2021: Reclaiming a year of crisis

2021: Reclaiming a year of crisis

How many of us started 2021 with a sense of cautious optimism that the worst of the pandemic was behind us?

Perhaps you weren’t so naive, but one feeling which united us all was a sense of uncertainty. That’s what we felt at Steps as we walked into the new year. 

We are a unique organisation: we provide education to young people with neurodivergence such as autism, and we run businesses in the hospitality and administration sectors where they can gain work experience and social skills. 

When 2021’s lockdowns hit, we were faced with diverse challenges – keeping business afloat within a beleaguered hospitality industry, and protecting the mental health of our young trainees. Fortunately, we are surrounded by innovative business partners and passionate professionals who inspired us to face these obstacles head on. Over the next two articles we’ll share how, starting with a look at job creation and income generation.  

Strength in partnerships

Surviving in hospitality has never been harder. The Tourism Council of Thailand estimates that 36% of hospitality businesses closed and 550,000 jobs were lost during quarter two 2021. 

Sustainability and inclusivity are key values for Steps and our partners but in the face of the pandemic we were concerned they would be deprioritised. Together with the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) we launched a research project to see how businesses were making a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. We spoke to a number of key players in the industry and collated our findings into a booklet Hospitality and business event industry: Sustainability tips and tricks for the new normal

A key learning from our research was the value of strengthening partnerships as a means of surviving the pandemic. OCS, an international facilities management company, upped communication to give their clients the chance to advocate for their changing needs: “This has enabled business retention even though the business may be reduced,” they told us.

During the initial 2020 lockdown The Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park (MMQP) focused on bolstering its partnerships in the local community: supporting a relief fund for vulnerable communities, inviting local vendors to serve at its buffet, adjusting its menus and seeking out new local suppliers. Partners in the Event organisation sector responded by shifting their remaining business to the hotel, and marketing partners were willing to run promotions with the MMQP despite financial uncertainty. 

Investment in partnerships during the pandemic has paid off for Steps too. When our cafés closed, we approached partners such as Broccoli Revolution to collaborate on a lockdown delivery menu and worked closely with digital partners to ensure our online ordering service was optimised. Paring down the day to day running of the cafés also gave us time to explore new partnerships with The Commons Thong Lo and St Andrews Sukhumvit 107 International School, which led to two new Steps cafés and one new training centre opening in 2021. 

Fighting a worrying trend 

Steps may have found space to expand in the pandemic, but we’re far from relaxed about the impact on employment for the young people we work with. 

With the outlook for the hospitality industry still unstable, we’ve been looking to create new opportunities for our trainees and launched a Business Service Centre.  This model sees our trainees carrying out administrative tasks – data entry, document digitisation – for external business clients. The setup has worked well throughout the pandemic as it is not customer facing and can be done remotely. Many of our trainees find fulfilment and purpose through their work for Steps, and for them, the business service centre tasks have been a lifeline while they are locked down at home. It has also become an important source of income during a time when revenue from our shops and cafés was shrinking. 

From a client perspective the Business Service Centre ticks some important boxes. It helps meet government targets related to inclusive employment without having to make major adaptations to the workplace. “This project has made a huge improvement to RMA, by providing us with almost instant access to employee data at the touch of a keyboard, and it’s an activity that we weren’t resourced to complete internally,” said Stuart Daniels from our client RMA Group.  

Looking ahead

It is clear from our research and burgeoning partnerships that even in the face of the pandemic, Thai businesses are not giving up on inclusivity and social impact. Now is the time to reimagine what employment in Thailand looks like, and we welcome any partners who want to join us in making the future landscape more diverse. 

About Steps

Steps is a social enterprise set up in 2016. We believe everyone has a right to a sustainable, fulfilling career, so we run vocational training centres for young adults across Thailand. Some of our trainees have come to us because they are neurodivergent and traditional education doesn’t work for them. They might have autism, a condition which means their brain functions differently to what society calls ‘normal’, or they may have other conditions which mean they struggle with communication, speech or social interactions. 

We have a unique model: our training centres include cafés and zero waste shops – open to the public – where our trainees can get hands-on experience of serving. We also run business service centres for trainees to perform administrative tasks outsourced to us from the commercial sector. We forge links with local businesses to hire our graduates when they finish their training.  


Author: Tanya Perdikou - Communications Consultant at Steps Bangkok, a social enterprise. For further information please contact: tanya@stepscommunity.com 

Series editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th Dataconsult’s Thailand Regional Forum at Sasin provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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