“The contributions of the Australian volunteers on assignments developed by ABV made COHED feel very confident for our transitional period – in our strategy of having a social enterprise” – COHED Director Dao Thi Mai Hoa
COHED is a Hanoi-based NGO which implements sustainable development projects to assist vulnerable communities throughout Vietnam. For the past several years, COHED has been working on community-based tourism projects around Mai Hich village in northern Vietnam’s beautiful Mai Chau Valley. ABV has organised for three Australian volunteers to be placed within the organisation under the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program.
Alistair Henchman focused on tourism project planning, Bradley Rae worked on eco-tourism marketing, and Suzanne Duce assisted with hospitality management.
COHED is well aware that as Vietnam becomes a middle-income country international donors will withdraw from the country. Thus its long-term strategy is to develop a successful social enterprise travel agency concentrating on community-based tourism. Working in Mai Chau COHED has developed an effective community-based tourism template which it plans to replicate elsewhere in Vietnam with the support of the travel agency.
COHED’s focus in Mai Chau has been on enabling members of the local ethnic Thai minority to establish homestay accommodation for more intrepid travellers, while also establishing a boutique hotel to target a higher-end market. These projects, both of which the Australian volunteers contributed to, have been successful. Over three years, participating Thai families have gone from subsistence farming to having monthly incomes in excess of US$1000. According to four of the families we spoke to, their happiness has also increased. In the words of one, “every time I receive a booking I am happy because I know it means I can afford for my children to go to school”. Similarly, the boutique hotel employs several local young people who previously survived through subsistence farming.
COHED is clear that the volunteers they hosted were important to COHED’s development, and to the impact it has achieved on the ground in Mai Chau. According to Director Mai Hoa, “our in-house expertise amongst COHED staff in community-based tourism has increased significantly since working with the volunteers. Director Mai Hoa also acknowledged the value of hosting multiple volunteers. “The three different expert volunteers worked on three different areas but all were targeting community-based tourism which enabled the COHED team to build up a comprehensive perspective of, and skills in, community-based tourism. Now we can better support the local community to build tourism because of our better marketing, better planning, and better hospitality skills.”
Perhaps the main point Director Mai Hoa wanted to make during the discussion was the value her organisation put on the business skills of the volunteers, as a social sector organisation developing a social enterprise. In her words:
“Why we appreciated the volunteers that ABV placed with us is that they are very business minded. They are not charity professionals. It helps us to work with a more business minded approach. With the knowledge transferred from these three people and with our own lessons learned, I do think we are in a better position compared with two or three years ago. We have gained more confidence.”
Since talking with Director Mai Hoa ABV has developed two additional AVID assignments, one focusing on hospitality management, and another focusing on eco-tourism management, that will assist COHED to further develop its social enterprise.
The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program is an Australian Government initiative. Alistair, Bradley and Suzanne’s assignments were developed by Australian Business Volunteers who are working in consortium with Scope Global, a delivery partner of the AVID program.