In the past, when I heard the word entrepreneur, I have always imagined someone who craved money to acquire fancy cars, big houses, and loads of toys for personal satisfaction.
Lisa Nesser, founder of Thai Freedom House and Free Bird Cafe, is a different kind of entrepreneur. As a social entrepreneur, Lisa has all of the talents of a successful business person, being creative, innovative, and full of vision. However, Lisa’s aim is not the acquisition of personal wealth, but instead, her efforts support a full resource center that addresses diverse needs of Burmese refugees and other minority peoples of Thailand.
For years, I have been a long distance fan of Lisa’s innovative efforts connected to the Burmese community I know well from experiences as a World Relief mentor. While I could see challenges refugees faced upon arrival in the US, I admired how Lisa was doing heavy work of creating change directly within communities of displaced people. With limited resources, she used every part of her being to create sustainable systems of support. As years passed, from the distance the internet provides, I watched the evolution of her efforts through many stages of growth. When planning to visit Thailand, I wanted to learn more about their work and see her efforts up close. As I walked down the street and saw this sign in the distance, I was filled with the geeky excitement typically reserved for hotspot tourist destinations.
Meeting Lisa in person, I was drawn to her warm nature, but also her direct style. She knows how to get things accomplished and is always on the move, helping others and making the world a better place. She is a vision-oriented person who can also see the necessary steps needed to fulfill a goal. Mastering the art of being both vision and task-oriented is a gift that changes the world.
Not only does Lisa guide the teams at Thai Freedom House and Free Bird Cafe, but she does so in ways that provide sustainable skill development and education for everyone. Her goal is not to create her best workforce for herself, but to support others in the development of skills leading to their own business success and positively impacting their communities. The sheer number of projects she coordinates is overwhelming – and an example of how much one person can do. She even has her own line of natural products!
Current projects at Thai Freedom House include every aspect of life skills including birth and early childhood development, teen leadership, cultural preservation, specific skill development, and more. One of her main goals is to support entrepreneurial skills in others which can be easily observed by the success of Boo Boo Bamboo Straw company which is helping fill the need for reusable straws both within Thailand and internationally.
Lisa is also passionate about the environment and puts this passion into action through the creation of a Zero Waste Store filled with products that help people to create better habits for themselves and the earth and a “pre-loved charity shop” where clothes are sold to raise funds for project support.
Visiting Free Bird Cafe is a must when visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s not only a training ground for the hospitality program, it is also a wonderful place to enjoy a healthy meal and do a bit of shopping.
After years in a smaller space, Free Bird Cafe recently moved to an expanded location. The bright colored space has a positive vibe.
Not only is the food delicious, but it is healthy and made with fresh ingredients. Many traditional Thai recipes have been revamped to eliminate unhealthy ingredients while increasing the amount of fresh vegetables.
The presentation of each menu item has been meticulously planned. My favorite snack, the muesli with fruit arrived at my table each time, looking like a work of art.
The lavender limeade is delicious…beyond delicious really.
Outside of the delicious food, Lisa has created a space that offers respite from the steamy weather.
The courtyard space is filled with plants, colorful flowers, and brightly painted decorations. It’s clear that every detail of Free Bird was delicately coordinated to provide a space that uplifts guests.
As I walked through the “My Best Life CNX” zero waste store, I took so many notes of things I wanted to use when I return home. Lisa does that, through her actions, even things like providing zero waste options for standard products used by everyone, makes people think about their own habits and what changes can be made.
The Pre-Loved Charity shop is filled with books, clothing, and household items that have been donated to Thai Freedom House so profits can be used to support outreach programs.
I cannot say enough about the impressive work of Thai Freedom House. You can learn more by by visiting their webpage – or – if you find yourself in Chiang Mai, Thailand – be sure to make a visit to Free Bird Cafe. On the webpage, you can also learn about available volunteer opportunities and others ways to support their work. One of Lisa’s goals is to update the outside garden area. I can’t wait to see how this space develops in her loving hands.
Free Bird Cafe is a perfect spot to enjoy time with friends. Lucky me, I was not only able to visit with my lovely traveling companions, but I was also able to enjoy some time there with a former kindergarten student (from over 20 year ago) and her lovely family who I have known for years.
Thank you, Lisa for being a wonderful partner. I was so touched that we were able to create a collaborate mural in the Free Bird space to represent the LOVE and HOPE you so willingly share with others.
If you visit Free Bird Cafe, be sure to snap a picture of yourself with the Hope and Love murals. It’s one of over 20 #HopeTravels murals found around the world.