The Poorest of the Poor: A Never-Ending Story?

Among the articles provided to analyse how the Community Organisations Development Institute (CODI) works particularly implementing the Baan Mankong programme in the context of the provision of housing for the poor in Thailand, it is possible to distinguish three main categories: the ones describing the case study from inside like the texts written by Somsook Boonyabancha who technically is the ideologist of CODI and Baan Mankong, the essays or papers by academics who analyse the case according to theoretic frameworks and the reports written by professionals related to the development industry who describe the case, get some lessons and make recommendations according to the good or bad practices.

In spite the approaches are different, the literature states a collective recognition of CODI and the Baan Mankong programme as paradigmatic examples on how it is possible to overcome poverty and solve the housing problem for the poor from a bottom-up approach including a scaling-up process at the same time. The promotion of community-organisation under the form of savings-groups provides the low-income population a certain degree of power to face evictions, claim for rights and be relevant actors in their own upgrading projects. At the same time, various savings-groups get organised into cooperatives which can access funds from CODI to develop initiatives according to their particular needs. In a capitalist and fast-growing economy like Thailand’s, money under the form of savings is recognized as one of the key elements to involve the poor in a virtuous circle towards poverty overcoming. They have reduced access to financial resources but taking into consideration the important number of people living under poverty conditions, the collective organisation of them is the other key element.

Nonetheless, a system based on savings-groups automatically and implicitly draws a delicate but determinant line among the poor: the ones who have savings capacity and the ones who does not have it. It is obvious that the ‘exclusive’ second group is formed by the so-called poorest of the poor whose daily-based and unstable economy do not allow them to take some money apart. Basically, in the context of the Baan Mankong programme they have two alternatives: they are forced to borrow money from other sources with higher interest rates to participate in the savings groups and consequently in the projects (Chutapruttikorn, 2009), or they simply have to stay again at the margin of development initiatives. As Chutapruttikorn states, a heavy burden of loan debt is the major concern of the residents (Ibid.).

In addition to the agreement that CODI and Baan Mankong have succeed involving the poor in the delivery of initiatives to improver their own quality of life, apparently there is also an agreement in the main critic: the organisation and the programm still cannot reach the poorest of the poor. Like a never-ending story that is happening across the whole world for centuries, in the Thai case the bottom of the society is again the only group that is not favoured by the state policies. As Sheng and Wandeler argue, Thailand urgently needs a national housing policy to ensure adequate housing for all including the very poor (2009).

Maybe the main challenge is not how to scale-up, but the opposite: how to scale-down and firstly reduce the focus of the policies and programmes to design new strategies to end with this story. Inside the enormous group of poor people, there are plenty of different sub-groups which have different assets to offer and require different kind of initiatives to participate actively in their own life’s improvement.


Chutapruttikorn, R. (2009). We speak louder than before: A reflection on participatory housing design in Bangkok. Trialog , 64-68.

Sheng, Y. K., & de Wandeler, K. (2009). Self-help housing in Bangkok. Habitat International, 1-10.


About josedigirolamo

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