On 14 December 2017, SNV and the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) organised the National Platform “Women Business Start-up: Innovation and Connection”. The aim of the Platform was to discuss challenges and opportunities for women-led businesses, develop solutions, and provide policy recommendations for the Vietnamese government to boost women entrepreneurship and promote gender equality. This year’s platform also marked the official kick-off of the National Women-led Business Start-up Programme (NWBSP), which aims to support women in business start-up and innovation in 63 provinces in Vietnam. The Programme will be implemented by the Vietnam Women’s Union between 2017 and 2025, with support from international and governmental organisations, enterprises and local partners.

The Platform is part of a series of annual events organised under SNV’s “Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises” (EOWE) project, which is implemented between 2016 and 2020 (funded by the Dutch government under the “Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women” (FLOW) framework). The Platform was attended by high-level participants, including the Chairman of the Party Central Committee’s Commission for Economic Affairs, Chairwoman of Vietnam Women’s Union, the Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Vietnam, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Israel to Vietnam and Laos, the Trade Counsellor of the Canadian Embassy and the First Secretary of Australian Embassy.

In his speech, Mr. Nguyen Van Binh, Chairman of the Party Central Committee’s Commission for Economic Affairs insisted on the important role of women in business. “Women-led enterprises and households have greatly contributed to economic development, the creation of a significant source of income for the country and millions of jobs for workers”, said Mr. Nguyen Van Binh. “More and more Vietnamese women entrepreneurs have been ranked as the most powerful women in Asia by prestigious international organisations. We are very committed to promote and support women business start-ups in our province.”

During a panel discussion, a selected panel addressed key challenges and opportunities for business women. The panel consisted of representatives from the National Agency for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Development, the People’s Committee of Ninh Thuan province, the Vietnam Women’s Union, SNV and a female entrepreneur. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, Chairwoman of the Vietnam Women’s Union indicated that “the proportion of large women-led enterprises has gradually decreased and few apply science and technology in their business.” The percentage of women start-up businesses with more than 3 people is only 5.5%, compared to 15.7% for men start-up businesses”.

The topics discussed by the panel included gender norms, lack of access to resources and markets, as well as the lack of knowledge on corporate governance, HR management, finance and marketing. Women entrepreneurs often face difficulties in balancing work and family due to traditional views on women’s roles and responsibilities and are not supporting by their spouses in their household tasks. Women often can't attend economic events, like trade promotions where market linkages are established. Consequently, their businesses often remain informal, tend to underperform and have a high risk of failure.

Entrepreneur sharing her challenges and successes when starting her business

Women entrepreneurs from all over Vietnam showcased their products

The Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Israel to Vietnam and Laos, Mr. Doron Lebovich, shared experiences from Israel in both promoting and supporting women’s businesses. Mrs. Phạm Chi Lan, a leading economic expert in Vietnam, discussed the challenges and opportunities around Industry 4.0, the global trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, as it can either empower women or widen inequality.

In addition to high-level panel discussions and presentations, the event also formed a platform for female entrepreneurs from all over Vietnam to network and connect and display and promote their products. A total of 15 booths displayed fresh and value addition products from women-led enterprises, including cinnamon from Lao Cai province in the North and asparagus tea from Ninh Thuan province in the South of Vietnam. Ms. Lê Nguyện, director of Ham Duc Dragon Fruit Cooperative in Binh Thuan province attended the event to display the value addition products that she produces from dragon fruit. "We met many potential customers at the National Platform who liked our products", says Ms. Lê Nguyện. "A couple of days after the event we received three big orders from a company who will distribute our dragon fruit wine to Hanoi, Quang Ninh and Thanh Hoa provinces and we noticed that customers in Hanoi are actively promoting our products on Facebook. We also met a professor at the Platform who focuses on food processing technology and we are now exploring a partnership to research and develop new products from dragon fruit. I would like to thank SNV for this great opportunity." 

In Vietnam, the government has promulgated numerous incentive policies to support women in business. The enforcement of these policies has faced a number of challenges and has lacked the necessary guidance. At the event line ministries, female entrepreneurs and women interested in starting a business could exchange knowledge and experiences especially in terms of difficulties and obstacles related to business policies, mechanisms and transactions with state management agencies from national to local levels.

Dutch Ambassador puts her hand print on a partnership agreement for NWBSP

The strategic partners of the National Women-led Business Start-up Programme

The Platform also marked the official start of the National Women-led Business Start-up Programme (NWBSP), which will be implemented by the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) between 2017 and 2025 with to boost women entrepreneurship and innovation in 63 provinces in Vietnam. The programme enables the VWU to strengthen their bridging role to support women’s start-up business and business development, especially in the agriculture sector and linked to adaptation to climate change.

During the event, a total of 19 organisations, including ministries, embassies and private sector actors, committed themselves to support implementation of the programme by the Vietnam Women’s Union. SNV and the Dutch government are among the key partners to support the VWU in the implementation of the programme. We are very happy to be able to support this great programme, said Nienke Trooster, the Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Vietnam. “The programme is truly inclusive, as it provides support to all 63 provinces in Vietnam with the involvement of all stakeholders”. The VWU Facebook page was also presented as an instrument to facilitate connections and exchange between key partners and women entrepreneurs in Vietnam.