Microfinance Institution I’ve been privileged to work with a Volunteering as Fundraising and Marketing Officer at Tinh Thuong remarkable number of wonderful, resilient and warm women.
In fact, come to think of it, almost everyone I’ve collaborated with as an Australian Volunteer for International Development has been a woman! My Host Organization was founded by the Vietnamese Women’s Union, they lend exclusively to women, and 75% of the 500 staff members are women. Unsurprisingly, the Director and Board Members are also all women, their headquarters operate strategically out of the Centre for Women and Development, and yes, as you may have already guessed by now, my boss is also a woman. This is not your typical workplace – it’s run by women for women.
Nowhere on earth do women have as many opportunities as men. Nowhere. But in countries like Vietnam, that disparity is amplified. Despite massive advances there is still considerable inequality especially for poor, rural, disabled and ethnic minority women. TYM works to balance the scales by providing women with financial products, such as micro credits and savings accounts along with social services, such as healthcare and training. Combined together these services aim to empower women economically, improve their quality of life and enhance their status in society. Since 1992 TYM has supported over 250.000 women in Northern and Central Vietnam.
A major highlight of this assignment has been visiting TYM’s clients to strengthen the Communications Team’s capacity in storytelling – over the year we have interviewed, filmed and photographed a diverse group of women, there were: tea growers, fish sauce producers, seamstresses, carpenters, Centre Chiefs, petty traders, farmers, factory workers, single mums and rice wine makers. Some lived in beautiful new houses and others very modest ones; most of the interviews were inspiring although some were incredibly sad. Each had her own special voice and story which we have shared at events, in videos and on social media to build awareness of TYM’s programs.
Despite their uniqueness, there are common threads that bring these women’s stories together – they have all worked extremely hard to get ahead, and faced many a setback along the way. They all believe their quality of life has improved since accessing financial services. They show tremendous pride in their capacity to repay loans, save money and develop new skills. And so they should – not only have 99% repaid their loans on time, they have also paid it forward using their increased income to improve their homes, expand their businesses, employ fellow women, pay for their children’s education and where possible support more vulnerable members in their communities. Thousands have also shared their newly gained confidence and communication skills by becoming community leaders in local government and at the Vietnam Women’s Union.
More and more female microcredit borrowers in Vietnam are running small businesses; 7.000 of TYM’s clients have become entrepreneurs since joining up. To support them TYM has developed small business loans and Business Development Services. Using training and consultancy services they are upskilling women entrepreneurs and teaching them about value chains. From simple branding to new production techniques these changes can be real game changers for women who sell low value products on local markets.
As part of my assignment we have developed an online store where members can sell their products. We have marketed goods to be sold at international fairs and explored using digital marketing tools to position Member’s products online. We have also obtained funding to carry out business training for 200 micro-entrepreneurs.
As a Australian woman, I’m privileged to have supported Vietnamese women in this small way, and feel humbled to have heard their stories. You too can get behind these entrepreneurs by checking out the CAR Community Outlet where they sell fresh fruit and vegetables, beautiful craft objects and iconic Vietnamese staples:
Personally I have learnt a lot listening to their stories – financial inclusion does not all about poverty eradication and in no way guarantees gender equality. It does however, promote sustainable livelihoods and improve quality of life. It connects women in meaningful ways, gives them stronger voices in their households and greater agency in their communities. In societies where women have decent access to health, education and financial services everyone is better off.