Making a difference from your desk

Picture contributing to your community in some way and you may assume you’d have to spend half a day at a shelter a week or maybe drive a van on the streets. In Bangkok, Australian Margo Towie found a way to assist pregnant and post-natal women without needing to leave her office.

Since January 1999, Towie has been editing the monthly magazine of Bangkok Mothers and Babies International (Bambi), a non-profit organisation providing support and information for English-speaking pregnant women and parents of babies living in Thailand. “The magazine was a time eater when I took it on. The first couple of editions took around 40 hours apiece to get camera ready,” she says.

Towie, a professional journalist, became involved in Bambi around three years ago when pregnant with her daughter Melanie. When she first saw their 32-page publication, which is mailed to around 500 people and appears on their website , she was “suitably unimpressed. There was no local content, and I saw that it could be much more useful.”

She spotted a small advertisment for an editor. Despite thinking “Oh no, I shouldn’t be doing this – it’s going to take up too much time – I rang them.”

Towie was driven to help turn the magazine into a true information resource due to the fact that she had such a hard time finding information about having a child in Bangkok. “Thailand is not an information society,” she explains. “It’s driven largely by rumour, which medical practitioners can harness for their own benefit – for instance, it’s more convenient for them to give caesarian sections… My background is in journalism and information-gathering. I don’t let go! I wanted to examine the alternatives to the status quo.”

So Towie sprang into action. First, she got to work sourcing local stories. “Now we have over 90 per cent of copy locally generated.” Towie initiated a section in the magazine for working women, with stories on relevant issues such as childcare and breastfeeding.

Then she improved the magazine’s production methods. “They were still using a printer who required the magazine to be cut and pasted. Within two months I identified an alternative printer and with the agreement of the committee, we switched.”

The group’s decision to outsource production cut her hours down per issue to ten; adding a network of volunteer helpers to preselect and subedit content eventually reduced it to around five.

Towie’s first day in Thailand was an eventful one: she arrived on 23 February 1991, the final day of the most recent coup in Thailand. At the time she was a correspondent working for Australia’s Bulletin and she’s since also worked for Business Review Weekly and the Economist Group. She met her Thai husband, who works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1994 and married him in 1997.

Towie began a new job as director of content at eThailand.com last month. The demands of the position mean that she’ll now hand the reins over to someone else: “but I still plan on keeping an eye on things.“ The parents of Bangkok can rest assured she won’t let standards slip.

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