“Beyond marvellous, interesting, vibrant, dynamic, committed to creating opportunities for all people in society, and so on” are the expressions that former Head of Arts and Creative Industries of the British Council in Vietnam, Le Anh Tho used to describe her nearly seven years working there.
Despite its presence in Vietnam for a quarter of a century, most Vietnamese when hearing about the British Council tend to think that it is a high-end educational institution. To learn English, explore educational information about the UK, take an IELTS exam and so on, you come to the British Council. Education, however, is only one part of what this organisation offers Vietnam. It is also a place full of stories and projects that are both innovative and that demonstrate a genuine commitment to creating opportunities for all people in society. As such, making sure that everyone understands the wide range of roles and responsibilities the British Council assumes is a serious challenge for the organisation’s former Head of Arts and Creative Industries of the British Council in Vietnam, Le Anh Tho.
The British Council appeals to Le Anh Tho both in terms of the work environment and sheer joy the job has to offer. She recalls, “I didn’t think I would ever leave the British Council because the work environment there was really more than one could expect and the job was just so very interesting, especially when I had two hats to wear – Assistant Director of the British Council in Ho Chi Minh City and Head of Arts and Creative Industries. My life when I was working at the British Council was truly vibrant and dynamic, focused on projects intent on making positive contributions to society. I learned so much and experienced so much, and this inspired me to contribute more and dedicate more of myself.”
Le Anh Tho believes that humanitarianism is a cross-cutting agenda in the British Council’s activities, not just through the projects the organisation engages in with its Vietnamese partners, but also inherent within the institution. She shared that, “The British Council workplace values humanity, respects employees, and offers a rich experience to the staff through such activities as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week. It comes in different themes each year, including among others, combatting domestic violence, raising awareness about breast cancer and learning sign language from members of the hearing impaired community.”
For Le Anh Tho, her work for the British Council was one of her best achievements in life. On revisiting the many memorable projects that she was a part of, she recalled, “I was really proud to be part of the British Council’s contributions to the advancement of education in Vietnam through projects that helped the Vietnamese Ministry of Education to improve the quality of training for English teachers like Project 2020, as well as efforts to connect universities in the UK with Vietnamese partners, among others.”
Her time working at the British Council was when Le Anh Tho felt that she had the most impact and where she acquired the most useful knowledge, knowledge that she continues to carry with her. Key milestones for Le Anh Tho include her role in making possible a series of activities celebrating the 40th anniversary of UK – Vietnam diplomatic ties in both countries, sending Vietnamese designers to London Fashion Week for the first time where designers participated in the International Fashion Showcase featuring designer Cong Tri, as well as her involvement in the successful visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron to Vietnam in 2015.
Among all these achievements, one of the things that Le Anh Tho was most proud of throughout her time working at the British Council was the successful introduction of the British Council’s Innovative industry project, particularly the project’s breadth and depth. Drafting the project outline and convincing UK partners to support the project, all the while trying to localise the concepts and get the project accepted at home by Vietnamese partners and local people was a challenge. She notes that, “When I took the job, the term ‘creative industry’ was still unfamiliar, but now it has become a recognised expression, and has even been explored over time and recommended to the Prime Minister for integration into public policy. I feel happy about my part in achieving that.”
While she has left the British Council, Le Anh Tho is still thinking about the job. “People are now able to conceptualise what innovative industry is, but we are not there yet in terms of legislative change needed to better support industries intent on pushing boundaries, and this is something I regret.”