The Common Touch

Winai Tatasuthai, a 45-year-old cowherd living in the tiny northeastern Thai hamlet of Baan Dongsaensuk, owes Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra debts of both money and gratitude. Three years ago, Winai could barely make ends meet; today, he's a modestly successful entrepreneur, proudly serving up plates of roasted chicken from his own barbecue pit at a roadside marketplace. Winai's life changed when, in 2001, Thaksin set aside 1 million baht—about $25,000—for each of Thailand's 80,000 hamlets to form a fund that would provide low-cost loans to farmers, artisans and other needy villagers. Winai borrowed $250 from the $2 billion Village Fund, bought...

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