When financial return isn’t everything

The aim of most investment strategies is to maximise financial return within a given range of acceptable risk. But there are other approaches – based on alternative belief or value systems – that also merit consideration. In such cases the sought-after return on investment is – to varying degrees – a better quality of life for current and future generations.

In recent years ethical or socially responsible investing has gained recognition as a legitimate and credible investment theme. Perhaps the most common example of this are the ‘green’ mutual funds offered by some fund managers, which are based on a goal of environmental sustainability.

Another alternative investment framework is that of ‘Buddhist Economics’, described below:

“Short term investing, such as day-trading, is more gambling than investing, as one person has to lose money for another to gain. From a societal standpoint this is a waste of time, as all the effort of the investors goes into trying to outsmart their competitors rather than creating new wealth. Since you are concerned not just about maximizing your own wealth but also about societal well-being, you want to avoid short-term zero-sum game investing”. (Refer http://fatknowledge.blogspot.com/2007/10/buddhist-economics.html and http:// buddhist-economics.info).

‘Venture philanthropy’ on the other hand, takes concepts and techniques from venture capital, finance, and business management and applies them to achieving philanthropic goals that focus on private initiatives for the public good. This approach has been described by Frances Hesselbein as “investing in people, not giving to charity.”

While Thailand is not a third-world country, there remains a great deal of hardship, with often little in the way of a government safety net.

The Ayui Foundation (www.ayui.org) was established as a non-religious, non-profit organization in 2007 by Sumalee Milne. ‘Ayui’ (pronounced ah-yer) is an Akha word that means ‘older sister’ as the founder prefers the children to see her more as an older sister who cares for their development, rather than an inaccessible person of authority. The name was also chosen so that Akha villagers would recognize it as a welcoming place for their people.

Sumalee is an ANU graduate who has been working with the Akha hill-tribe people since 1998. Sumalee’s father, John Milne, is a former diplomat who is currently President of the Canberra-based Australia-Thailand Association. The Ayui foundation manages a hostel in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, which currently houses twenty children. The objective is to support the education and living costs of Akha hill-tribe orphans and teenagers from poverty-stricken families, whilst providing them with educational activities where they learn valuable life skills, and encouraging them to preserve and practice their traditional culture.


(This article appeared in the August 2011 edition of ‘MelbThai’ magazine)

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