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Overseas Vietnamese seeking to help find hands tied by red tape

February 10, 2022 | 04:30 pm PT
Do Thi Ngoc Vu Lecturer
Vietnamese from abroad can offer much more than cash to help Vietnam, but bureaucratic red tape is making it difficult to do so.

From being a banh mi seller in Saigon who barely knew English back in the 1970s, Ken Tran is now a renowned businessman in the textile industry in the U.S.

In his youth he learned everything he needed to run a business, from how to walk and talk to working odd jobs and adjusting his way of life. Now, at 60, he has become the director of a major brand that imports textile products from Vietnam to the U.S. He has lived in Colorado for over three decades.

Ken has helped generate millions of dollars in revenues and create thousands of jobs for workers in Vietnam. His company has helped ship thousands of orders from U.S. fashion brands to Vietnam for tailoring.

Vietnamese workers were not chosen to tailor midscale and upscale clothing in the U.S. by sheer chance. Ken has helped spread the skill sets and management techniques from the U.S. to many Vietnamese firms to make that possible. Such knowledge has made Vietnam a well-known hub for midscale and high-end U.S. clothing brands.

I got to meet Ken Tran at a conference in the city I live in. With his broken English and humble stature, he walked in calmly yet exuded confidence in a hall full of CEOs and managers from all the industries you could think of in America. He spoke a lot about how he learned perseverance, discipline and professionalism from his U.S. colleagues, and that he wanted to spread those values to his countrymen back in Vietnam besides shipping orders.

Last year alone Vietnamese abroad sent back home around US$18 billion. But is cash the only thing our people can bring back from foreign lands?

Even as I married my husband and made a life for myself in the U.S., I kept sending money back to my parents and relatives in Vietnam once in a while. I knew that a night I didn't go out for dinner could save enough money for many decent meals back home, to make up for all the years of hardship my family went through to get me to where I am today. But I knew I could do better than that. We all could.

In 2018, when I got the idea of founding a charity group in the U.S. to help poor children in Vietnam get access to proper education, I learned about so many people who have walked before me.

There was Le Ly Hayslip, a writer and humanitarian who made a name for herself in the U.S. She spent years on multiple projects helping thousands of children and poor people in rural Vietnam back in the 1990s and 2000s. She built Hope Village, a haven for hundreds of poor kids in central Vietnam, over 10 university libraries, general hospitals and a cardiovascular center for the poor in Hue. The clean water systems she helped install are changing the lives of so many people in the region even today.

Then there is Le Duy Loan, an engineer, who founded the Sunflower Mission, a charity organization that builds schools in rural Vietnam.

There's Di Ai Hong Sam, a beauty pageant, founder of the SAM Foundation that raises funds for orphans both in Vietnam and the U.S. There’s Van Dinh Hong Vu, co-founder of VietSeeds that provides scholarships and training to poor students.

There are so many others who would like to help the country.

Vietnamese abroad have done more than just bring money back home. They have created new opportunities for people to advance in life through their resources and connections. But the road is not always so easy.

I can found a charity organization in the U.S. in less than a week. Instructions can be found online and documents can be filed quickly and efficiently as well. But my peers in Vietnam could take months to do the same thing, having to verify their identities, resources and business profiles.

If such bureaucratic processes could be completed quickly using technology and databases, I am certain Vietnam will attract more investments and financial aid than ever before, from both Vietnamese abroad and foreigners.

The fact that the government has yet to digitize several of its processes or have a transparent database limits options for those who wish to complete procedures from outside the country. In the U.S., it only takes a few hours on the computer for me to complete procedures to help an international student, but in Vietnam, a similar process could take weeks or be impossible to complete.

There are around 5.3 million ethnic Vietnamese living in over 130 countries and territories. Over the last decade Vietnam has frequently been named among the top 10 recipients of remittances.

If the government can do more to open doors for overseas Vietnamese to offer their talents and resources to their home country, the $18 billion in remittances in 2021 will only be the beginning of the story.

*Do Thi Ngoc Vu is a lecturer based in the U.S. The opinions expressed are her own.

 
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