By Catherine Austin Fitts
A New Zealand entrepreneur living in Thailand, Bronwen is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. Topics covered by her documentaries and interviews have included the Asian financial crisis, global warming, and fishing rights for the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand.
Bronwen is currently working as a communications advisor to a major Thai corporation and managing and growing her eco-resort in Thailand: FaaSai Resort and Spa. She is someone I regularly seek out for deeper insights on what is happening in Asia and global geopolitics.
Bronwen recently shared with me a speech she prepared in 2012 for Incredible Edge. It is still relevant and sets out essential thoughts on how to build a living model that can work. [24.01.21 09:24]
Making a business plan for the next thousand years
We first arrived in Kung Wiman – a place that means heaven – nearly 9 years ago. It was about that time that I met Jillian on a plane to Thailand, and we talked about place branding.
I could see that this place had great natural beauty so could be ripe for tourist development, which can be destructive to local habitat and local culture. The key point I took from Jillian was the importance of documentation – if you record what is there, it becomes harder for people to destroy it.
Since we first arrived, the local area is still, fortunately, little changed. The gardens at the resort have grown up tremendously – they are now very lush. And we have a grand project – White Water Lake – our nature sanctuary with the lake and wetlands which we are integrating with food production, using a balance of nature. We also have a plantation of agar wood trees – an endangered species which is prized for the precious oil it produces. Our land altogether comes to about 20 acres.
My topic today is making a business plan for the next thousand years. This subject is important because there are tremendous dangers facing us. And so many people are responding by a kind of disaster mentality – fear of global warming, fear of 2012 etc. This is leading to a defeatist mentality which is sucking the life out of people and this is the most dangerous thing of all.
I would like to remind everyone that we (humans) have been around, in one form or another, for over a million years and we will probably continue to be around for a very long time. Rather than being overcome by fear and depression, we should be thinking about what we have now that is of value, or what we can create that is of value, and how we can preserve it for the future.
I have spent the last 12 years living in Thailand, a Buddhist country, and one thing I am discovering is to have a different perspective of time. On the one hand, in Buddhism, we are taught to focus on the here and now…while on the other, there is a belief in reincarnation, so we can’t escape the results of our actions – there are many lifetimes stretching ahead of us.
So when we start to think in these terms, 1000 years is not so long at all.
I went to Thailand just after the Asian financial crisis, as a consultant for a Thai bank. It was a time when the local banks were changing from being largely family-owned Thai companies to being integrated in the global financial system. A lot of Western consultants were therefore brought in to help with the transition, including my own employer, a public relations company. The fact that I am still on assignment is an illustration of how time moves differently!
My job at the bank today is similar in some ways to my old job as economics correspondent – I watch the cycles of the markets, and try to think about where things are heading. With my life at the resort that I built with my husband Surin and our farm, I am watching the cycles of nature.
So this is my background which informs my view on current economic conditions and trends which I would like to share with you.
This is what I see coming up in the next few years or decades –
Extreme weather conditions – this would be the case with or without global warming. The previous century was unusually stable climatically but this was an exception. So we can expect many more problems such as extreme storms, flooding and drought.
Financial instability – obviously this is already happening. The global financial system is very fragile….basically due to too much unsustainable debt being pumped into a financial system which is highly inter-dependent. If the system does collapse, what would that mean? We could expect to see a c
Bronwen Evans, [24.01.21 09:21]
Redit crunch, hyperinflation, global recession and money will flee to alternative options such as gold, land and commodities. That we are we are seeing this now is a sign that investors are expecting a crunch to come.
Geopolitical conflicts – the Middle East is very unstable. The problems of Egypt and Libya are far from over and even more worrying is Iran and Syria. Quite a few people are betting on a war, maybe even a nuclear war. We will see more conflicts and more failed states, such as Somalia and this will lead to greater poverty and famines.
Low or negative economic growth – in developed countries the population is aging and in some cases falling. As we are seeing in Japan, generally this leads to very low or falling economic growth. Since the current economic model is based on the idea of continuous growth – obviously this will mean trouble for a lot of businesses.
A scramble for resources – already we are seeing this. Take Burma, Thailand’s neighbor, for example – China’s investment in Burma has increased 40-fold over the past 5 years and many countries are scrambling to establish a presence there. In countries such as New Zealand and Britain wealthy foreigners are buying up property. Water will also be a big issue due to population growth and global warming and this will lead to more inter-regional conflicts.
It would be easy for people to panic given these negative prospects – and some already are. Periods of transition are always difficult.
So I would recommend that we take a long term view and think well ahead in the future, rather than worrying too much about how things are changing now.
Speaking from a personal perspective, in our planning for the next thousand years we have three key points – heritage, education and ecology.
Firstly heritage. Our little eco-system has a lot of natural heritage – both wild and cultivated….such as old fashioned herbs and fruit species. Even small pockets of nature can be very significant – for example some species which went extinct elsewhere were preserved in Japanese temple gardens. And a squirrel’s stash in the arctic tundra has blossomed into life 32,000 years later!
There is also cultural heritage. The culture and way of life of the local people which we are supporting and which I am trying to capture in my writing – such as the book I am launching today.
Education – we have to help young people to flourish, give them a strong sense of their own value
Ecology – we should give space to the other creatures and life forms that we share the planet with.
The hallmarks of the last century include relatively peaceful times, cheap food and energy and continuous growth. Even though that era is coming to an end, it is important to note is it is unlikely to end abruptly – things will go up and down and will move around in cycles. For example once the immediate crisis in the euro zone passed, the markets rebounded for another burst of life. And, even if the West is in decline, Asia is still on the rise. There will be many technological breakthroughs that will bring opportunities for those perceptive and smart enough to take advantage of them.
