As the founder and director of Social Enterprise Acumen, Kate Welch OBE was invited by the British Council Vietnam to Hanoi where she spoke in front of hundreds of university lecturers and students about why social enterprises are needed and how they can be supported. Below is an account of her brief stay in Vietnam.
“Hanoi in October! The best time of year to visit” were the words of Tran Thi Hong Gam from the British Council. She was right. Not about the weather but about the enthusiasm and visible signs of growth in the social enterprise sector in Vietnam.
Over four days of meetings, visits and lectures I was able to hear more about what was happening at a policy level as well as meet some of the people involved in supporting social entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into reality and helping social enterprises to grow their impact and become sustainable through trading. The understanding that social enterprises are businesses was clear and the message that this is more than Corporate Social Responsibility was being spread effectively.
There are some great supporters of social enterprise such as Ms Pham Kieu Oanh and her team from CSIP (The Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion) and it is apparent that the British Council has already invested effectively in development with the support of companies such as Diageo. Even more importantly there are growing numbers of social enterprises and a huge potential for new social entrepreneurs and also for helping existing organisations develop into social enterprises. The lectures to University lecturers and then to almost 400 students showed that there was a real appetite for addressing social and environmental issues with business models. The understanding of social enterprise as a means of bringing about change at scale is becoming more and more understood.
I also had the joy and privilege of visiting some amazing social enterprises and in some cases the inspiring founders. The model of using catering and hospitality training in a real working restaurant setting is working well in Hanoi and spreading to other parts of Vietnam. I visited KOTO and was greeted warmly by young people who demonstrated their skills in customer service, their fluent English and let me sample their cooking skills. I also met two Australian volunteers who were so moved by their experiences in working with young people at KOTO they have committed to giving support ranging from teaching English to helping to write the annual report.
At the Hoa Sua restaurant at the Museum of Ethnology I had lunch with Mrs Pham Thi Vy, the redoubtable 71 year old founder of the training school who spoke passionately about her work, the children she takes as they leave the care of orphanages, provides accommodation, training, employment in her restaurants and a 100% success rate of progression into employment in catering and hospitality. When I also learnt that the current retirement age for women in Vietnam is 55 her story is even more remarkable.
The most moving visit was to the 14th floor of an apartment block in the suburbs of Hanoi where I found Ms Thao Van, the founder of “The Will to live”. She is providing training, accommodation and routes to employment for young people with a disabilities from around Vietnam. She runs a graphic design company and uses the money raised through trading to support and train the young people. They learn graphic design and web design skills and she helps them find work with big companies.
The transformation in the lives of these young people is truly inspiring and her only ask was for some wheelchairs to give to them as they find employment to enable them to have the mobility support they need. Hopefully we can help with that from the UK. We’ve already sources some refurbished wheelchairs through the Margaret Carey Foundation who work with offenders at HMP Kirklevington and other prisons, we just need to find a way to deliver them to Ms Van and her young people.