Collaborating with the Local Community in the Ob-Oon' Project
Written by Chaiwat Pongcharoenkiat
Each year, a group of AU students raises funds to support various self-sustaining communities in Thailand. Driven by the School’s objective of instilling a sense of ethical awareness and social responsibility in its students, Dr. Uree Cheasakul, Dean of MSME Business School, guides her Management Seminar students in helping develop community programs and local non-profit organizations around Assumption University. The activities have made an impact on people and communities that have potential in their products but need a helping hand to show off their skills to the world. Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity to go back and see how this project was initiated and later passed on to successive generations of MSME students.
It first started in 2009 when the Thailand Management Association (TMA) organized a nationwide competition entitled “The 3rd Community Business Development for Sufficiency.” Due to the importance of the sufficiency economy philosophy, as bestowed by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to the Thai community and AU members, a number of students showed interest in the competition and formed teams of their own. The teams would find ways to develop local community products and propose their ideas to a panel of judges.
While numerous creative ideas were proposed, one particular team, which comprised of students from the Management, Marketing, and Finance departments, stood out and was able to compete for their way against students from 30 other universities. The students, with their Ob-Oon’ product idea, landed their team the second runner-up position in the prestigious competition.
Students worked with local members of the community
The idea of the Ob-Oon’ project originated from a place called Ban Nong Bua, a community situated in the Si Khew district of Nakhon Ratchasima province. People in this community grow local herbs, which are known to cure insect bites and alleviate dizziness. These herbs are then transformed into balm, liquid and wax, and sold in ready-to-use packages. While appreciating the various local products shown to them, the team became increasingly interested in a particular product – the herbal ball. The herbal ball comes in the size of a fist and contains a mixture of herbs wrapped in cotton cloth.
The team’s first step was to find ways to eliminate the current problems that are common in traditional herbal ball products. Herbal balls are conventionally prepared by steaming before being placed on the area of the body that needs relief. This process, however, usually takes time and causes an amount of mess for the consumer. Additionally, moisture from herbal balls can easily cause fungi to develop even if they are properly dried and stored.
The team recognized these flaws and believed that with thorough research and experimentation, they could help develop the herbal ball and make it into a product that meets the preferences of today’s consumers. They would have to find the technology that the majority of consumers have access to while effectively removing the hassles of the traditional herbal ball. Through their relentless hard work, the team was able to come up with the idea of using the microwave oven. Firstly, the microwave oven is a convenient way of heating the herbal ball and is, more importantly, a common household item. Secondly, the use of the microwave oven does not leave a mess that steaming normally does. Thirdly, since water is eliminated from the herbal ball when heated with the microwave oven, fungus development is prevented. This provides the product with the durability and hygiene factor expected from an herbal product.
The other important task for the team was to make the product marketable. The product needed to be attractive and have added value in the eyes of the modern customer. With this requirement in mind, the team re-designed the regular ball-shaped product into one that comes in the shape of a glove and a 40x10 cm. pad. The products are made from high-quality fabric and are filled with the original herbal ingredients. In other words, the new product comes in a more appealing design while maintaining its healing effects. In addition, the new design allows for easy use and storage. These special features, along with its ability to stay warm for an extended period of time, earned the product the brand name Ob-Oon’ (meaning ‘warm’ in Thai).
Sample of the Ob-Oon' product
It goes without saying that the Ob-Oon’ team has brought pride and joy to the MSME Business School and Assumption University. Since its success from almost a decade ago, the Ob-Oon’ project still leaves its footprints for other students and serves as a model for future plans in helping communities sustain their traditionally and economically sufficient ways.