Quang Binh, a province located in Central Vietnam, is one of the country’s poorest provinces. Women account for over 50% of the population and approximately 50% of the labour force of the province, and 80% of them works in the agricultural sector. However, rural women are highly disadvantaged. The heavy domestic workload, together with limited access to education and training, does not allow women to undertake income-generating opportunities to help support their families. Furthermore, they have limited access to finance for making investments in their homes or farms, and they often lack knowledge about markets where they can sell their farm products.  

To address the needs of local women in Quang Binh, SNV worked with the provincial Women’s Union to develop the "Non-agricultural Product Activities Programme" (NAPA) and support its members to earn extra incomes in 1997-2005. The first phase of the project was implemented in 1997-2000, while the second phase in 2001-2005 in 4 districts of the province, including Le Thuy, Quang Ninh, Quang Trach and Dong Hoi. Funded by the European Union and Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), NAPA focused on three key components: 1) setting up a microfinance system; 2) establishing a training system for programme staff and participants; 3) providing information and business linkages to enable women to access markets within the province and overseas. 

For the first component, SNV's advisors provided financial and technical advice to the Women’s Union and assistance in implementing the programme at district and commune levels. Specifically, SNV offered guidance on setting up community-based microfinance system that included financial administration, savings scheme and loan appraisal procedures. Together with the Women’s Union, SNV has also introduced a number of control measures, like monthly monitoring and annual internal audits, to identify weaknesses and problems.

Locals are making Vietnam traditional hats in Quang Binh province

The second component developed a training system, including a training curriculum, learning materials, and “Training of Trainers” (TOT) for the Women’s Union staff.  All trainings used a participatory approach that enabled staff to collect inputs and feedback from the participants and ensured the organisation of activities in line with the Women’s Union needs. Finally, the third component focused on improving access to markets within and outside the province by providing information about prices, markets and products demand, and how to create business relations with larger enterprises and traders outside the province.

During NAPA's implementation, Women’s Union representatives visited several households to explain the programme to local women and encourage them to join the savings and loan group. The 10 members of the group appointed a leader responsible for recording women’s savings, organising monthly meetings, and basic training on how to run a business, do budgeting and bookkeeping. When joining the group, members agreed to save a minimum amount of at least €0.30 each month, to request their first loan after 9 months and to guarantee each other's loans. In this way, no individual member could have benefitted from a loan or a training if another member of the group was in debt. This ensured that most women were able to repay their loans within the agreed period. Furthermore, during the monthly meeting, women were encouraged to talk about their business ideas and to suggest possible income-generating opportunities. At that time, this type of participatory approach was quite new in Vietnam so it inspired and attracted more women to join the group.

By the end of NAPA in 2005, 11,500 women in Quang Binh province joined the fund, and about 8,500 of them are still active members. Each month, NAPA issued around 500 new loans and provided training for about 1,000 women (as of 2005). All women saved money, attended trainings, and took out loans to set up their own micro-enterprises or income-generating activities. In addition, about 1,000 women succeed to the point that they were also eligible for larger bank loans. The NAPA programme, which combined microfinance with technical training and market development, improved the lives of the women of Quang Binh. Also after its end, the Women's Union continued to develop this type of model with great results.

During 2005-2018, the NAPA fund was combined with other funds such as Unilever Vietnam Fund, Green Future Fund and Credit Support Fund, to form the “Quang Binh Capital Aid Fund for Women in Economic Development” with the aim to support and offer more loans to women. As of 31 December 2017, the fund balance raised up to 134.4 billion VND (approximately USD $5.9 million), of which 15.5 billion VND (approximately USD $680,000) of the NAPA fund. The total membership increased to 21,046 (20,896 female members, 4,510 low-income households and 127 ethnic minority members) with loans for 14,328 member and savings for 6,808 members. In the province, many women could access loans to start their own business and income-generating activities. As of December 2017, the new fund has been used for business loans (119 billion VND/88.9%), loans to construct toilets  (14.7 billion VND/10.9 %) or to purchase washing machines (62 million VND/0.04%), and for emergencies (214 million VND/0.16%) (Source: Quang Binh Women’s Union development fund financial report, 12/2017).

“Before SNV came to help us, we had little idea on how to set up and run a programme. Today, we have a well-run project that offers access to microfinance and markets for women. The members appreciate the intervention because it is simple and gives results, which significantly help women overcome the difficulties and earn more income for the family”, said Ms. Hang Le Ly, a former staff of Quang Binh Women’s Union. Today, we can see that NAPA has laid a solid foundation to give women full and equal access to finance and markets. In 2017, the Quang Binh Capital Aid Fund for Women in Economic Development has supported 221 low-income households to access loans and escape poverty. Moreover, many women became more confident while participating in group activities, which gradually helped promote gender equality and improved the living standards of the locals in the community. “I have been working as the Director of Quang Binh Capital Aid Fund for Women in Economic Development since its establishment in 2012. One of the biggest advantages of this model is that many members are able to get access to loans with low guarantees, debt rate and risks. Moreover, such simple procedures allow those in needs to easily and quickly access loans and all members to monthly pay off their loans”, said Ms. Do Thi Bich Thuy, Director of Quang Binh Capital Aid Fund for Women in Economic Development and Vice-Chairwoman of Quang Binh Women’s Union. “With more funds in the future, this model should be extended to other provinces of Vietnam and with our support women could access finance, start their businesses and generate more income.”

NAPA and the Capital Aid Fund for Women in Economic Development have succeeded in tackling socio-economic issues and supporting women, especially low-income and ethnic minority groups, helping them to move towards a more sustainable future.