WHO IS DR. HUONG NGUYEN?
Dr. Huong Nguyen is the Co-founder and Vice President of Blind-Link, a social enterprise based in Vietnam that provides employment, support, and training opportunities for people with vision disabilities.
Prior to Blind-Link, Huong was the Director of the Macroeconomics and Strategy Department of the Development Strategy Institute (DSI) – a national level think tank in Vietnam.
Huong is currently a Rajawali Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. She was also a Humphrey Fellow as a part of the Fulbright Program. She received her PhD in Economics of Development from the Development Strategy Institute, Vietnam.
You can connect with Huong here:
IN TOR 052 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Safe-Link, Huong’s social startup massage service that provides a proper living to visually impaired people in Hanoi, while scaling up on the experience.
- Houng’s impressive academic record, and her work in social entrepreneurship.
- Managing special staff in Hanoi, and the struggle to overcome socioeconomic conditions and public perceptions.
- What it’s like to run a business while on a full time academic endeavor 8 thousand miles away, the tools that help her, and the systems she has put in place.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Harvard Kennedy School of Medicine
- CNN Heroes
- Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation
- Humphrey Fellowship
- University of Washington
- Job enrollment for people with visual disabilities
- Social entrepreneurship
- Cambridge, MA
- Hanoi, Vietnam
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Huong at Blind-Link
Works in Vietnam, launched with help from the U.S. government.
Social enterprise, provides training, employment and support for people with vision disabilities.
The blind are 4% of the population.
The core service is massage. Vietnam has large unemployment rates. Massage service has many benefits for this population
It is about providing a steady minute. Masseuses are regarded low wage workers, there is a poor image of the profession in Vietnam, as related to crime and prostitution.
Blind-Link is changing the perception of blind masseuses, with high-end facilities and incomes, and it works in their personal pride.
“I had never thought I’d launch an impact driven organization.” A high honors student, with academic awards.
’02 launched an NGO with colleagues, one of them an ’11 CNN Hero. What would become Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.
“It is very difficult for a Vietnamese to launch an NGO sustainably, it’s a luxury.” Also there were concerns about an NGOs efficiency and impact. Not to mention government expenditure.
’13 received support from the Humphrey Fellowship at the University of Washington, gets to know the social enterprise concept and model. “I fell in love with it.“
“Many people thought I was crazy.” The model was very different, raising massage to the status of art.
But Huong wanted to create a different experience for the customers also. Masseuses are polite, offer high quality service.
The clients were different too. People come from all over the country, and lots of foreigners too. High satisfaction rates.
Despite the high unemployment, the people with visual disabilities are more educated than the general population.
Masseuses earn 15% more, with the same level of experience.
Ongoing education programs, including English and entrepreneurship, for free, also extended for the community.
Blind-Link became self sustainable within a year. It does not rely on grants, foundations or the government.
Story of surprise
A man living in the rural area, worked for Honda. Diagnosed with brain tumor, lost memory and vision from surgeries. Did housework, isolated from society. Could not talk. It took him triple the time to complete initial training. Very determined, complement and is a full time worker. Having people to socialize again, he regained his speech. His life is back, now he’s learning English.
How Huong runs a Hanoian business from Cambridge
Relies on technology. Currently a researcher at Harvard Med.
Before starting she developed the whole system of training and operations, did a lot of hands-on work, like flower arrangements.
“For a manager to work across the globe he needs to carefully outline responsibilities, desired levels of performance. It allows for the business to run smoothly without day to day involvement.“
For a year Huong stepped down gradually, now she’s focused only on the training component. She’s very pleased with the results.
Five year plan for Houng and Blind-Link
Reach USD 2MM in revenue by 2020 (80,000 a year by 2014).
Raise USD 200,000 in seed, impact investors.
“Our greatest challenge is employee turnover.” An instance early on where half the people quit within a week. It affects the consolidation of the whole industry, but it was strange for the level of wages and quality of work they offer as compared to the rest of the field.
Since then recruiting has been reformulated. A pilot successfully addressed the issues.
Old saying: “Try the best to do what you love and the rest will come.“
“There is not evidence for what has not been created yet.“
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