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Green Finance Platform by AIT Development and Sustainability Student Wins First Prize for Start-up from AIS Jump Thailand 2021

03 Feb 2022
Sanjeet Amatya

By Nitipol Kiravanich and Mae Thiwari

December 10th, 2021 —  AIT Enterprises Alliance (AEA) held its 3rd AIT Tech Talks on “Tech for Sustainability: Leveraging Technology to Solve Sustainability Challenges” featuring an expert and founders of start-up companies for sustainability. Among the prominent speakers was an AIT student of Development and Sustainability program – Theethat Rangkasiri whose innovation to solve air pollution problems recently won the first prize from AIS Jump Thailand 2021 – a major event to support startups with innovative ideas.

Delving deeper into the topic of “Tech for Sustainability” with Theethat, or Erk as he is known among his friends, this story explores the journey of a social entrepreneur. From working for a car dealership to creating a company whose business helps reduce air pollution, while generating income for rice farmers – how did he do it?

Trained as a mechanical engineer,  Erk started out as a dealer management for a car dealership company. It was here that he began to notice the socioeconomic disparity between rural farmers and people in business like himself. He started to develop a desire to move away from straight-up engineering to socialdevelopment, reflecting on his role at the time as “selling cars to farmers in the poorest region of Thailand — while the Northeastern farmers were making car sellers richer, they themselves were still lacking many essential commodities in their lives. Most importantly, they lack the means to earn higher income. This made me want to do something to help.” 

Around this time,  he was also working as an organizer of “TEDxCharoenkrung” – a Thai version of an idea-sharing platform focusing on social innovation. His heart began to demand him to do something more for the betterment of the society and to improve the living conditions of low-income earners. Leaving his corporate career, he later secured a position of a social enterprise developer at Mae Fah Luang Foundation under the Royal Patronage, assisting people living in the rural area in the social enterprise endeavors. Having dabbled in social development, he wanted to go further and do better, so he decided to enroll in the international postgraduate institute famed for sustainable development – the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT).  He chose to further his studies in the Department of Development and Sustainability to achieve his goal. 

At the institute whose motto is “social impact with innovation”, he is focusing on improving people’s living standards through a startup project. This is where he started “Defire” – a Green Finance Platform that serves two purposes on one platform — one, to unlock access to more income for low-income earners, and two, to reduce the drivers of climate change.

Having worked with local farmers in Nan, a province in northern Thailand, Erk has first-hand experience of agricultural burning. Not only does the smoke from the clearing of cultivated land harms the environment by releasing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions – contributing to climate change, but also directly harming the health and wellbeing of the farmers and people living under the smoke. Erk shared an insight into the reason that crop burning is prevalent, even when it is harmful to the farmers themselves, is that clearing the land requires money and resources that they cannot afford. To this, Erk explained “Social problems, human livelihoods, and economy are all interconnected.” 

With this in mind, when he noticed that the issue of agricultural burning did not receive much attention in order for it to be resolved, either in the mainstream or on social media, Erk started to look at it as an opportunity – both in terms of social impact and business. He thought that,  “If this is overlooked, then there is definitely a business opportunity”.

Incentive is the key to action

True to his discipline, the Development and Sustainability (DS) student viewed how providing resources and financial aid to the farmers to stop burning crops is not a sustainable solution. A more sustainable solution to this would be to create a system that provides ‘incentives’ to all stakeholders involved. To do this, he has identified a mechanism essential to both the agricultural and industrial productions –  carbon credit – a permit which allows a country or an organization to produce a certain level of carbon emissions. The carbon credit can then be traded if the quota to emit GHG of a country or an organization is not yet used up. In this line of thought, Erk’s found an opportunity where the demand and supply of carbon credit can be met. Local farmers could reduce agricultural burning to save their carbon credit, and they can then sell the credit to the industry to offset their carbon emissions.  This was when the idea of “Defire” arose to him.

Erk explained his startup platform operates with local farmers registering to the application,  providing their personal information and information about their land — which allows satellite system to collect data to be processed by machine learning to determine if and how much carbon is emitted through agricultural burning. The carbon credit will be provided to an organization that needs carbon offset. Money from the buyer will be converted and transferred to the farmers in a form of a token, operating through Blockchain technology. In summary, the system operates on 4Rs:  register, reduce, receive and redeem. 

First Prize of AIS Jump Thailand 2021

With his goal in social impact business, Erk wanted to test his idea with  “Jump Thailand 2021” – a hackathon organized by Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator: Advanced Info Service Public Company Limited (AIS). The hackathon aims to support startups with seed funding for innovations that help society. The winner has to meet three requirements: 1) Market Desirability, 2) Operational Feasibility, and 3) Uniqueness. Against hundreds of applications, innovation by “Defire” meets all the requirements and lands at the top. On November 7th, 2021, Erk’s team cletched the first prize with an award of 100,000 THB and a free pass to attend “Techsauce Global Summit 2022”. 

Next step for a journey filled with passion

To build something from scratch, Erk explains the road ahead is filled with challenges. To make this platform successful, he and his team are now in pursuit of strategic partners. Any individuals or organizations whose passion and goal aligned with Defire can contact him at theethusr@gmail.com or defire.climate@gmail.com. Currently, Defire team is focusing on the launch of their innovation and working on the pilot phase.

Driven by his passion in social impact business and social development, Erk, Theethat Rangkasiri, has learned the traits of an inventor, fundamental ideas, and know-how through the institute that prioritizes sustainable development – AIT. By joining the Development and Sustainability program, Erk concluded that he has learned to unlock his full potential and found his way to pursue his goal. 

“AIS Jump Thailand” was initiated in 2019 to seek and support talented individuals in making their innovative ideas a reality It also aims to transform the future with ideas and technologies. More information: https://jumpthailand.earth/

More information on Defire: https://seed.uno/images/2021/Climatefinancebangkok/Three%20Zeros.pdf

AIT Tech Talks “Tech for Sustainability: Leveraging Technology to Solve Sustainability Challenges” was organized by AIT Enterprises Alliance (AEA) to facilitate discussion on using technology to address sustainability, particularly through restoring ecosystem and forest and reducing GHG and crop burning. In this virtual event, Prof. Nophea Sasaki from AIT School of Environment, Resources and Development (SERD) also showcased an app that tackles the issue of air pollution, by introducing ‘Nature-based Solutions App’ which operates through LEET Carbon — a platform to monitor urban trees and facilitate tree protection and carbon offsetting for nature lovers. 

Watch full event: https://bit.ly/3qr4Wl5