Currently, community-driven initiatives are evolving rapidly, but professional organizations claim that not many of them can create long-term and sustainable values. So, what are the solutions to open a broad and solid "path" for these initiatives "to follow"?

Sustainability - a missing element in community activities in Vietnam

According to data from the 2014 survey conducted by Nielsen, up to 73% of people in Vietnam accept paying a higher price for products of companies that are reputable for its CSR – corporate social responsibility. This is a favorable market factor that motivates businesses to better conduct their social responsibilities. However, the reality shows that there have been many CSR projects established in Vietnam but the number of businesses that maintain sustainable CSR activities can only be counted on one hand.

The society needs the combined efforts of many businesses to improve current shortcomings such as environmental pollution, gender inequality, lack of clean water, and poverty. These are the commitments of many businesses in response to the UN's call for an agenda for 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, the problem that the government and many organizations are concerned about is how long these CSR programs can be maintained, as the operating budget can be exhausted at any time if spent without revenue. How can the weak be able to control their own lives without depending on external support?

Ms. Pham Kieu Oanh, Founder and Director of the Center for Supporting Community Service Initiatives (CSIP), said: “The challenge of social activities in Vietnam can be solved if we apply the entrepreneur’s spirit and skills to solve social problems or protect the environment. The highest goal for traditional businesses are profits. However, more and more enterprises are setting social and environmental goals next -- not opposed -- to profits. As for those who are being helped, I think the truly sustainable development initiative is how we can give them the skills and motivation to be independent and gradually solve their own problems even when the support programs of such businesses end.”

What Ms. Pham Kieu Oanh mentioned is the highest step in the CSR tower of a business - where the business conducts its operations ethically, and obeys the law, but also gives away assets like people and their money to create a better community. In other words, CSR activities not only give money to the needy but also mobilize the intelligence and participation of members of the business to bring good things to society. That is the basis for businesses to have sustainable development initiatives.

The difficult problem for all businesses is for sustainable development initiatives to really exist in the long run

Social enterprise model creates sustainable value

To solve the problem of the sustainability of CSR activities, many businesses have chosen to implement the social enterprise model. After more than 11 years of existing in Vietnam, projects and businesses operating under this model have made certain development steps and created many good values ​​for the community.

It should be clarified that "Social enterprises are enterprises, not charities" - a message from the British Council delivered in the Conference on Sustainable Business Development in Asia. Social enterprises have the same organization and management stage as other enterprises, with the mission of social development, solving existing problems of society such as environmental pollution, poverty, labor protection, etc. In Vietnam, there are currently over 300 social enterprises registered under the Business Law. In addition, more than 22,000 business units that are creating social impact are recorded. Several social enterprises such as Imagtor, KOTO, Tohe, SapaOChau, and Journey of the Senses have received many international social enterprise awards.

In 2019, the En Xanh Program co-organized by CSIP, UNDP, VCCI, and VUSTA recognized 161 organizations with business initiatives for the community such as Forest Link Company, CIM Social Enterprises, Society 19/5 Co. Ltd, Vietnam Ecological Link Limited, and many others. Featured in this year's community-driven business initiatives is EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola's global sustainability initiative. In cooperation with major partners such as Intel, Microsoft, and other relevant agencies such as Vietnam Red Cross, Vietnam Entrepreneurs Association, and Vietnam Youth Union, 12 EKOCENTERs around the country are operating under the social enterprise model, and have been creating positive values ​​for the local community by providing four main benefits: building a treatment system and providing clean drinking water for the people, empowering women in business, educating women and young people in business and entrepreneurship skills, and integrating with new waste and energy treatment initiatives to protect the environment.

EKOCENTER has contributed to generating income for local people through their own labor

Mr. Vo Manh Chung - Director of 19/05 Company, operating unit of EKOCENTER Nghe An - the 12th EKOCENTER that has just been inaugurated - shared that he was very proud and happy that this social enterprise model is making breakthroughs and creating positive and sustainable values ​​for the locals. Here, clean water was not being provided adequately and evenly to the locals, but now households gained access to clean water besides other activities to develop the social enterprise model, and at the same time develop a strong local economy.”

Mr. Vo Manh Chung received the key symbolizing the right to run EKOCENTER Nghe An in early December

Besides, EKOCENTER is focusing on implementing activities to support women's economic rights by organizing skills training courses to help women create their livelihoods, increase income, support their family and themselves. Ms. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Minh - Chairwoman of the Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs Council said: “As women grow, society will grow. This is what I believe and I am very thankful that EKOCENTER is not created to support physical needs directly, but fostering skills training for women under the motto ‘Give fishing rods for women to earn fish’ - that is the sustainable value”.

Not only empowering the locality to proactively develop its economy, but the EKOCENTER also focuses on the characteristics of the region, such as traditional craft villages and local culture, for comprehensive sustainable development. Located in the village of Thanh Toan tile bridge (Hue), the EKOCENTER run by Ms. Dang Thi Duong, which is currently trading the necessities of the Center, will provide necessary products for residents and tourists such as drinking water, coffee, and specialties of Hue, etc. Especially, EKOCENTER here will deduct a portion of profits from business activities to reinvest and develop social programs. “For example, profits will be used to train for jobs such as tourist guides, barista, cooking, handicraft, baking, etc. to help people develop new services and products. Creating jobs for people also contributes to the tourism development of Thanh Toan and the development of this trade village in a sustainable way,” Ms. Duong added.

Activities of making Bai Tho conical hats - a famous handicraft in Thanh Toan tile bridge tourist area

So far, Coca-Cola has put 12 EKOCENTER centers into operation nationwide, contributing 36 billion of GDP and creating 576 job opportunities. With impressive numbers and positive impacts spreading to the community, the EKOCENTER project was honored at En Xanh 2019, contributing to creating more motivation for Coca-Cola to spread this meaningful project.

En Xanh Award 2019 for the EKOCENTER initiative has contributed to create more motivation for Coca-Cola to further spread this meaningful project