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Business skills tapped to improve lives

Jul 14. 2012
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By Thasong Asvasena
The Nation o

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Hanoi event showcases growing trend across Asia-Pacific region

The promotion of social enterprises – organisations that use commercial strategies for the wellbeing of communities and the environment – was behind a three-day series of workshops just completed in Hanoi.

The British Council and the Asia-Europe Foundation sponsored the meetings that reflected a growing trend towards social enterprise among the private sector in the Asia-Pacific region.
The 44 participants were from Europe and Southeast Asian social operations – including Thailand – bringing together their experiences and anecdotes to fellow operators, in addition to further building up their networks.
Three Vietnam-based social organisations showed delegates some of their local operations, including that of a successful entrepreneur who helps street children gain career training.
Also present were non-operator participants from neighbouring countries including Thailand-based incubators Thailand Social Enterprise Organisation, and Thai Entrepreneur Promotion Co Ltd.
In-depth discussion, brainstorming and lectures on useful business and operational tips were organised by the UK-based Social Return on Investment Network.
The Hanoi event, officially titled “Skills for social entrepreneurs towards a social entrepreneur network: exchanges between Asia and Europe”, was the third and final in a series.
The first was held in Bangkok earlier this year and the second in Yangon in May. The local British Council offices based in each of the three countries were instrumental in facilitating the events, with the support of ASEF.
Future workshops focusing on social enterprise and similar activities would be held in Europe, to connect relevant organisations in both regions while expanding their networking, said Paul Koh, ASEF director for public affairs.
On the third and final day, former Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin, as a leading activist behind the emerging social enterprise movement in Thailand, and KOTO founder and CEO Jimmy Pham, were keynote speakers in a forum talking about their personal work and addressing the importance of the increasingly important social enterprise trend in the region.
There were also exhibitors from local and foreign social enterprises featuring their products and services, including Thai-owned Kokoboard (www.kokoboard.com), which produces bio-based composite particles equivalent to wooden products using agricultural wastes. 
Day two of the workshop focused on three local operations: LihnTam (www.linktam.vn), which provides psychological counselling through live phone calls and advice about stress and depression through downloadable voice clips; the Morning Star Centre, Vietnamese Relief Association for Intellectually Disabled Children (www.morningstarcenter.net); and the Tohe Foundation (www.tohe.vn), which produces eco-friendly materials based on underprivileged children’s creativity.
A special trip was arranged to the KOTO Foundation (www.koto.com.au), which provides vocational and catering training for street children or disadvantaged youth based in Hanoi. KOTO, which stands for Know One Teach One, was founded by Korean-Vietnamese Jimmy Pham 16 years ago. It now operates a 120-seat restaurant in Hanoi, using its profits to further expand skill training.
Social enterprise and entrepreneurship are emerging trends of non-profit organisations turning to make profits to fund themselves while maintaining their goals to achieve social returns.
Non-governmental organisations, by contrast, thrived in the private sector in the past decade relying mainly on grants or funding from donors. 
While a social enterprise can be structured as for-profit or non-profit – and may operate through a co-operative, mutual organisation, or a charity organisation – social entrepreneurs, who are newer, can be recognised through their progressive business models.

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