Hanoi, 8 November 2016 – The British Council partnered with the Vietnam Business Committee for Sustainable Development (VBCSD), The Vietnam Chamber of Commercial Industry (VCCI), Unilever Vietnam to organise the 3rd Vietnam Corporate Sustainable Forum 2016 (VCSF). The theme of this year’ VCSF was ‘Innovation for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’. The Forum aimed to encourage business sector engagement in and collaboration with government and civil society – a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the SDGs. The British Council invited Mr Peter Holbrook, the CEO of Social Enterprise UK, to present the UK’s expertise in social enterprise/social innovation at the Forum. We would like to share his blog on the Forum with you:
What a great privilege - an amazing opportunity to meet, explore and support emerging social enterprises in the midst of a rapidly developing and growing economy. A more vibrant and dynamic economy, even in Asia, would be hard to find. In these situations, when speaking at some far away conference, you’re barely off the plane before you’re in front of an audience of hundreds who strangely seem so keen to hear your words of wisdom and apparent insights. It is a great privilege, but it is also a hard task without the benefit of an informed, practical knowledge of the local context in which you fleetingly exist.
The whole social enterprise eco system appears embryonic in Vietnam, as it does in most other parts of the world. The British Council is doing exceptional work in supporting and helping individual enterprises and by building on the existing visibility and capacity of local social businesses. Vietnam obviously has many capable social entrepreneurs who are achieving remarkable things despite the many common obstacles that frequently challenge and frustrate their potential (just like elsewhere) to achieve even more. Organisations such as Koto, Hiep Thanh Co., Tohe, Kymviet, Mekong Quilts and many, many others are making a significant contribution without the obvious and strategic support of the traditional NGO, donor, investor or governmental agencies.
But from my view, and something that occurred to me only after having finished my official duties, the eco system supporting social enterprise in Vietnam is evident and strong even if rather informal.
Throughout Vietnamese culture there is strong sense of community, mutuality, enterprise and collectivism. Rubbish carts, play songs heralding respect for nature and the planet – a tuneful call to collective action that remains unchanged from the 1960’s. In Vietnam your neighbours, your family, your society matters. It is a kind and generous culture where the spirit of social enterprise thrives within the fabric of its unique society and within every community I encountered. It initially appeared that there is still much to do in order to build civil society and social enterprise support in Vietnam but even an interloper like me, visiting for just a few days soon gets to challenge their initial assumptions about this impressive part of East Asia.
Whilst the social enterprise ecosystem is yet to fully mature here, Vietnam has every chance of taking social enterprise to dizzying new heights because what I experienced was that Vietnamese society is the very definition of a civil society; strong societal values, industrious, enterprising people and a sense of shared responsibility and purpose that pass through its culture like words on stick of Blackpool rock. These are just the perfect conditions to incubate and grow a thriving social enterprise community. I cant wait to see the future fruits of Vietnams socially enterprising endeavours and feel hopeful of greater partnership between the UK’s and Vietnam’s social businesses communities. - Peter Holbrook.