Social Enterprise in Vietnam Part 2: Meeting Some Inspirational People and Amazing Social Enterprises!

During my recent trip to Hanoi I had the joy and privilege of meeting some inspirational founders of social enterprises.

KOTO is a social enterprise that trains people in catering and hospitality in a real restaurant setting. The model is working well and is spreading to other parts of Vietnam. I visited KOTO and was warmly greeted by young people who demonstrated their skills in customer services and fluency in English.KOTO-bakery-counter It put my Vietnamese to shame but they did let me sample their exceptional dishes. 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 next annual report.

Mrs-Vy-and-spring-rollsThere’s a bit of a food theme developing here! 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 there. When I learnt that the current retirement rate for women in Vietnam is 55 her story is even more remarkable. She spoke passionately about her work; the children she takes as they leave the care of orphanages, providing them with accommodation, training and employment in her restaurants. She has a 100% success rate of progression into employment in catering and hospitality. Wow!

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 Center. She is providing training, accommodation and routes to employment for young people from across Vietnam who live with disabilities. She runs a graphic design company and uses the money raised through trading to support and train young people. They learn graphic design and web design skills and she helps them find work with large companies.Will-to-Live

The transformation in the lives of these young people is truly inspiring and her only ask was for some wheelchairs. These will provide the young people with mobility support which will enable them to find employment. Hopefully we can help them with that from the UK! We’ve already sourced some refurbished wheelchairs through the Margaret Carey Foundation, who work with offenders at HMP Kirklevington and other prisons. Now we just need to find a way to deliver them to Van and the young people she supports. Come on, if there’s anyone out there who can help, please get in touch!



Social Enterprise in Vietnam: ‘Hanoi in October! The Best Time of Year to Visit!’

Welcome to ‘Part 1’ recounting my recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. The poignant quote above is 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. I also met some of the people involved in supporting social entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into reality and help social enterprises to grow their impact and become sustainable through trading.

The understanding that social enterprises are businesses was clear and the message that it was 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 The Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion (CSIP) 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, a huge potential for new social entrepreneurs and also help for existing organisations to develop into social enterprises. My lectures to University lecturers (and then to almost four hundred students!) showed that there is a real appetite for addressing social and environmental issues with sustainable business models.

The understanding of social enterprise as a means of bringing about change is becoming more and more understood!

In ‘Part 2‘ I’ll tell you about some of the amazing social enterprises I visited.


My Day at Carlshead Farm

Visited an amazing #socent @Carlsheadfarm last week. Giving opportunities to ex-offenders to learn new skills in forestry and farming and supporting them to find work in the local area. Great success stories of young men who have turned their lives around, been given confidence in their own value and equipped with the learning and qualifications they need to gain employment. This is exactly what is needed to deliver the transformation of rehabilitation.

The challenge is to find the sustainable business model to enable this work to continue and grow. The budget to pay for the qualifications is no longer available. Carlshead Farm is being asked to provide work experience for less or no money and although some work can be done commercially this needs equipment and supervision which has to be paid for in some way. They have the offer of a seconded member of staff but have to find additional funds from somewhere else if they want to continue and not lose money delivering this valuable service.

They don’t want to be a charity, they want to be a social enterprise being paid for the work they do. If a grant-maker  can help with some funding for capital equipment or the start up capital for a new part of the business that is fine as it enables the start up phase to be less risky but the ongoing revenue to sustain the business has to be enough to cover the costs of the commercial activity but also to pay for the additional training and supervision needed for working with people who may never have worked, may not have had any experience of a real work environment and are overcoming a lifestyle of criminality and all that goes with it.

Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform has some measures that should enable opportunities for Carlshead Care Farm and others to become subcontractors to large primes delivering probation contracts but it is a long and perilous journey before an actual contract might materialise and after that an ongoing risk to make sure that the targets are achieved.