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Philipp Graf von Hardenberg

Philanthropist by trade

November 2015

"Nowadays many believe that success and happiness have to do with accumulating material wealth. But there’s a very true American saying; 'you can only eat one steak a day, so why have 20 in your fridge?'" – says Philipp Graf von Hardenberg, Thanyapura Phuket President & CEO and the founder of Children’s World Academy Foundation.

Philipp Graf von Hardenberg is a man with a big last name and an even bigger reputation due to his restless engagement in humanitarian causes. He was recently named one of Forbes Asia's 40 'Heroes of Philanthropy' for having established the Yaowawit School and Lodge for underprivileged children in Phang Nga, Thailand. Yet he appears to be down to earth - a trait that probably contributes to his success.

Philipp came to Phuket right after the tsunami in 2004. His trip to Thailand had been booked prior to the disaster as he was going to help a friend run a small orphanage north of Chiang Mai. He was supposed to assist with fund raising activities and even bring his two daughters to volunteer at the orphanage.

However, he ended up in Phuket after only one day in Chiang Mai. Six weeks later he found a piece of land where he then built a boarding school for local children who'd lost their parents or were otherwise underprivileged. Today, the school and orphanage accommodates 126 children aged 4 -14 years old.

Although Philipp didn't move to Phuket permanently until 2014, he travelled to Thailand on a yearly basis and considers the school as close as his own family. He finds that having a family and a fulfilling profession, along with helping the socially disadvantaged, are the most important things in life. He believes that success is happiness and that fulfillment comes through balance.

Philipp came to Phuket right after the tsunami in 2004. His trip to Thailand had been booked prior to the disaster as he was going to help a friend run a small orphanage north of Chiang Mai.


Talking about his family and children, Philipp says he finds something inherently wrong with the way we speak about children, calling them 'ours' as if they were property. They're their own people and we can't and shouldn't try to decide their life and destiny, he believes.

He's been married for 29 years and considers equal partnership in a relationship most important. He says it's crucial that we make decisions together as much as possible, even if it isn't always easy. He relates that the previous weekend spent with his wife was one of his happiest; they'd told their kids that they were away from Phuket, while in reality they stayed home reading books and just enjoying each other's company.

Asked about his life in Phuket and Thailand, Philipp replies that Phuket's a wonderful place to live as long as you get away every once in a while. He misses a rich cultural life, so he takes any opportunity to play catch-up when he goes away. But the usual complaints about Phuket, such as the traffic for instance, seem trivial to him as they're common wherever you go.

Sharing his view on Thailand, he says it's important to remember that we're guests here and that we need to learn the local way of doing things. He took time to learn about Thai culture and Buddhism when he initially came here, and he believes that we all have a chance to blend our own experiences with the culture we're immersed in.

Asked about his life in Phuket and Thailand, Philipp replies that Phuket's a wonderful place to live as long as you get away every once in a while.

He also believes that we're all equal and in every team; each member has an immense contribution. As an example, when Philipp was originally introduced to the staff as Thanyapura's CEO , he asked all the dishwashers to stand up. Then he asked his employees: "On a night when all our capacities are full, who's more important - people who wash the dishes or the CEO ?"

"Without each member's valuable contribution, we have nothing," he says. He believes that, "Everybody should find a working environment in which they can bloom and be happy," and that it's happiness that gives us balance in life.

Self-confidence is very important to enjoying success in life and Philipp feels we should be teaching kids to be confident and curious; these traits are important in his school's curriculum. He adds that he continually encourages his employees to be open with him: "If my employees aren't brave enough to tell me where I'm right or where I'm wrong, how can I continue learning?"

If you would like to learn more about, or to support, the Yaowawit School and Lodge, go to www.yaowawit.org

Thanyapura Phuket
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