Despite shifting their focus to poorer countries, many non-profit foundations would still like to work in Vietnam.
Five years have passed since the Ford Foundation closed its office in Vietnam after 13 years of supporting the country with about $110 million in a wide range of areas such as social, scientific and humanitarian activities. “We have been forced to make some very hard choices to bring about further savings,” Mr Luis Ubinas, former President of the Ford Foundation told his staff when he made the decision to close some overseas offices such as in Vietnam amid the economic downturn. The foundation is yet to make any announcement regarding a return to the country.
Stay or go?
Swedish and British government foundations also ended their presence in Vietnam in 2013 and 2016, respectively, as poorer countries began to be the focus. Due to the economic crisis in 2008 many countries adjusted their overseas assistance policies, affecting the budget allocations of their non-government foundations in Vietnam. For example, the Dong Hanh Foundation, a non-government foundation established in France by a group of students to support Vietnamese students with scholarships, had to reduce 20 per cent of its scholarship budget. Mr Doan Nguyen Nhut, President of the Dong Hanh Foundation, explained that since the economic crisis the French Government has removed tax exemptions for sponsorship foundations and charities. The foundation had little choice but to reduce its funding in Vietnam.
The 2006-established VinaCapital Foundation (VCF), a non-profit foundation launched by the Ho Chi Minh City-headquartered VinaCapital Group, also experienced some tough times from the economic crisis. However, the signs of economic recovery since 2013 have helped it put more resources towards its charity activities. Its recent annual Scar of Life event raised more than $300,000; the best result in the last five years. All money raised went to programmes in paediatric and neonatal care and education, as well as to Heartbeat Vietnam. It is also in an association with a group of enterprises to focus on training leaders at all levels via international standard, short-course executive education and development programmes. Linking training centres in Vietnam with restaurants and hotels to create jobs for members of poor families is another way it develops human resources in Vietnam.
Different from VCF, the Prudence Foundation of the Prudential Corporation hasn’t held fundraising events but by separating its charity budget from its business operations it can ensure the stability of the foundation regardless of the economic situation.
Mr Nguyen Ngoc Lam, Chairman of the Research Centre for Management and Sustainable Development in Vietnam, acknowledges that foreign funds have been gradually cut since Vietnam became a middle-income country but still has a positive assessment of non-profit foundations in the country. They have founded social and charity funds to express their responsibility to invested countries as well as to create goodwill among local residents. This is a legitimate aspiration and is encouraged by the Vietnamese Government.
Also a former Director of Non-government Organisations at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mr Lam confirmed that these foundations work comparatively well and contribute to the development of the society. Toyota and Kumho Asiana, for example, work effectively in traffic safety and education-culture, respectively.
With 8,000 - 10,000 children developing congenital heart defects in Vietnam every year, half of them severely, according to the Ministry of Health, Heartbeat Vietnam has funded nearly 3,500 heart surgeries for children in more than 50 provinces. The programme also holds Outreach Clinic trips, which have cooperated with local authorities and examined over 27,000 children. So far 4,000 children have been diagnosed with congenital heart defects by the programme.
Mr Lam also pointed out that many foreign enterprises say the initial capital to start up a foundation is too high and that only major enterprises can easily find the funds. Many foreign enterprises in Vietnam, however, have begun corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, a move encouraged by Dr Mark Sidel, Doyle-Bascom Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin, who has much experience in Vietnam.
Not only the foundations of foreign enterprises need encouragement. Other types of foreign foundations are also in need of greater support from the Vietnamese Government. Mr Nhut said that the Dong Hanh Foundation wants to establish a Dong Hanh Foundation in Vietnam with foreign contributions. But, he went on, the criteria set out in Decree No 30 and Circular No 02 from the government and the Ministry of Home Affairs, respectively, including the need to have VND7 billion ($329,000) in initial capital, are simply beyond its capacity.
Foreign non-profit organisations are interested in working in Vietnam because they can work directly with Vietnamese people throughout the country, Dr Sidel said.
The Vietnamese Government has expressed its appreciation of foreign non-government foundations such as Dong Hanh, which received a commendation from the Vietnamese Embassy in France in 2009 for its devotion to voluntary activities in Vietnam. Mr Tran Xuan Vien, founder of the Dong Hanh Foundation, is proud of the contribution the foundation has made to the country. Despite the difficulties ahead, the foundation has doubled its individual scholarships and the overall scholarship package has increased more than five-fold since the beginning.
The model used by Dong Hanh has now been introduced in Singapore by a former recipient of one of its scholarships. Other branches of the Foundation, founded in other countries such as the UK, the US, Australia and Japan, also plan to assist Vietnamese students going to those countries to study. The expansion aims at raising funds more easily to assist these Vietnamese students.
Over the last 20 years it has become easier, in some cases, for foreign non-profits to work in Vietnam and no one can doubt the efforts Vietnam has made in economic and social areas during that time. “Vietnam has made significant progress and non-profits want to be the part of that progress,” Dr Sidel said.