Cover Story: Marisa Chearavanont And The Art of Caring
Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Marisa is the youngest of three siblings. As a student she earned a degree in finance and international business at NYU, following which she gained work experience at Nomura Securities on Wall Street but soon realised that the world of high finance wasn’t for her. It was while she was at university that she met her now husband Soopakij Chearavanont, current chairman of CP Group. The couple have been married for almost 32 years and are parents to four children: 31-year-old Tanit, 29-year old Tanyatip, 21-year-old Chawid and 19-year-old Samid.
After marrying Marisa spent around eight years in Thailand before relocating to Hong Kong with Tanit and Tanyatip in 1995. Her husband made the regular commute between Bangkok and Hong Kong to be with the family. “We made the decision to settle in Hong Kong partly because my eldest son had quite a serious problem with asthma and the air quality there was better than in Bangkok,” she says. “Our two youngest were born and raised there and we all only came back to Thailand four years ago.” With the children grown and each with their nascent career or at university, Marisa decided it was time to return to Bangkok.
Having married into a well-established family, Marisa could have very well led very lavish lifestyle but with her drive to do more purposeful things with her life and given her multiple interests, she has found various ways to stay busy and indulge in her passions. Cultured and well-travelled, she is known for her enthusiasm for the world of art. As an avid art collector and commissioner, the elegant lady admits to having a preference for contemporary works with a minimalistic edge. Not one to follow trends, she describes the way in which she collects art as a very personal journey. “Some seek the most exclusive or expensive pieces but for me it goes deeper than that. A painting must have a story or a make a personal connection with me,” she says. Describing her as a frequent flyer is an understatement. Prior to the lockdown she was frequently overseas attending art fairs. She is also fond of many Thai artists and as a member of the Asia Pacific Acquisition Committee of the Tate Modern in the UK and M+ Museum in Hong Kong, Marisa hopes to help raise the profiles of Thai artists in the international arena. In her four years back in Bangkok, the art lover has fostered numerous relationships with acclaimed artists including the internationally exhibited Natee Utarit who lent us his studio for our cover shoot.
With the onset of Covid-19 these past few months have been strange and difficult for people all over the world. What has shone through during these dark times however, is the coming together of people from all backgrounds and walks of life to do some good in support of their local communities. Although Marisa appreciates the extra moments returning to Thailand has afforded her with her husband, she admits that at times she has lacked purpose. Which is why she has thrown her weight behind a number of worthy causes.
While a large number of citizens are struggling to make ends meet, countless medical professionals who work on the frontline every day have become the unwitting heroes of the pandemic. Combining her organisational skills and contacts in the culinary world with a cause that is designed to lift the morale of our critical workers, Marisa founded Chef Cares, a charity project that provides nutritious and tasty meals to medical professionals in Bangkok and Phuket. While many have been distributing meals to frontline workers, Marisa wanted to provide as well a touch of fine dining experience, and has invited top chefs to collaborate.
Now in its second phase, the project has extended its reach to include public transportation workers. “Initially we brought together 25 of the country’s leading chefs,” explains Marisa. “It was great that everyone we contacted was so willing to get involved and help, despite some of them having their own challenges to deal with. Many of the chefs were already donating food as well. I think this is a true reflection of the compassion of the Thai people. We started with 25 chefs but now we have around 70 involved. July marked three months of this effort and in that time we have donated over 30,000 lunch boxes.” Making good use of her contacts to bring like-minded altruists together, leading artist Chatchai Puipia, who as it turns out is also an avid cook, has joined her Chef Cares project. Marisa is also on a mission to raise awareness of local talent. “I think in Thailand we have amazing chefs. In fact I truly believe they have a factor here you don’t see so much of abroad,” she says. “They are so kindhearted and mindful in what they do. They focus on sustainability, on how they source their ingredients, which makes the experience even more enriching. We are already a fine dining hub on this side of the world but I wish to make this reputation global.”
Despite carrying a prominent family name and leading a comfortable lifestyle, Marisa has always remained grounded and cognisant of the poverty that persists in Thailand and the plight of underprivileged communities across the country. “I am very aware that what my family and I have is a blessing but it is one that comes with responsibility and a duty to care for the less fortunate,” she says. Her keen understanding of the importance of giving back is something she has conscientiously instilled in her children since they were small. A reflection of this is the Build Foundation, which she and her children established together. It is a non-profit organisation that builds schools for the hill tribes and underprivileged youth in Thailand. Since its inception in 2005, it has helped to build 11 schools in needy rural communities across the country and continues to support numerous charitable organisations with funding and hands-on help from volunteers.
“There are two things that I deemed to be most important in raising my children,” Marisa shares. “Education, because that is what is going to enable you to stand on your own two feet. And humility. It is essential to me that my children understand how privileged they are and how important it is to help those in need. All four of them have been encouraged to do volunteer work since a young age.” She adds that she enjoys physically contributing in the field, which is far more effective and personally enriching. Her favourite aspect of benevolent work is getting to meet the people the foundation aids. “When you visit some of the most remote hill tribes, communities without the mod-cons we take for granted—electricity, running water and so on—and yet you see how happy everyone is, the laughter and smiles of the children, it really puts life into perspective.”
She also hopes to get even more involved opening up access to education. “When I think about all the bad things happening around the world it makes me sad,” she says. “We all have a part to play, small or big, in making the world a better place.” One social issue that tugs at her heartstrings is the plight of refugees and it is an area in which she may well become active in the future.
The Chearavanonts are a busy modern family but for the doting mother, quality time together is a must. “We try to take a family holiday once or twice a year, to get out of the city and really unwind,” she says. “My husband is very busy all the time so we try to make these trips purely leisure.” A frequent globetrotter with friends all over the world, Marisa loves to experience different cultures. “I do love travelling,” she confesses. “It broadens the mind and fosters understanding and respect amongst different peoples of the world.”
More society profiles: Equestrian Star Jaruporn Limpichati On Jumping For Joy