Make Merit this Holiday Season with Dao Ethical Gifts

Itiporn Lakarnchua

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The saying goes that it’s “the thought that counts” when giving gifts. This is especially true in Thailand, where deeply ingrained Buddhist values mean that “merit,” or good karma borne of virtuous intentions, is one of the greatest gifts one can give.

Often, for traditional Thai celebrations such as Songkran or the Kathina ceremony, merit is directly presented as a gift to elders by younger people who gave alms on their behalf.

Even for holidays celebrated globally, like Christmas or New Year’s, companies and organizations in Thailand can be seen dedicating merit to their members as a form of gift.

Now, Dao Ethical Gifts, a newly certified social enterprise, is offering a way for gift-givers to ensure the merit of their presents from the start, by making the very production of their gifts an act of goodwill.

CSR with a social enterprise

For the modern business that understands the value of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the need for a holistic approach to contributing to social betterment, integrating CSR into everyday practices has become increasingly important.

Chiang Mai-based Dao Ethical Gifts is elevating Thailand’s practice of endowing gifts with merit by allowing buyers to directly support the work of disadvantaged women in Thailand’s upcountry.

A quote by Cindy Sirinya Bishop, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Asia-Pacific

The promise made on the enterprise’s website is that “Dao Ethical Gifts are handmade by women in need identified through the Dao Women’s Empowerment Program.”

The enterprise builds its social responsibility from the very foundation by working with entities that have an aligned CSR strategy or share like-minded values, and are looking to order gifts that have a larger social impact on vulnerable communities.

Companies like L’Oreal Thailand have already demonstrated how these shared values amplify the social impact of Dao Ethical Gifts.

A quote by Ines Caldeira, Global Deputy General Manager of Loreal Paris

Thailand NOW partnered with Dao Ethical Gifts for the organizing of Impact NOW, a sustainability showcase and networking event. In selecting a partner, it was important that products created for the event be sourced sustainably and ethically.

These gifts supported Impact NOW with three customized grocery bags customized to the exact needs of the event, both in usage and philosophy.

Socially responsible from the start

Dao Ethical Gifts' label on a tote bag

Dao Ethical Gifts takes its name from the inspiring story of Duan and Dao, two sisters from a small and impoverished village in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Mai who faced adversities from a lack of clean water to an inability to access education.

Despite their difficult situation, however, the two were able to find empowerment and support at the Baan Dek Foundation and eventually built a brighter future for themselves with the tools and assistance provided to them.

Their story moved the Baan Dek Foundation to establish Dao Ethical Gifts to allow women to break out of the cycle of poverty and take hold of their own ambitions.

A quote from Magali du Parc-Crosta, Executive Director of Baan Dek Foundation & Founder of Dao Ethical Gifts

Like Duan and Dao, “P*,” a Hmong woman with three children, joined Dao Ethical Gifts in 2020 after losing her job as a seamstress. Building on her base skills with handicraft and dyeing techniques, she became the enterprise’s first producer and now earns substantial income from both producing and designing items.

A more recent success case was that of “O,” a woman caring for four children in Chiang Mai who could not find work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Receiving sewing and handicraft training in 2021, O borrowed a sewing machine from the Baan Dek Foundation to join in production for Dao Ethical Gifts and was eventually able to pay for her mortgage, loans, and utilities by making pieces such as much-needed masks.

Dao Ethical Gifts grew its number of producers from 70 in 2020 to 96 in 2021. So far, a total of 225 women have received training and opportunities for work, indirectly impacting over 200 children.

Gifts that make an impact

Producing a wide range of gifts, from different types of bags and bracelets to conference-related souvenirs and even premium leather products, there are many opportunities for companies to partner with Dao Ethical Gifts and join in its empowerment of women.

Orders are fully customizable to fit with different functions but also to better reflect the area in which the company is working to affect social change.

Traditional fabrics and accessories found exclusively in northern Thailand, such as Akha beads from the Akha hill tribe, can be incorporated into the gifts to extend their social support to entire communities. The emphasis on locally sourced, natural materials also enhances the sustainability of the gifts, as does the enterprise’s commitment to reducing waste, which extends to using recycled supplies.

The most significant impact of partnering with Dao Ethical Gifts, however, is that it empowers marginalized women by providing them training in skills from handicrafts to financial literacy and helps free them from intersectional constraints.

One hundred percent of profits from Dao Ethical Gifts goes directly to supporting vulnerable women and their families and the project’s success supports the Baan Dek Foundation to continue its work.

A better present

Customers purchasing Dao Ethical Gifts' products at an event

Dao Ethical Gifts provides meaningful CSR opportunities through unique customizable products.

Looking ahead, Dao Ethical Gifts aims to become a scalable and sustainable social enterprise, creating a consistent revenue stream to not only support marginalized mothers but to aim to serve as a reliable fundraising arm for the Baan Dek Foundation to support vulnerable children.

For clients, the hope is that it may inspire companies to promote and actively contribute to supporting social businesses that help the most vulnerable populations.

Most importantly, Dao Ethical Gifts aims to fully empower women in need to help them take a lead in fostering the entrepreneurial spirit, supporting them in opening small businesses or other endeavors of their choosing. The more Dao Ethical Gifts become widely available, the more opportunities it seeks to provide for marginalized women who were initially trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Learn more about Dao Ethical Gifts:

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Itiporn Lakarnchua

A radio producer, newscaster, and communications consultant, Itiporn, or Van, graduated with a Master’s in Bilingual Education from Rangsit University and has produced media programs and marketing collateral for major Thai and international corporations. His work spans a range of industries, including civil aviation, hospitality, real estate, food & beverage, and tourism.

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