Simon Osborne - Co-Founder & Managing Director
Simon worked for over a decade in retail banking before founding Asia Internship Programme. He studied fraud and criminal justice at Visa Inc Business School, and created a fraud system and strategy which has helped UK banks avoid millions of dollars in fraud losses. Simon was born and raised in England, but moved back to Thailand several years ago because he loves the people and the weather so much.
What inspired you to start Asia Internship Programme?
We ran an internship program for a company called Broadgate Financial and we listened to the interns that came onboard there. We really heard what they were talking about, what they wanted to see, and hoped to experience during their internships. Because of the success of that program, we created the Asia Internship Programme, which is essentially trying to create positions for students in any kind of industry they want to go into, anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Your organization is especially unique because you don’t just offer support to the interns, but to the companies as well. Many of the institutions and organizations you work with have never had an intern before, so you are developing these opportunities from both sides. What kind of support do you offer the companies and how does that help your interns?
We do due diligence with our companies here. We don’t just partner with any business. The idea of interning is a new concept to many, and some don’t even know what an internship is. So we go to them, we talk to their HR people and the CEO’s, and we tell them what an internship is and what it can look like. We stress the importance that it has to be a meaningful internship by engaging the students that we would be placing with them.
Since internships aren’t really part of the Thai culture, how do you show them that an intern can be valuable?
Thai companies often see an intern as just another part of the Thai staff, which might mean they would only do menial tasks. We are trying to educate them and help them view a foreign person coming in as an outside consultant. We show them that the interns are there to help, innovate, and achieve new things. It’s all about engaging with the students and the companies and trying to find the right match and culture on both sides.
What is your favorite part of your job?
For me, it is about giving people these opportunities, as cheesy as that might sound. I get fulfillment out of helping others and inspiring others. It’s so wonderful to see the students we’ve placed go on to full-time positions or even start their own businesses.
Thailand is not particularly popular for international internships; the vast majority (especially among American students) take place in Western Europe, why should someone intern in Thailand?
Thailand is a central hub, especially with ASEAN on the way. Plus, it’s still an emerging market in a way. Internships are a fairly new concept, but you are right in the center of Southeast Asia, so within a few hours you could easily have a weekend in Malaysia, Singapore, or Hong Kong.
Can you give a brief history and explanation of what ASEAN is for someone who has never heard of it? There seem to be mixed feelings about it throughout Thailand, but no matter what side people are on, there is no doubt the “alliance” will greatly affect Southeast Asia.
ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It is an economic community that includes: Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. It’s kind of like the European Union, so there will be free trade amongst the countries and you will be able to travel around more freely, so that will be nice for interns.
What is the most important piece of advice that an intern should know in order to be successful in the Thai workplace?
It’s to be very engaging and very persevering. When someone says to you, and this is something that is just part of the Thai culture, “yes” or “no”, it doesn’t necessarily mean yes or no. So, I would say it is very important to challenge the norm and ask a lot of questions. At the end of the day, you are there to stand out and learn, and that is how you are going to achieve that.
Since Thai culture does tend to be extremely agreeable and consenting, will a Thai supervisor appreciate or even allow that kind of initiative?
Absolutely, they are there to help the company, and with our help they realize that the student or intern is there to help too. Everyone is working toward the same corporate mission, it can sometimes be difficult or it may be against something that a supervisor is saying, but at the end of the day, you have to take risks and they will appreciate it.