Tisco Foundation's 30 years of giving
"I had been lucky when it came to education," said Sivaporn Dardarananda, chairman of Tisco Foundation. "I went to an international school and got a bachelor degree in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (one of first engineering schools in the US) and a master from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania".
Thirty years ago or even now, only a few Thai students had that kind of premium education. It inspired Sivaporn, as chief of Thai Investment & Securities (Tisco) which was later transformed to Tisco Financial Group, to start handing out scholarships when the term "corporate social responsibility" was not yet invented. Leading the Thai first investment bank, which was majority owned by Bankers Trust New York, Sivaporn had to send proposal to New York every year. Thirty years ago, he asked the shareholder to approve the establishment of Tisco Foundation and the endowment fund of Bt1 million, with hope that this would ensure continuity in its charitable courses.
"Thais are capable, but the education system is poor," he said. "Our scholarships are not only for students with good grades. Many students can't make good grades as they have to help parents after school or have no books to read. We have kept our giving distinctive from others."
He was not disappointed. Throughout the years, Tisco Foundation has drawn financial supports from Tisco Group, its employees and the general public. The endowment fund has swollen to over Bt100 million and over 80,000 scholarships for primary to university levels have been extended, without any interruption even during the financial crisis in 1997. In the period, the number of scholarships were maintained, with the amendment in the foundation's rules to allow the spending of endowment fund aside from annual interest payment. Fortunately, acknowledging the determination, the fund welcomed donation which kept the endowment fund at similar level.
"Foundations live by on interest income. Still, there are many people who have to go through today. What would be the benefit if the foundation exists for 100 years, when many people are struggling today," he said.
In 30 years, focus on education has never changed. When the Abhisit government announced free schooling, he thought the foundation could channel money to other courses. "It's not so. Without tuition fees, students shoulder similar expenses. They still needs shoes and other things." Aside from education, the foundation also targets other underprivileged. Self-employment and support to people requiring medical treatment are also in focus. A sewing machine was handed out to a mother of young children, so that she could work at home and support the family financially. Free prostheses were handed out to the poor.
"In its operations, Tisco has to screen loan applicants and seek to gain from interest income. If that's a sin, we're correcting this by returning the benefits to those who are not expected to return anything to us," he said.
Sivaporn was also the first executive in the Thai financial sector who started buying newly-graduated art students' pieces, as a token of encouragement. Those students were asked to showcase their best pieces and one would be bought. Now, Tisco owns the biggest collection of contemporary art pieces, of which value remains a secret as no piece is not for sale. Many of them are exhibited in the Tisco Tower Hall and in offices.
Aside from Tisco Foundation, in his retirement, he assists three more foundations - the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation which supports the systematic and effective approach to returning domestic elephants to the wild; the Rama IX Art Museum Foundation which is dedicated to Thai contemporary and modern art; and the Utokapat Foundation under the Royal Patronage.
To him, a successful foundation needs professional management. While full attention is required from chairman, all staff must be full-time and enjoy all benefits given to employees of private organisations, including provident funds and insurance coverage, for good morale. Plus, the endowment fund must be more than Bt10 million at the start to ensure continuity, while the objectives must be clear. Importantly, the foundations must be audited properly, by leading auditors when Sivaporn is involved, to assure the public that the spending is according to objectives.
"They are inclined to focus more on CSR, for some projects that could be implemented this year and paused next year," he commented.
Considering himself one of the pioneers in "giving" in Thailand, Sivaporn comes up with an advice, drawn from his own lesson. Thirty years ago, Tisco planted teak trees in Kanchanaburi. Without registering them, when the trees can be cut, that is impossible for villagers without permission from the authorities. Given that many companies embarked on tree plantation programmes, he urged them to grow big trees which could be cut to generate income for villagers, who would then be encouraged to grow new seedlings.