Now running a family business of real estate and light manufacturing, our Board member Tony Sakulpong pursued his early career path as a clinical microbiologist specializing in HIV. Equipped with both entrepreneurial and clinical savviness, Tony’s presence in the Board contributes to making APCOM stay ahead of the curve – as a “firm” built by and for community advocates.
This month, we talked with Tony about his background, his views on the epidemic and his insights to ensure APCOM remain tenacious towards the community members in the region.
On his multicultural environment
I come from a “confused” family. My dad is Thai and my mother is Japanese. I was born in Thailand and, by the age of three, my family and I moved to the States. I’m now living in Bangkok with my Australian partner.
On his personal crusade
I started off in medical school in Berkeley, United States, trying to be a doctor. Midway, to the shock of my family, I decided that being a (one-to-one) physician wasn’t really what I wanted. I wanted, and I know I could, help people in a grander scale. That’s why I changed course to a clinical research.
It was early 1990s – a post AIDS-crisis period. Being gay, having friends who were HIV positive and knowing some of them had even died of AIDS eased me to pursue clinical microbiologist in HIV field. I want to be part of those who might find the cure of the virus. Those who fight back the epidemic – at times when the affected people were left behind.
On seeing the epidemic in the region with a macroeconomic lens
A large part of the current HIV crisis is a lack of national funding dedicated to the HIV responses, particularly among the key populations. While part of the blame can be shared to the government’s deficient commitment, there are other factor worth taking account of.
The global financial crisis hinders both public and private entities from making profits, and it just dwindles down to the national level. When the citizens can’t make a lot of money the government isn’t being paid enough taxes. When the taxes are not being paid, the funding tunnel is getting narrower.
Relying on governmental funding is no longer the best option. Or it has never been. But at times like this, the community organisations are even more demanded to be more proactive and efficient in mobilising their resources.
On crafting an efficient organisation
I believe that a technique to strive for efficiency is basically the same, whether you’re an NGO or a profit-maker company. Both are business. The difference is that one garners a profit and another can’t. That being said, a community organisation should not be shying away from applying systems that seem unique to profit-oriented firm, as long as the end goal is achieving a maximised productivity with least resource utilisation,
An efficient firm is the one that knows how to fill the gaps with professionals who would be multitalented, thus giving the organisation potential for covering each other. Confining a staff or a team to a specific capacity will only lower the organisation’s aptitude to move forward when that staff (or team) left the organisation. This does not mean that everybody should be proficient in all aspect of the jobs, but it won’t hurt if the staffs are given a chance to be a little bit of a jack of all trades. This “business model” will encourage the organisation to run a lot faster, and in a long run, has less workloads. A general rule was “don’t hire and fire” – keep the staff lean and multitalented and grow when there are the project to support additional staff.
On the advantage of organisation filled by young people
APCOM staff’s median age is XX out of 17 people. The figure indicates how “young spirited” APCOM is – and that is a competitive advantage that APCOM should bear in mind. This young generation is going to be the next generation of who we are. It’s the generation who reflects how HIV response should be shaped to end the epidemic. Through TestXXX. APCOM has successfully been echoing this notion by implementing from-and-for-young-people HIV testing campaign in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and, soon, other big cities in the region. Increasing the uptake of HIV testing has never been this efficient. Now imagine if the same appreciation to young people is being applied to other forms of HIV responses.