05/31/2012 11:37 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

Paradise Reclaimed

Near the Thailand-Myanmar border and up in the beautifully dense greenery of the high mountains, the Doi Tung community covers 150 square kilometres, and has a population of 11,000 people from 6 different ethnic minority tribes. Here, you will find one hospital, six health clinics providing pre and post natal care, and even schools that teach with the sophisticated Montessori method, an educational approach often only available at private schools in urban centres. You would have never guessed that only 25 years ago, this peaceful area was completely stripped of its forest from slash-and-burn opium growing techniques, and that prostitution and drugs and weapons trafficking were the primary ways of making a living.

Thirteen Social Entrepreneurs and Young Global Leaders had the opportunity to visit this transformed community on a Learning Journey from May 28 to 29, preceding the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok. We were able to speak to villagers who were proud of the change they have taken part in over the years so that now they have roads, electricity schools, healthcare, and dignified jobs giving them 10 times the amount of income they had previously.

In fact, Doi Tung has established a very strong brand in Thailand for their coffee, macadamia nuts, and hand-woven fabrics with traditional patterns among many other produced goods. It's a haven from the hustle and bustle of congested Asian metropolises; many people return here as teachers and health workers after getting an education in the city because of how much they love and identify with this area. What we witnessed is a people-centred approach to development, in which communities take ownership of reforesting their land, eliminating drug trade/addiction, reviving gainful employment, and investing in educating their children. Under the royal patronage of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, Doi Tung has been replicated across many other impoverished communities in the country as well as in Afghanistan and Myanmar. Today, it is also a social enterprise proudly in the Schwab Foundation network.