Brown School alumna Molly Wimonmat Srichamroen has created a first-of-its-kind children’s savings program in her native Thailand, using knowledge she gained at the Center for Social Development (CSD). Srichamroen was also a scholar in Washington University’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy.
Using CSD’s YouthSave initiative as a model, Srichamroen developed the Light of Hope Saving Program, which was implemented in 2012 by Rimping Municipality in Lamphun Province, Thailand. Children’s savings programs are not new to Thailand, but no other has offered saving assistance or financial education elements. Light of Hope is targeted toward vulnerable children and includes an initial deposit funded by CSD, a savings match, scholarships, high interest rates and an educational component.
Light of Hope currently has 32 members who are affected by HIV/AIDS, live in poverty, are orphans or have a disability. Srichamroen says she hopes the program achieves three objectives: Encourages saving among vulnerable children, supports their education and livelihood, and enhances their life opportunities.
The McDonnell scholar knew early on that she wanted to pursue social development as a career. Armed with an undergraduate degree in public administration, policy and planning, she decided to attend graduate school in a place where she could learn and contribute in an international environment.
“I wanted to learn from people from different countries and with outstanding faculty, gain actual practical experience and learn more about doing research,” Srichamroen says. “The individualized concentration that Brown School offered allowed me the flexibility of learning and focusing on what I am really interested in, through its curriculum and practicums.” She says she was also able to learn from fellow scholars through the McDonnell Academy – an experience that still continues today.
“Brown School and Washington University were my perfect choice.”
While at Brown School, Srichamroen took an asset building class with Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor Michael Sherraden, founding director of CSD. She mentioned her idea for the children’s savings program in Thailand, and he has been supporting her efforts since that time. She became a research assistant at CSD, developing the Light of Hope program and also assisting with other child and youth asset-building initiatives, including SEED for Oklahoma Kids and YouthSave (an international savings initiative in Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nepal).
“The Brown School emphasizes evidence-based research, which prepared me to think in a more realistic and holistic perspective to develop something that’s actually practical,” Srichamroen says. “With research, analytical skills and training I gained during my time at the Brown School, I learned to adapt the concept of a program being implemented somewhere else in the world to a population in my hometown with different needs.”
Light of Hope savings accounts are provided free of charge for children in the program. CSD contributed 500 baht ($16) to each account as an initial deposit for members. Money from the accounts may only be used for specific purposes, such as health care, transportation and education. Srichamroen conducted a survey when children and their families opened accounts, and will conduct a second survey this year to determine whether their saving behavior and life perspective have changed.
Srichamroen has been interested in social development from a young age. With a father who worked with the Ministry of Labor and a mother at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, these issues were daily topics of conversation in her home. She says she sees how her parents’ work contributes to society, and it is rewarding to help people to improve their family and quality of life.
“In Thailand, there is a saying, ‘Khon Thai chuay kan’ (Thai people help each other). As we are all part of the society, we should help those who are less fortunate,” Srichamroen says. She wants to put into practice what she learned not only at home, but also from her time at the Brown School.
“Molly arrived at Washington University as a very committed young scholar,” Sherraden says. “She was a vibrant leader and demonstrated a strong drive to achieve her goals. Upon returning to Thailand, Molly immediately started her asset-building project for very poor youth, working on a shoestring budget.”
Srichamroen had the opportunity to present the evaluation of Light of Hope at a conference on asset building in Asia that was co-sponsored by CSD and colleagues at Peking University in Beijing and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. At this conference, she was able to connect with leaders and researchers from asset-building projects in 14 Asian countries.
She looks forward to growing the program in years to come, and hopes to expand to other municipalities.
“Molly is a great example of Washington University’s commitment to learning and experience that reaches well beyond the student’s graduation date,” Sherraden says. “I have no doubt that she will continue to build her experience and skills, and become a social development leader in Thailand.”