The Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CSIE) at the National Economics University is the first ever organisation to promote innovative enterprise with society’s interests at the core among universities in Vietnam. Centre Director, Assoc Prof Dr Truong Thi Nam Thang values the role the British Council has played in establishing and promoting connections that have allowed the Centre to grow and thrive, becoming an integral part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Vietnam today.
The Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CSIE) was founded as the direct result of advocacy work and technical and financial assistance from the British Council. When the UK’s social enterprise model was introduced to the National Economics University in 2012, it was still a new conceptual framework in Vietnam. The British Council however, was active in providing support through capacity building workshops and study visits to the UK, as well as in championing the integration of the model and associated concepts into university curricula. Intrigued by the new research and teaching methodologies shared, Assoc Prof Nam Thang has worked with the British Council from the outset in an effort to engender a spirit of entrepreneurship both in the next generation of business people as well as amongst economic administrators. As a result of her efforts and with strong support from the university board, CSIE was formed in April 2017 with a focus on three key areas – research, education, and promoting entrepreneurialism among young people.
Now just a little over a year into its operation, CSIE is growing and thriving thanks to the British Council’s strong support both in terms of financing and expertise. With its long-standing reputation, the British Council offers many opportunities for CSIE to build connections with major universities in places like the UK, France, USA and Canada. It can also support CSIE in establishing contacts with other global institutions with similar agendas such as the UNDP and can facilitate networking opportunities with a host of social enterprises in the UK and other countries. The strategic partnership between the Institute for Social Innovation and Impact (ISII), Northampton University and CSIE is a clear demonstration of the success of UK–Vietnam cooperation in this area. Over the past year, CSIE and ISII have worked together on national research projects related to social enterprise, and will continue to do so, coaching students undertaking SE research, organising research exchanges, and opening Vietnam’s first Impact Hub – an incubation centre for impact-exerting start-ups. CSIE is also set to launch a Master’s training programme on social innovation, and a number of universities, along with the British Council, have already committed to running annual workshops on social enterprise and social innovation. These workshops are a space where Vietnamese academics can connect with international colleagues and business people, with participation in this initiative increasing year on year.
With the British Council reliably by its side, CSIE is slowly spreading far and wide a spirit of entrepreneurship and social innovation among young people. Just over a year after its inception, CSIE was able to train 25 social innovation source trainers across the country, with a number of participants sent to study in the UK and elsewhere in the region. These 25 seed facilitators will in turn train 300 students and young social entrepreneurs. Among other exciting initiatives is the Vietnamese Youth for Social Innovation Challenge held by CSIE and the British Council in the first half of 2018. The event attracted 15 domestic and international partners with hundreds of young participants submitting more than 100 social entrepreneurship proposals – the largest competition to date in Vietnam in this field.
Assoc Prof Nam Thang strongly believes that all the above efforts make CSIE a source of prestige for the National Economics University, as talking about CSIE means talking about the university and vice versa. The university has taken a leading role in sharing partnership opportunities with many other in-country universities, allowing them too to get involved in social innovation work, increase expertise and create more opportunities for students.
Numerous opportunities for cooperation have also come to CSIE and the university since the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment approved the Project Request for Supporting Student Entrepreneurship by 2025 (Project 1665 for short) with more opportunities to come in the form of a proposed project on Supporting the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem by 2025, or Project 844.
Many opportunities have also been made available to Assoc Prof Nam Thang. She is a member of the Ministry of Education and Training counselling board for the student entrepreneurship focused Project 1665, and is also a member of the British Council’s advisory board for a Southeast Asia social enterprise project that will run throughout the period 2018–2021. “I want to inspire young people so that social enterprise becomes no longer an option, but a must-do, as sustainable development is today,” said Thang.
Obviously, the British Council has been very successful in identifying and supporting key actors like Thang whose passion and leadership has been pivotal in cultivating an increased focused on social enterprise in Vietnam.
By tapping all available resources in the UK and Southeast Asia, CSIE is determined to inspire young people to take action. Thang is confident that in the not too distant future, her dream of social enterprises contributing 1 per cent of Vietnamese GDP will come true.
“Not many international organisations are as close to their partners when capacity building as the British Council. More often than not, they simply provide the finances and verify final outcomes, whereas the British Council remains in lockstep with you and vice versa, hence the very close partner relationship and optimal use of resources.”