In 2014, engineer Yongyuth Laitavorn visited a foster home to give donations. There, he spotted a broken toy and offered to fix it. The kid, however, refused and successfully fixed his own toy. It prompted Yongyuth to recall his own childhood, when he had many ideas to invent things but didn’t have much opportunity to do so. “My parents encouraged me to join activities like practicing taekwondo and violin, which was great, but I didn’t get to choose what I wanted to do or make myself.” It sparked an idea in the engineer to do something to encourage kids to build stuff that solves problems.
Not long after, he met Sawaros Thanapornsangsuth, a PhD student from Columbia University who had the same idea and from whom he learned about Design Thinking methodology. “It’s a method that looks at a user’s experience in order to identify problems and create solutions to them.” explains Thanwarat Sanguansak, a team member. Yongyuth and Sawaros decided to turn their dream into reality by setting up Little Builders, a social enterprise that encourages people to help themselves instead of waiting for others to offer help or charity. Their kick-off project helped underprivileged kids at Baan Ta Wan Mai foundation to make their own toys. Soon they moved on to bigger projects in other communities.
After working with kids from various backgrounds, one of their favorite “builders” is a kid who tried to find a way to make his mother, a vendor who sells khao jee (grilled sticky rice patties), a new grill that always warms khao jee at the perfect temperature. “We encouraged him to draw pictures of the grill maker he wanted and helped him transform the drawings into an actual grill,” says Yongyuth.
The two founders got help from a number of volunteers and used their own budget to run projects. It wasn’t until recently that they started making money. “This year is the first year Little Builders will no longer need my personal funding, but survive on client revenue,” laughs Yongyuth. Their current clients include private and public institutions that want to create change for a better work culture, including Naresuan University and Siriraj Hospital. This is a big step for Little Builders since they now have to tackle problems on a larger scale and address bigger social problems. “The goal of Little Builders remains the same. We still use Design Thinking workshops as a tool to solve social problems, but now work with a wider group of people that will, hopefully, help create a positive change in Thailand’s work and study culture,” adds Yongyuth.