, and honorary doctoral degrees, including those from Melbourne, Monash Universities in Australia and The University of Warwick in England. He was presented with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (1994), recognized as one of Asiaweek’s “20 Great Asians” (1995), the United Nations Population Award (1997), one of TIME Magazine’s “Asian Heroes” (2006), the Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health (2009), the Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health (2007) and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship (2008).