Kiwi entrepreneurs
find inspiration in Vietnam

Five social entrepreneurs from New Zealand and Southeast Asia met in Vietnam recently to learn about the social enterprise scene there, meet key industry leaders and explore business opportunities.

Watch this video to get a taste of what the entrepreneurs got up to in Vietnam

The week-long visit started in Ho Chi Minh City, where the group were introduced to the Vietnamese social enterprise and business sector through meetings with top local entrepreneurs and New Zealand Government agencies.

They met with social entrepreneurs working in tech, travel, agriculture, hospitality, crafts, textiles and education. These included Reform – a business making products from recycled plastic; KOTO – a social enterprise providing disadvantaged youths training in the hospitality industry and Enable Code – a social enterprise software development company that employs computing experts with disabilities.

A group photo of the New Zealand and Southeast Asian entrepreneurs

The visit provided the New Zealand entrepreneurs and those from Southeast Asia to get to know each other and share ideas

After spending four days in the capital city, they travelled to Hoi An for the ‘Hoi An Hui’ – an event bringing together nine of the best social entrepreneurs from across Southeast Asia. All these entrepreneurs have previously taken part in the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, a programme that supports top New Zealand entrepreneurs to build connections and facilitate business relationships with Asia.

The entrepreneurs came from different backgrounds, industry sectors and run businesses at varying stages of development. However, what they all share in common is a desire to run sustainable, ethical businesses and improve people’s lives in the process.

“We wanted this visit to inspire the entrepreneurs and provide them with ideas and connections that will help them take the next step in their business journeys,” says the Foundation’s director leadership and entrepreneurship Adam McConnochie. 

“Vietnam is the fastest growing economy in the ASEAN region and is in the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world. This combined with 70% of the population being under 35 and 40% of SMEs being run by this demographic makes Vietnam an exciting place for New Zealand entrepreneurs to look to do business”.

For Eric Chuah, co-founder and director of Auckland social enterprise the Cookie Project, his key moment of inspiration on the trip came on the first day of the Hoi An Hui when the group visited Reaching Out tea house. The Cookie Project employs people with disabilities as does Reaching Out, in its case all staff are speech and hearing-impaired.

“To become a successful social enterprise in New Zealand we need to absorb and implement all the best practices from world-class social entrepreneurs.”

“When I saw the success of Reaching Out Tea House and workshop, I saw that my dream for a Cookie Project café is not an impossible dream.”

However, a lot of the learning came during the group workshops where the entrepreneurs got to share their stories with each other.

Michael Watson, co-founder of StudySpy reflected on the real value of the visit being the time spent with the group.

“After visiting Vietnam, I not only feel equipped to do business in Vietnam but also across Southeast Asia. I had the opportunity to make connections from this trip to hit the ground running in so many countries.”

It is a sentiment shared by Fuadi Pitsuwan, co-founder and CSO of Beanspire – a company helping Thai coffee farmers develop fair trade coffee for export.

“For me this trip has been much more about the spirit and heart rather than about actual business deliverables,” he says.

“I have been inspired by my fellow entrepreneurs to strive and hustle like they continue to do.”

The ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative is a key part of the New Zealand Government’s ASEAN Strategy.  The Asia New Zealand Foundation has been managing the initiative since 2012 on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, running sector-specific programmes for Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in New Zealand, and New Zealand entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia.