Cabbages & Condoms
At A Glance
|Where:||Based in Bangkok, Thailand, with 12 locations throughout the country co-located with the parent organization’s 18 locations|
|What:||12 restaurants (including catering services) and 2 resorts|
|Founders:||Mechai Viravaidya (founder of Cabbages & Condoms and the nonprofit Population and Community Development Association, or PDA)|
|Number of employees:||289 PDA staff and contractors|
|Total revenue:||34,941,843.00 Thai baht (THB) /
Even open-minded westerners are taken aback when they walk into the original Cabbages & Condoms Restaurant (C&C) in Bangkok. Posters on the walls display prophylactics from around the world. Neat rows of multicolored condoms appear under the glass tops of dining tables. Condoms decorate lamps and flower vases in rest rooms. Bowls of “condom-mints” are presented as party favors. A sign assures customers that “our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.”
Welcome to the fundraising epicenter of Thailand’s biggest nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Population and Community Development Association or PDA. The chairman and founder, Mechai Viravaidya, contends that “birth control should be as accessible and as easy to buy as vegetables in the market!” Hence the name “Cabbages & Condoms.” Mechai’s communications strategy is to deploy jokes and catchy visuals to overcome resistance, by locals and tourists alike, to issues like sex, family planning, and HIV/AIDS.
Mechai is known by locals as “Khun” Mechai, or the Condom King. Formerly a well-known government official, he’s been directing PDA’s sex education programs so long that condoms in Bangkok have become widely called “mechais.” Despite his good sense of humor, Mechai’s mission with Cabbages & Condoms—“good food at competitive prices in a good atmosphere for a good cause”—is serious business. The Cabbages & Condoms brand includes his dozen restaurants, plus a chain of gift shops, hotels, and resorts. The net revenue generated by this network of 12 companies underwrites nearly two-thirds of the direct costs of PDA’s activities, such as free vasectomies, mobile health clinics, empowerment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, and rural development programs.
Mechai is now a global evangelist for his business model. He strongly believes that depending on donations alone prevents NGOs—and those they serve—from reaching their full potential. “Managers of NGOs must pay as much (if not more) attention to finding funds as they do to using those funds,” he says. “To be permanently dependent on others is against the realities of life. We could be a beggar forever but there is no evidence that in the long run a beggar can prosper.”