Givology is really excited to partner with VietHope. Through a variety of programs, VietHope is making education accessible in rural areas of Vietnam. Today, the organization continues to expand quickly and meet the growing needs of a population who wants to get an education. We’re interviewing Annie Hoang, Director of the Alumni Program, to learn more about VietHope and what they do.
1. Why was VietHope started? What was the inspiration?
VietHope was started in 2002 by a group of Harvard University students who wanted to make a difference in Vietnam in an area that they cared about such as youth development and education. The founders saw a problem that needed to be solved: young Vietnamese people who were attending school ended up dropping out at a high rate due to extenuating circumstances. They had to help their parents on the farm or maintain a business, and this was happening at both the grade school and high school level. Hence, VietHope wanted to create a selective program that awarded $100-$200 scholarships (enough for tuition and fees) to promising students to encourage them to continue school.
2. How do you measure your impact?
Since our inception, we’ve been gathering data about all of the students and looking at whether or not we’ve really made a difference. We wanted to understand whether these kids are finishing school and even getting jobs. Monitoring and evaluating our program is an initiative that we are working on refining. In the past we’ve reached out via letters, asking students about their experiences. When I started volunteering with VietHope I was in charge of building an alumni program now that we’ve had 12 years of students. We wanted to connect together all of the recipients who had benefited from VietHope. Hearing the stories about where they started, where they ended up as a result, and how VietHope’s programs impacted them showed us that we’re leaving an impact. We don’t have a lot of quantitative data yet but we definitely have a lot of qualitative data to inspire us and confirm that we’re doing the right thing.
3. What makes VietHope different from other organizations in the space?
The two main ways were different are (1) we’re almost 100% volunteer driven and (2) we work hard to expand and listen to the needs of students in Vietnam. Because VietHope is an education nonprofit that operates in Vietnam, we have a Vietnam team that carries out the activities and also a United States team to support them with funds and infrastructure. All staff members are volunteers except for the executive director in Vietnam, who is the only salaried member of the organization. This year we’ve added a part time salaried worker because that director is expected to retire soon and we’re helping with that transition. Like Givology, we depend on the small hours that volunteers can contribute. The second difference is that we’re always willing to grow and expand. We started with scholarships, and we’ve grown by meeting and listening to our students. Back then the need was that students were dropping out of school. Now there is a need for soft skills for professional and personal development. As a result, we’ve created two new programs. One is our GRACE program for grade school students that work to instill five different values (Grace, Respect, Accountability, Courage, Engagement) that we believe are very important. The second is the Youth Development Program for college students, a week-long leadership summit that teaches over thirty student participants hard skills, soft skills, and professional skills they wouldn’t necessarily learn in schools.
4. Whats the greatest challenge that VietHope faces today?
I think we’re in a very huge transition stage because we’re currently trying to remodel ourselves and evaluate what are the needs of students and education today in Vietnam. So it’s a lot of goal redefining. As a volunteer run organization, though it’s a great model, there are challenges because we heavily depend on people’s spare time. That’s how we have existed and how we will continue to thrive. We work on a virtual model so everyone works from all over the world, which is amazing. But sometimes we do experience communication challenges because everyone is so far apart.
5. Five years from now, where do you envision VietHope? What legacy do you want to leave?
We hope to impact more students and reach out to more parts of Vietnam. We’re mainly concentrated in the southern part of Vietnam, but we’d love to continue expanding. We’d like so many more students to benefit from VietHope and our programs. I think VietHope, being a virtual organization, also grows with technology so I think the tools that technology gives us to connect and communicate will be more advanced so that’s a great asset.
6. Tell us a story about a memorable impact you’ve made (on a beneficiary, volunteer, pledger, etc)?
When building out the alumni program in Vietnam, I was trying to reach out to people to come to a reunion/networking event that became very memorable for me. It was a really rainy day with thunderstorms and in Vietnam that means a downpour, get on Noah’s ark, sort of thing. It’s terrible! Everyone rides on motorcycles in Vietnam so you’re not sheltered and safe like in a car. Despite that, we had a substantial number of people show up to the event. Past recipients still made it out which was absolutely great. We also had potential donors and community leaders attend as well. During the event we listened to each of the students stories about how VietHope helped them get to where they are. Do I stay in my rural town to help and support my family or leave and go to an urban city to pursue education? For one student, he chose the latter and now he’s working for Unilever in Vietnam. So that’s a qualitative account of the difference we’ve made.
7. How can one person make a difference in the world?
There are so many ways you can make a difference. It’s really about people’s spare time. You can make a difference by giving to Givology, for example. There are different ways and it’s just a matter of being mindful. Everyone is busy. They’re on their phone and they’re multitasking. Just being in one place for that one moment, whatever you’re doing, can make a difference in the world.
8. What advice do you give to other potential volunteers?
I think my advice is to really reflect on why you’re doing something and for me it’s always been kind of a goal based pursuit. Volunteers helping out an organization or offering their time should understand why they’re doing this and once they knock down the why it makes it so much easier.
9. On a personal level, what does giving mean to you?
The first thing that came up is that giving is just showing that you care and there’s a different number of ways to do that. I think it’s that simple, really.