A social enterprise founded by Sirasar Boonma, an outstanding UK alumna who wants indigenous groups in Thailand to come out and be more confident through music and performance.
Owning a business is what Sirasar Boonma or May has always dreamed of. She found the right business for her after graduating with a master’s degree from Goldsmiths, University of London, and has since developed it into a social enterprise called Hear & Found. Although the enterprise has been running for less than 2 years, its positive impact on society is impressive and has made her the winner of the 2020 UK Alumni Awards’ social impact category. Let’s get to know her, her business ideas and challenges in this interview.
Q: Please introduce Hear & Found and its background.
A: Hear & Found is an organisation that conducts business and does good deeds for society at the same time. Its main objective is for indigenous people to gain acceptance from other people in society. It is not necessarily true for example that indigenous people burn the forests. I started by going to live in their area, listening to their songs every night, talking to them and putting on an event together. Through this project, we came to understand each other better through musical performance. And that was the beginning of our “World Music Series” activities.
Q: Why do you choose music as the main tool for communication?
A: Music makes it easy to connect with people. We mix music from indigenous people with other styles. This is done by indigenous people themselves and encourages participation from viewers. For example, we mix hip hop with Karen. I also see music like a book – it is not only for entertainment but also records stories, histories, ways of life and beliefs. Tai Dam people, for instance, have inherited a 3-hour funeral song to tell a dead person the way back to their home, i.e. Vietnam. The song elaborates which hill they have to walk over, which tells me there are many things about them that we still don’t know. Indigenous people are people just like us.
Q: What were the previous activities like? Were they successful?
A: We organised activities with partner hostels that wanted to provide entertainment activities for their guests. Half of the guests were foreigners and half were Thais. Most Thai people came particularly to see the concert. Last year, we organised 9 events, attracting a total of 600 people. 80% of them said the concerts helped them to better understand the diversity of Thai society.
Q: How about the business aspect?
A: We sell a ticket at 300-400 Baht, which is very cheap. We pay participating indigenous people as much as they ask. This might not be much but provides them with a regular income. We also try to organise activities regularly. The 30 Baht from each ticket goes to a fund. Artists will choose how this fund will support their home. Businesswise it is not yet optimal. We are still in the product testing phase and learned that people are starting to understand our work more. Now it’s time to work towards our full potential.
Q: Now that we know more about Hear & Found, let’s go back to May. You have been inspired by your master’s studies in the UK. Could you tell us more about that?
A: I see London as a good example. While I was studying there, I felt it was a city with many different nationalities, e.g. Asian and Middle Eastern, and this was okay. It was upon my return to Thailand that I realised it’s not that easy for these groups to connect because they live separately, but it’s still possible. So at Hear & Found, our vision is to see people walking out of their home and feeling that “I am confident for who I am”. Many indigenous people cannot show who they are and even do not have opportunities to study. Therefore, they do not want to be themselves. We want everyone to have their own space.
Q: Last question, why did you choose to study in the UK?
A: I knew that the UK has a rich cultural heritage. This made the UK my first choice. What was hard was choosing a university.