Thisana Thitisakdiskul is CEO and Co-Founder of Thailand’s Noburo Platform Company Limited. Describing herself as persistent, committed, and an inquisitive learner, Thisana believes that technology can help promote gender equality and ensure that people from all walks of life can benefit from innovation.
What inspired you to pursue work in financial literacy?
Despite significantly improved financial inclusion, I saw - and still see - a big gap in terms of financial literacy amongst our country’s low-income populations. Without financial literacy, household debt will continue to be an issue.
At the same time, I see human potential in being free from debt. Given the right attitude, right guidance, and fair credit access, families will be able to live a happy life.
At Noburo, we have proven that a combination of fair credit access and financial literacy is key to liberating low-income debtors.
This year's theme is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. In your opinion, how can digital technology, and innovation, deliver greater gender equality?
Gender equality and wealth equality are closely interconnected. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the current capitalist climate, solving wealth inequality will [go a long way to] solve gender inequality.
Digitization and the ability to make data-driven decisions could circumvent a lot of the root causes of gender inequality. It helps reduce gender bias, gives more access to finance, and reduces time restrictions and cost barriers.
For women, digitization and the gig economy are creating a level playing field by offering the opportunity to fulfill their professional and family responsibilities through working from home. Sexism and prejudice are also things of the past when they’re replaced by data-driven decision-making.
What does your work mean to you?
Being the CEO and Co-Founder of Noburo means that I can make a direct impact on our society, and not have to passively wait for government-led policy shifts.
It also means waking up in the morning knowing that I’ll be working with colleagues who share the same Ikigai, or life purpose, business partners who have the same beliefs, and supporters who admire our work.
Last but not least, customer’s happiness - and their testimonials of the improved well-being after a journey with Noburo - is the magic that keeps me wanting to get up and continue changing their lives every single day.
As a social entrepreneur working in fintech, how have you seen issues of equality evolve throughout your career?
In Thailand, women are not less educated than men, nor are they discriminated against when it comes to job prospects. They are, however, susceptible to financial hassles as soon as they are pregnant and become a mother. Pre- and post-pregnancy periods often result in the discontinuation of a woman’s regular income. Their career development can also be interrupted for years.
At Noburo, we see that the finances for a majority of low-income families are managed by women. Fintech could help ensure financial inclusion as many of women in low-income families may lack self-esteem and financial literacy.
What were some challenges you faced as a leader, and what did you learn from them?
As a social business leader, it’s vital to make the business profitable while still committing to our social mission. During the pandemic, our lack of profit had a sudden impact on the company's survival and our employees. It meant our focus moved from achieving the social impact we once promised to narrowing our eyes to only financial results. This problem accumulated further to the point that we didn’t have a clear direction. Suddenly, team members weren’t sharing the same vision.
What I learned from this is to stay true to ourselves and stick with the purpose we created for the company from day one. We weathered the crisis by answering the ‘Big Why’ question why a company like Noburo must exist, and creating a culture at Noburo that every team member embraces.
Once we understood and returned to our DNA, the public, customers, and social partners quickly came on board with our initiatives. Financial results naturally followed.
What are the key ingredients to succeeding as a startup founder, or in fintech?
First of all, I’m still a work in progress. So what I can share is as the CEO & Co-Founder of Noburo.
In my view, a good CEO/Founder must be a good human resource manager You must build a team whose members are great individually, but even better when combined. You are able to nurture future leaders. Most importantly, they must share the same belief and work as a team to achieve the social impact that we’ve committed to. Secondly, a strong organizational culture n creating the company’s DNA - whether it is the working environment, values, or mission - having passion, clear communication, and being exemplary are key.
For personal development, I use the 3S principle: Stability - being determined, disciplined, stable, visionary and exemplary; Supportiveness - creating a fertile environment, enabling, believing in human potential; and Safe space - being open-minded, non-judgmental and listening with empathy. These qualities would make me a source of positive energy that transmits throughout the rest of the team, onto our customers, and ultimately to society.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in Thailand?
I think Thailand is relatively open to gender differences. However, there is still many people who believe that one’s destiny cannot be improved. And there is still too little formal social support to provide professional and financial relief from the burden of motherhood.
On the macro level, we need to improve our social security system by focusing on motherhood, and small children's development, as well as re-skilling mothers.
Individually, all women have a hidden potential inside and just need the right guidance to release this potential. We need to work with community leaders and show them that their lives are in their hands. That they, themselves, can create the destiny they want to see.
What advice would you have for women in Thailand who are still studying or early in their careers?
- Purpose: understand who you are, and what you want to achieve and are passionate about.
- Opportunities: welcome new opportunities, even if they seem challenging or do not seem to be your passion in the first place; you never know where these opportunities may lead you, even 10 or 20 years later.
- Gratitude: practice gratitude as often as possible, and find beauty in every situation even in a tough time. Once you are able to see it, you will realize the interconnectedness between you and everything else; you will never run out of motivation to achieve your goals.
If you keep working on these three words, you will eventually be grateful of all the hard effort during those years as it will lead you to a place you might have thought unachievable when you were young.
**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group.