‘Lan took away from the workshop the concept of social enterprise. She understood how her enterprise not only made her ends meet but also played an active role in employment creation … Lan wished to expand her business …’ noted by Phan Thao My - Active Citizens facilitator - British Council in Vietnam

In mid 2017, the British Council in Vietnam successfully joined hands with the Ethnic Minorities Council (EMC), National Assembly of Vietnam to provide a series of training sessions for 40 social and creative entrepreneurs from ethnic minorities in Northwest regions of Vietnam. 

The event, hosted by the Active Citizens programme (British Council), created a platform for different groups to understand social and creative enterprise, and how new models of community-based tourism linked with cultural heritage can solve social problems and increase sustainable prosperity in Vietnam, especially in ethnic minority regions. Phan Thao My, an Active Citizens facilitator, attended the event: 

I met with participants of the workshop from different ethnic minority groups such as Dao, H’mong, Tay, Day, etc. whose residences are hidden among clouds in the mountainous Lao Cai and Ha Giang provinces. Even though some of them were illiterate, their entrepreneurial mind-set created a good foundation to absorb the concept of social enterprise described by guest speakers and workshop facilitators. Many found community-based tourism a fascinating initiative, in which local residents invite tourists to visit and learn about their communities with the provision of overnight homestay. Ly Thi Lan was also interested in tourism, but advocated a different approach.

Lan belongs to the H’mong group. In her early twenties, with rosy cheeks and a big smile, after five years of marriage she has three daughters. Her parents-in-law encouraged the couple to try for a son; however, Lan and her husband decided to prioritize economic stability over this conservative expectation. The couple learnt to become tour guides in their touristy hometown, even though Lan was illiterate and her husband was unable to speak English. On their eight kilometre walk home every evening, they taught each other how to read, write and speak until both became fluent. After working as tour guides for a while, they lost interest and instead opened a small shop name “Hemp and Embroidery” selling brocade and embroidery products at 4 Muong Hoa Street, in downtown Sapa, Lao Cai province.

100 per cent of the clothing patterns in the shop are made from recycled cloth and hemp. Neighbourhood residents can trade their second-hand hand-stitched leg wraps and vibrant coloured skirts for new cotton fabric rolls, seeds or even cash. The cloth was cut, mixed, indigo dyed, bees waxed, re-weaved, or re-embroidered into fresh and unique hand-made bags, shoes, pillow covers, bed drapes, shirts and skirts.

Lan took away from the workshop the concept of social enterprise. She understood how her enterprise not only helped her make ends meet, but also played an active role in employment creation, waste management and cultural preservation. Lan wished to expand her business to help more people, as Tan Thi Su had done (founder and director of Sapa O’Chau social enterprise, Top 30 Under 30 Forbes Vietnam 2016). I sincerely wish her every success.

I hope that more and more people, especially those from disadvantaged groups, can get access to programs like Active Citizens of the British Council in order to benefit from their positive impact.

Phan Thảo My
Active Citizens facilitator