With 10 years of experience in the hospitality & tourism industry at Hue, Mrs. Dang Thi Duong decided to do another venture again at age 60, this time at Thanh Toan Tile Bridge.

Why did you choose Thanh Toan Tile Bridge to apply this social enterprise structure?
This community tourist site of Hue was selected to be one of the 3 signature tourist villages in Vietnam by the Asia Community in 2016. However, people generally only pay a short visit here due to the lack of tourism services. That is why I want to help boost the tourism potential of this place, while supporting local women’s business involvement too.

What are the main changes in the Tile Bridge with this particularly model?
After applying this model, the village had convenient services provided by EKOCENTER such as computers, Internet, coffee, and safe drinking water. I hope that in the foreseeable future, there will be more services enabled by the local women who participated in the ‘Entrepreneurial Activation’ training session.
With training, the tourism co-operatives of Thanh Toan will know how to develop the services, prepare the tour schedules as well as market their products or services effectively to tourism companies and visitors. In that way, visitors coming to Thanh Toan will be tempted to stay and spend, not just going straight to this historic bridge, taking a few photos and leaving in a hurry.

Can you tell what led you to venture into this model?
In the past few years, besides business activities, I have regularly participated in charity and community support events. I myself also run local support activities, but those are still not properly executed, even on a short-term basis.
The President of the Association for Women Entrepreneurs once introduced both the social enterprise model and the innovative EKOCENTER of Coca-Cola to me in person. The values brought by EKOCENTER to the communities are completely aligned with the plans I have been harboring. And so there was the joint establishment of the Hue Xanh social enterprise.

Mrs. Dang Thi Duong, CEO of Hue Xanh Social Enterprise.

What are the differences between running this social enterprise and your current businesses?
Running traditional businesses is challenging as we need to secure stable businesses’ growth. And social enterprises are like a level up, because not only are they about securing growth; they also require commitment and resolution strategies towards local existing issues, including economic and environmental issues and sustainability.
The first step is always the hardest, I have to learn by doing and study more about operation practices of social enterprises so that I can bring forward the best possible outcomes for the locals. Above all, it is the matter of local cooperation that remains most taxing.

Can you clarify on these difficulties?
For example, at EKOCENTER, we provide safe drinking water to the locals. However, they were more guarded than we had expected, so there was poor response to the offer and people were opting to buy bottled water instead. Therefore, we are collaborating with local authorities to better explain about the water quality to increase the locals’ active participation in this campaign.
On the other hand, Thanh Toan Tile Bridge is a tourism site, with a daily steady flow of foreign visitors interested in the local history and culture. Still, they come and go in a blink, as there are no other kinds of additional services that would make them want to linger. The main reason is that the local business people here have yet to offer some interesting products or services. Language barriers also pose as another hindrance to general development.

The locals study information about EKOCENTER.
Have you set any support plans towards local tourism?
At the initial stage, we have collaborated with the Association for Women Entrepreneurs and Coca-Cola to conduct the ‘Entrepreneurial Activation’ training sessions for Thanh Toan women. These ladies mostly do agriculture or operate mom-&-pop shops, and some are working for the local tourism cooperative office of Thanh Toan, too.
For this session, trainers are aptly equipped with professional knowledge about business, strategic planning, marketing, and customer services. Therefore, ladies who are currently working in the tourism industry would be more confident in developing and conducting new tour schedules. Simultaneously, mom-&-pop shop owners will know how to promote particular products and services to visitors.
In the future, we plan on working with the Association for Women Entrepreneurs and Coca-Cola to hold supplementary courses and English communication classes for local service providers. With better communication capabilities, the locals will be able to discuss more about their unique products.

Making Bai Tho Coned-hat – a popular handcraft activity at Thanh Toan tourism area. 

Is there anything you want to add about EKOCENTER?
Here, we set up a computer lab to provide Internet access for visitors who need to search for information. The center will also serve as a training and supplementary education venue on computer literacy for the locals, especially for women and children so that they can be updated on news, check available resources, and practice necessary hard skills.
Placed at the tourism and market sites of Thanh Toan, the kiosks selling necessities of the Center will offer products like bottled water, coffee, and Hue specialties. We will extract a fraction of the profit from these activities to re-invest and develop more social campaigns.
We also emphasize on individual professional development, such as learning to be a tour guide, barista, cook, handicraftsman, or baker, to help in being able to offer new services and products. Providing means of livelihood to the locals is also another way to support sustainable tourism development in Thanh Toan.
My hope is that more women in Thanh Toan will confidently conduct effective businesses, especially in the tourism industry. And with the support of EKOCENTER, in cooperation with the Association for Women Entrepreneurs and Coca-Cola, social enterprise models will flourish not only in Hue but also in other regions.

Thanh Toan villagers are being handed Lunar New Year gifts at EKOCENTER Hue.