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Growing skills, mindsets and business: Peer support programme for COVID-19 recovery and long-term resilience

Umpanuch Bubpachai shares her story of taking over a business during the COVID-19 pandemic, confronting discrimination and changing her own mindset to overcome challenges through the WE-Can Be Resilient Programme.

Feature | 09 August 2022
Since a few years back, Umpanuch Bubpachai runs her girlfriend’s family business, Tanchit Taro Snack, which manufactures and sells snacks made from taro, such as waffle cut taro chips, and taro sticks.

While Tanchit Taro Snack has been through many crises and changes over the years, it was particularly hard hit by COVID-19. The pandemic-related restrictions led to a drastic drop in sales as all products had been sold in local stores and was popular among tourists. Touched by the family history and emotional value linked to the products and the business itself, Umpanuch offered to run the business during the pandemic. “From January to March 2020, the business lost over 50% of its income. My girlfriend and I had to step in while our parents learned to adapt to changes”, she shares.

Since taking over the business, Umpanuch has worked together with her girlfriend to rebuild and modernize the Tanchit brand, paying tribute to the recipe’s humble beginnings. They also had to rethink their sales strategy and find new channels to sell their products. “I love my girlfriend and her family and saw the value of the products that the business has created, which drove me to try to help grow and expand the business, taking it to new and exciting directions”, she adds.

Despite Umpanuch and her girlfriend being business partners, due to legal restrictions, they are not allowed to be married, making it difficult for their personal and business relationship to be fully recognised. Being an LGBTQIA+ woman entrepreneur has come with its own challenges but has also inspired her to be determined and work hard for herself and others like her. “Being a LGBT couple is not a serious issue because our family understand us. However, not being able to be legally married has been a challenge to fully connect our personal relationship with our business story”.

Being resilient together

To help overcome challenges during the pandemic, Umpanuch joined the WE-Can Be Resilient Programme, a six-month technical and peer support programme organized by social enterprise Space Bangkok under the ILO’s Rebuilding Better Project. The programme brings together women entrepreneurs from Thailand to share the journey of being an entrepreneur, build connections in the business community, and take their business to the next level. During COVID-19, the programme has had a particular focus on resilience.

During the WE-Can Be Resilient Programme, Umpanuch joined sessions with experienced coaches focusing on digitalization, business and financial management, enabling women entrepreneurs to take away lessons for their own businesses. Umpanuch particularly enjoyed sessions on public speaking as she previously struggled with presenting or speaking on stage. Instead of having a clear script, she learned that it is better to focus on the main ideas while prioritising the opportunity for exchange with others. In turn, Umpanuch shared she is now less nervous when presenting and can speak clearer in order deliver an impactful message.

The exposure to various paths and journeys taken by fellow women entrepreneurs in WE-Can gave Umpanuch new ideas for products and packaging development. The sharing of experience and knowledge has encouraged her creativity as well as increased her confidence to set goals for herself and scale her business up in preparation to meet more customer’s demands. “One of the significant supports I received was the advice and business referrals from others in my cohort. For example, I needed help with identifying source of funding for the business and one of the ladies in my cohort connected me with someone who could help”, she says.

“One of the significant supports I received was the advice and business referrals from others in my cohort. For example, I needed help with identifying source of funding for the business and one of the ladies in my cohort connected me with someone who could help”, she says.

Beyond hard skills, Umpanuch appreciated the power of connection to help her business survive the crisis. The WE-Can programme cultivated a communal networking space where women entrepreneurs can meet and share their experiences.

“Joining the programme and talking to other people in similar situations helped me relax, be clearer on my goals and give back by sharing my own experiences. We became an energy source for each other by supporting and celebrating each one of our growth and accomplishments. This is more valuable than any hard skill to stay resilient through hard times”, says Umpanuch.

What now? Supporting each other for the post COVID-19 long-run

As Thailand begins to reopen from COVID-19 restrictions, Umpanuch looks forward to bringing lessons learned and new opportunities for her business. “The biggest change for our business, which I learned from the programme, is on having a mindset change. We used to be function-oriented and focusing only on the end product, but with the pandemic and my newfound confidence, I am more motivated than ever to cultivate a growth mindset where we think positive and prioritise connection with people. Having this growth mindset is key for business survival”, she says.

When thinking of the long-term future, Umpanuch credits WE-Can for being able to plan ahead but accepts that there will be uncertain surprises in the future that might need further adapting.

“I used to be a bit of a perfectionist but hearing fellow women entrepreneurs share their stories, I learned that trying and failing is part of the process. This gives me the will to go on and face whatever new challenge life may throw at us”, she adds.

Created by women for women, the WE-Can programme is launching new programme for women entrepreneurs twice a year and will continue to provide various support to women entrepreneurs. For more information, visit https://www.we-suite.com.