Despite being relatively pessimistic, I am not so much advocating dropping out of the economic system, as building up your strength so you are well prepared for the future, which is likely to include long periods of low growth, especially in the developed world.
Although few of us have experienced this in our lifetimes, they were quite common in the past – for example more than two centuries of the Ottoman Empire, and for centuries in the Middle Ages which came to be known as the dark ages.
So what can we do to prepare ourselves for an era of low growth?
Thailand’s philosophy of ″Sufficiency Economy″ is one response. This idea was developed by King Bhumibol of Thailand after the 1997 financial crisis and it has now been adopted as public policy in Thailand and is being followed by many in the private sector including us. You could say this is Thailand’s version of the gross national happiness index in Bhutan.
Bronwen Evans, [24.01.21 09:21]
Goal – it focuses on human behavior, with the underlying principles of moderation, reasonableness, and adequate immunity (against unforeseen events or crises). Naturally (given that Thailand is a Buddhist country) it draws on principles of Buddhism such as following the “middle path” and avoiding extremes of either end – such as extreme self-deprivation or excessive consumption. It can apply at every level of society – from the individual, to the family, business, and nation.
It is people-centred, rather than stuff-centred and includes ideal characteristics we should strive to emulate – we should aim to possess a broad knowledge, be thoughtful and careful and ethical in our behavior – act with honesty, integrity, diligence and self-control. Through following this path, we can become resilient and can experience balance and harmony in our lives.
An integral part of the philosophy is aiming for independence in our daily lives. So we should not be wasteful but take just enough of our earnings or production to sustain ourselves – the rest we should divide up – give away some, save some, and sell some.
The problem with the current economic system is that we have become excessively dependent on debt. This is in part because we need a lot more money to sustain ourselves as more and more things that were previously free – now must be paid for.
It is interesting to note that in Thailand in 1997 and Greece in 2010, a large number of people still owned their own land in the villages. When crisis struck, many people in both countries left the cities to go back to the countryside where they were able to live simply and cheaply. This sufficiency provided them with a lifebelt in times of trouble.
Even big and successful companies can subscribe to the Thai concept of sufficiency. As a form of human ecology it focuses on values, quality of life, sustainability and intergenerational skill development…which can be applied to any kind of enterprise, big or small.
In planning for the future we should think about the “what ifs” – what if traditional forms of credit dry up? What if the market we currently rely on disappears? What if infrastructure breaks down and we don’t have electricity, or internet access or I can’t get to my work? Many of these practical problems are actually happening in different parts of the world. In the Thai flooding last year which was one of the worst environmental disasters of the past decade we experienced some of these things. But Thailand is bouncing back quite fast – perhaps the resilience of the sufficiency economy is partly to thank for this.
At our resort, we are trying to reduce our cost base by moving part of our business outside of the cash economy – e.g. we accept some volunteers and exchange room and board for their labour, including training our staff, working on our farm, gardening and producing art; we produce food which we share with our guests, staff and family; we give many perks to our staff including keeping the money from recycling and interest-free loans. Meanwhile they have set up their own finance pool, which gives them independence from loan sharks.
We follow ethical practices – in keeping with sufficiency principles.
Our philosophy is grace, harmony and natural beauty and so it is the everyday things that are important to us – cheerful staff, happy and relaxed guests, new friendships, the unfolding beauty of nature and providing a safe home to animals and wildlife. My small book – which is a snapshot of a unique life and this moment in time – is also something cultural for the future.
Although I warn of the dangers of debt – we used it. To buy the land and develop it, we borrowed to a dangerously high level. At times our life was extremely tough but we were sustained by our dreams. We are now trying to pay back our remaining debt as fast as we can – to increase our immunity from disasters. Since we started in this business, Thailand has had about one crisis a year – the tsunami, sars, avian flu, a coup, occupation of Bangkok International airport, occupation of parliament, occupation o
Bronwen Evans, [24.01.21 09:21]
If Bangkok’s main shopping and business district, a global financial crisis. In the last few months it has accelerated further – we’ve had flooding, a terrorist warning, a misdirected bomb in Bangkok, the euro crisis – and a threat of war with Iran.
With these kinds of disturbances, business is obviously a bit up and down and so I still have to work full time in Bangkok. Maybe this is typical of a low growth business environment – people will need to supplement their incomes in many different ways.
One of the key points of “sufficiency” is knowing when is enough While I was writing this I was listening to the background office chatter and two of my young colleagues were speaking admiringly about a young man who plays the stock market who has vowed to make 10 billion baht (around 400 million NZ$) – I asked where is that money coming from and what will he do with it?
Greed doesn’t sit well with sufficiency.
In our business, we value generosity. We have become quite popular with Dutch cyclists who head off for Bangkok after they leave our place. One day I said to Sula, our house manager and cook – why don’t you give them more breakfast when they leave, they’ll need energy on their trip. She said “I do! And I give them bananas to eat on their way.”
You will laugh and say… that won’t last a thousand years. But who knows what the impact of our small actions will be? Those cyclists might create a ripple effect of generosity, our volunteers might be inspired to start something similar of their own, the experience of staying with us might influence the children who come to stay.
We can’t live forever and we can’t predict the future but we can create something of value – that is worth preserving.
Years ago I lived in Florence which was a centre of fighting during the Second World War. All the bridges were bombed except one – the Ponte Vecchio – Hitler ordered that it be saved – it was too beautiful to destroy.
I am sure that all of you who are here will be creating something beautiful in your lives, so nothing that I have said will be necessary….you are already on the right track. The great value of this event is that we can meet each other and this will give strength to our individual efforts. It is wonderful to be here in this gathering of the light helps me to be confident and happy about the future.