#GlobalAussies: Returned expat Khunapong Khunaraksa finds himself globally connected wherever he is

Khunapong Khunaraksa has recently returned to Australia after a decade living in South East Asia and the US. He shares with us his global journey, and the reasons that brought him back to Australia after working in nine countries. Khunapong is convinced that his global experience has largely benefitted his career, as he is now making real social impact with his engineering skills.

By Khunapong Khunaraksa | Contributor

I am happy to call Sydney home after living in three continents for the past decade. From living in a religious city like Yangon, Myanmar to San Francisco, USA – one of the world’s best tech hubs, my life is a classic example of a global citizen.

My global journey started back in 2011 when I moved to Bangkok, Thailand, to begin my international development career as an Environmental Engineer. All I cared about at that time was engineering and how to build things.

I worked for the TEAM GROUP, Thailand’s largest consulting engineering company, on projects across Southeast Asia. This was when I started to change my perspective of a career to be an entrepreneurial journey after wearing many hats in my position. I progressed from an engineer to a project manager and business development lead to expand new businesses.

I fell in love with learning and being immersed in new cultures. Working in Myanmar taught me the real meaning of empathy. I remember when a Myanmar team member admitted she didn’t know how to do a site survey and we spent days doing them together until she felt comfortable doing it herself.

In 2015, I moved to San Francisco and got to work for an award-winning not-for-profit organisation;, to build a new program in Indonesia. I helped more than 20 of their partner organisations to build and expand new social impact initiatives.

This was where my deep passion for social entrepreneurship developed. My US work experience taught me to be bold and fearless.

I left the USA four years later to take a sabbatical, so I could give myself space to explore what was next on my journey. I traveled, took courses and put myself out of my comfort zone. Storytelling became my greatest passion. I also served on the board of two social enterprises and started my own business. In 2019, I was recognised as the first Community and Advocacy Winner of the 40 Under 40 Asian-Australian Awards.

I called Airbnbs, hotels and villas my home for a year and a half, and my community is all over the world. Expats I met during my travels in Indonesia and Thailand became some of my best friends. We collaborated on projects in Asia from different parts of the world.

Calling Australia home, again

At the end of 2020 my wife and I felt called to settle down somewhere. I missed home so we moved back to Sydney. I love my lifestyle here so much – I am lucky to have the Sydney Opera House in my backyard. The city is familiar, but has new developments I’ve yet to experience. Central Park and the tram didn’t even exist when I was living here before. I am excited to get to know my city once again.

As someone who has been constantly moving from one country to another, I know that my career is as strong as my network. I’ve been building a global network over the years and it has come into play since being back. Joining an Australian social enterprise board a year and a half ago helped increase my profile in Australia.

Keeping myself well-connected with other Asian-Australians and the community also made me realise what opportunities were possible for my return.

After working in nine countries, I believe that going outside Australia represents a great opportunity for our country. We don’t need to look far; Asia is the perfect place to start. My global experience changed me from an engineer to a social impact leader and I can’t wait to witness how it will change Australia.

Connect with Khunapong

Khunapong Khunaraksa is an Advance member who loves speaking publicly, connecting with new people and solving social and environmental issues – now back home living in Sydney.

He is the Chairman of the Board of Masy Consultants, a social enterprise working to increase access to clean water and sanitation for communities in the Philippines. He is also part of an advisory group to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs on water and sanitation initiatives for the Asia-Pacific region. Khunapong is active in the Asian-Australian community, where he mentors and inspires the next generation with his life experience. He is leading the creation of the 40 Under 40 Asian-Australian alumni initiatives.