In the small Kym Viet Co. workshop, employees with disabilities are working diligently. Under their hands, products like stuffed animals and cloth neck-pillows slowly take shape and come to life. These products help them earn a regular income and enjoy other job-related benefits like any other normal worker. From day one, they have had the support and commitment of the British Council, both in terms of business administration capacity building and moral support – vital factors contributing to Kym Viet’s success today.
Kym Viet was founded in late December 2013 by three people with disabilities – Pham Viet Hoai, Le Viet Cuong and Nguyen Duc Minh. Right from the outset, the trio proudly asserted that they were setting up shop like any other company that would market quality products consumers love, not one that “relied on the disability factor to seek compassion from buyers”.
Success did not come easily for such a company. Fortunately, the British Council has been working alongside Kym Viet almost since its inception. British Council has provided training activities and workshops on governance capacity for social enterprises, in addition to providing the company with moral support in the pursuit of their agenda of recognition based on quality of goods and services provided, rather than on the status of founders and employees as members of the disabled community.
When the British Council visited Kym Viet in 2014, the company’s premises – headquarters and workshop – was comprised of two rented rooms just a little larger than ten square metres. There were two employees, two basic sewing machines, one binding sewing machine and one iron brought from home. The company was running rather spontaneously, without close adherence to any formal professional standards.
Kym Viet chairman Pham Viet Hoai, said that training opportunities with the British Council helped professionalise his company. “Now we have standard operating procedures in place. For example, when we have an order coming in, everyone knows who will get the fabrics, who will do the binding, the cutting and sewing, and so on, as a matter of routine. We were not that disciplined in the past when people did whatever they preferred. It took more time, we were producing lower quality outputs and there was less professionalism.”
In terms of becoming more professional, Kym Viet has evolved over time. From its rented rooms in the early days, it moved to a one-story house about 50 square meters in size with a small yard. With more orders coming in, Kym Viet again moved to a new site in 2015 now with a workforce of seven or eight people. Toward the end of 2015, Kym Viet relocated again to its current headquarters, a four-storey complex with warehouse space, workshops, restrooms for employees, and an expanded staff of 18.
With such progress, by 2015 Kym Viet was able to have its products certified as meeting “Quacert” / Vietnamese Standards Metrology and Quality Administration quality specifications. After acquiring this product quality validation, Kym Viet started to take on a wider range of purchase orders. Initially the three founding members had had only a single key sales channel – selling at trade fairs and sometimes earning only around VND500,000, – less than needed to cover basic food costs! As production capabilities started to increase, the range and size of buyers also increased, with clients now including a range of businesses from private souvenir shops to major companies such as Bibo Mart and Thang Long Aviation Services JS Co.
Today, Kym Viet does not have to worry about ‘making ends meet every day. Workers earn an average income of VND3.5 million a month, not to mention the fuel, bus fare and free lunch the company offers. Another success no less important to Kym Viet is what the company has done to change both society’s preconception of what people with disabilities can do to contribute, as well as how those with disabilities perceive their own potential. “Most of those who started here lacked confidence in their ability to fully commit to their roles and meet company expectations. But working here is not like some other places. We encourage our staff to really work and push themselves to succeed. Nowadays the families of those original employees can all see that their children have developed into confident and professional adults with strong work ethics – a positive change in both mind and behaviour,” said Pham Viet Hoai.
In 2016, Kym Viet was presented with the Social Enterprise Inclusivity Award by the British Council. To date, Kym Viet and the British Council still maintain a close relationship.
In addition to its 18-strong core production staff, the Kym Viet team also includes its three founding members, a storekeeper and a cashier. This makes a total of 23 staff, all of whom are creating, sharing and enjoying Kym Viet’s values and commercial success, and the team is confident business will continue to grow in the future.