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Student insights boost Vietnam's social enterprise sector

31 January 2018
New Colombo Mobility Program sees students help Hanoi businesses
A cross-faculty group of University of Sydney students recently worked with 12 counterparts from the Vietnam National University of Economics and Business on research into the needs of the country’s social enterprises.

University of Sydney students have been praised for their “innovative, practical and accessible solutions” to the financial and social challenges faced by Vietnamese social enterprises.

A cross-faculty group of 15 University of Sydney students, including Business School undergraduates, recently worked with 12 counterparts from Hanoi's VNU University of Economics and Business on research into the needs of the country’s social enterprises, which involved interviews with stakeholders, industry professionals and support organisations.

The findings of the research titled “Scaling Social Enterprise in Vietnam”, was applied to four enterprises in the capital, Hanoi, in an effort to “enhance their operations and their social impact”.

University of Sydney students (L-R) Louisa, Mike, Max and Natasha, leading story time with Vietnamese children at the Kids Needs Books social enterprise in Hanoi.

University of Sydney students (L-R) Louisa, Mike, Max and Natasha, leading story time with Vietnamese children at the Kids Needs Books social enterprise in Hanoi.

The students were tasked with “reviewing local markets, researching best practice internationally and locally, and adapting business models to fit with the unique Vietnamese business environment and contexts,” said Dr Linh Nguyen, Director of the Entrepreneurship Development Network Asia Vietnam.

The research was a part of the Business School’s community-based Remote and Rural Enterprise (RARE) program, which provides enterprises with “practical and accessible recommendations based on rigorous academic research and market relevant data”.

”Students in this program share their skills, expertise and time with the ventures, while learning to manage uncertainties and multiple stakeholder demands, as well as the human, social, economic, and cultural factors influencing the business’ sustainable growth,” said Dr Jarrod Ormiston, an Assistant Professor in Social Entrepreneurship. 

The students went to Vietnam under the New Colombo Mobility Program, a signature initiative of the Australian Government, which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo Pacific in Australia by supporting undergraduate study and internships in the region.

I have learnt so much about working with social enterprises and other stakeholders and about Vietnamese culture.
Emerald Williamson, University of Sydney student

One beneficiary of the research and student insights was the Thanh Nguyen joint stock company and hair salon. “We are very lucky to participate in this program three times,” said owner Thanh Nguyen.

“Each year, my business faced new challenges and the students always came up with very innovative, practical and accessible solutions to help me sort out my issues and enhance both my financial and social outcomes”.

Hai Doan, the founder of Kids Needs Books, added that, “the students gained a lot of insights into our business and their recommendation is really useful to us. It is the right time for us to implement these strategies and we will apply them step-by-step.”

The students involved in the project also found the two-week “learning by doing” experience highly valuable. “I have really loved the fully immersive and hands-on experience of the program,” said Emerald Williamson. “It was challenging but always exciting and rewarding.

“I have learnt so much about working with social enterprises and other stakeholders and about Vietnamese culture. This is by far the best subject I have done and will be an invaluable experience that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my learning career,” Emerald concluded.

This is the fourth time that the RARE the program has been held in Vietnam and in collaboration with Vietnam National University. In that time, a total of 40 Australian and Vietnamese students have worked together on 20 projects with social enterprises.

University of Sydney students (L-R) Maria, Ed, Jane and Julia, with Khác social enterprise team in a field trip in Hanoi.

“In addition to cultivating students’ understanding of the challenges and impact of social entrepreneurship, this program enhances students’ analysis and communication skills, promoting cultural competence as well as critical thinking and problem solving skills,” said Dr Ormiston.

Thanking participants in the project, the First Secretary with the Australian Embassy in Hanoi, Ms Rachel Ingwersen, said she believed the “insights and understanding as well as the new friendships that Australian and Vietnamese students have established through such meaningful projects will benefit the bilateral relations between our two countries for a long time”.

In 2018, more than 13,000 Australian students will take part in New Colombo Plan mobility projects in 35 locations across the Indo-Pacific; that includes 784 students who will take part in 30 projects in Vietnam ranging from Human Welfare Studies and Services to Urban Design and Regional Planning.

The New Colombo Plan is helping the next generation of Australian leaders learn more about the region by supporting students to study and undertake work placements in the Indo-Pacific.