The impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs in Thailand’s Hill Tribes

The impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs in Thailand’s Hill Tribes

Rebuilding the economy in the post-COVID-19 world presents challenges in different areas. For businesses reliant on tourism, a sector severely affected by the pandemic, the urgency is acute.

Over the last three years Levent Altinay, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Oxford Brookes Business School, has been working with female entrepreneurs in the Hill Tribes of Thailand, who are reliant on tourism for much of their income.

Supporting entrepreneurs can improve women’s independence

He explains: “Thailand’s Hill Tribes are amongst the region’s most disadvantaged people, and they face high levels of poverty. Working with colleagues at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Thai Chamber of Commerce, I have been researching how women supplement the main household agricultural incomes by producing traditional textile arts and crafts which are sold as souvenirs to tourists.

“Supporting this entrepreneurship can improve women’s autonomy and independence, as well as ensuring social and political stability.”

In South East Asia alone, there are 61 million female entrepreneurs, and in Thailand they outnumber their male counterparts. Many are from the northern and western high mountain regions.

Through Professor Altinay’s research, the Thai Hill Tribes Exchange has been established - a unique collaboration between researchers, practitioners and stakeholders in the UK and Thailand, to support women using arts and crafts to make a living.

“These artisans often come from very poor backgrounds. They tend to sell their handicrafts in an informal and unstructured way, so it has been important to work with them on production techniques and skills to help increase income,” says Professor Sameer Hosany, from Royal Holloway.

“For example, we have looked at promotion and marketing, and started analysis of how men and women collaborate in producing and selling handicrafts.”

COVID-19 has impacted Hill Tribes’ business

The arrival of COVID-19 has impacted both production, and the research into potential improvements.

“The pandemic has dramatically reduced international travel and tourism for the time-being,” Professor Altinay explains.

“Clearly that has had a detrimental impact on the Hill Tribes. It has also affected how we have been able to conduct research. For example, social distancing meant we couldn’t collect primary data into tourists and souvenir buying in the way we had planned. We have had to reschedule and, to a certain extent, redesign the research, but it remains important. The Thai Government remains keen to regulate and encourage social enterprises nationally, and we believe this project will contribute to improving women’s lives as tourism returns to the region.”