*This transcript is machine-generated.
Craig Pollard [00:00:03]:
Welcome to this latest edition of the Fundraising Radicals podcast. I'm your host, Craig Pollard. Today's conversation is with Dr Thi An Nguyen, who is the Vietnam country director for the International NGO Health Bridge, which is headquartered in Canada. An was born during the final days of the US war in Vietnam and you'll find out how the legacies of that have influenced her choice of mission and shaped the shifting priorities of nutrition advocacy. Today, we'll be talking about the limitations that are faced by international funding organisations working in Vietnam and how to secure funding for nutrition advocacy and finally balance government partnerships. Imagine, for example, having to secure formal government sign off to renew your organisational registration every five years, or for every single new project and event or conference. Now, An was reluctant to record this interview because she felt that her English was not good enough. Her words, I strongly disagreed. I let her know that our listeners were willing to listen harder in order to learn the important lessons from people like An who are fundraising beyond the narrow borders of BBC style English. This reminds me that English is the dominant language of fundraising and the international charity sector. It's therefore exclusive and a massive barrier for those trying to fundraise people like An who are qualified doctors and speak multiple languages. Imagine completing a 60 page funding proposal in a language that is your third or fourth. English as the dominant language of fundraising is also a barrier for us. It gets in the way of us learning lessons from other cultures and places as people feel less confident of the value of their experiences and are more reluctant to share their deeply valuable expertise. I hope you enjoy meeting An today. Welcome, An. How are you today?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:02:05]:
Thank you, Craig, I'm fine. I'm doing well.
Craig Pollard [00:02:09]:
Where are you right now?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:02:12]:
I'm in Hanoi, Vietnam. The capital of Vietnam.
Craig Pollard [00:02:15]:
In the north?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:02:16]:
Yeah, yeah. In the north of Vietnam, yes. And, you know, in Vietnam we divided into three areas north, centre and the south. And we are based in the north of Vietnam.
Craig Pollard [00:02:27]:
And three very different areas.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:02:31]:
Exactly three very different area in terms of the weather, in terms of the cuisine, in terms of characteristics of people. But we share the same language, of course.
Craig Pollard [00:02:47]:
What I'd really like to hear about a little more from you is about your role and what you do, but also about sort of where you came from. Where did you grow up, where did you study your current roles and why nutrition advocacy? Why are you doing what you do? What has driven you and taken you to this point today?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:03:09]:
Yeah, very interesting question. I was born and grew up in a poor family in Hanoi a few days before the American War ended in Vietnam in 1975. And I graduated from Hanoi Medical University to become a medicine doctor since 1998 and received full scholarship from the Australian government to obtain my master's degree on women health in society from the University of Melbourne. And as you know, for any kind of war for Vietnam, the same time, the same situation. And after the war the country infrastructure were destroyed by bombing, by landmark and part of other terrible landscape have been stripped by the toxic chemical like Asian orange and less like any other country recovering from years of war, establishing and rebuilding can be overwhelming. And furthermore, the United States imposed a trade embargo for Vietnam and trying to cutting off the country not only from the US export and import, but also from other nations that bow to American pressure. And then in addition, the United States presses other international bodies to deny the assistance to Vietnam. So like other families at that time we also were poor and have not enough food to fill up with stomach and in order to have food to fit up to our stomach. It was great effort from my parents and even at that time we didn't dare not much to think about the nutritious food because things that have something to eat is that important role. So that's why I think it is the reason why people at my age is shorter than the new generation.
Craig Pollard [00:05:27]:
So the malnutrition has resulted following the war has resulted in your generation being smaller than that which preceded and that which followed exactly.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:05:41]:
And nowadays my family or other family, we can observe that the children now tiger and taller than their parent. My family now I'm the shortest my house. But nowadays I also father the children and youth. Now they are facing overweight and obesity besides the issue that they have less physical exercise. But nutrition is also play a very important role for that like untrad processing food with high sodium sugar transfers. So I think that developing country like Vietnam have double burden in terms of nutrition. So that's why I'm thinking that when we can work on nutrition, advocate for nutrition for better generation. That's what I'm thinking about.
Craig Pollard [00:06:37]:
Wow. So Vietnam has gone from one nutrition crisis yes, long time ago, within 40 or 50 years to another nutrition cris. Is it reaching that point now in Vietnam?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:06:50]:
Actually we don't know how we can saying that it's reaching the point or not. But nowadays we see that the problem for obesities, particularly in urban area is very alarming. Let me remember the figures. After ten years the obesity and overgrade from children from five to 19 years old, it more than double.
Craig Pollard [00:07:19]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:07:21]:
It is for the nationwide. But when we zoom in in a specific ho chi mini city, it's the biggest city in Vietnam. We can see that almost 43% of children are obesity and overweight. So I found that it's very alarming. So I mean that for Vietnam we have double burden in some areas like ethnic minority area or highland area, we have problem for stunting and underweight. But for an urban area, we have a problem for obesity. And.
Craig Pollard [00:08:01]:
So sort of the American invasion of Vietnam and the war led to that first nutrition challenge. And in some ways that legacy, I guess the food, the sweets, the corporate food coming into Vietnam has reinforced that. Is it a case of education? Is it a case of government policy? Is it a case of all of this together?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:08:25]:
I think it's a case for all of effort together. From the government side they change the policy and to more focus for producing more rice. They have a policy to support for the farmer and for the agriculture to develop. It is from the government side and also from the people. They apply the new technology, new kind of how can I say the speed, the technology to support to make this more higher production for the fruit. So I think that is a combination. And also one thing that Vietnam nowadays is we have more developed so we can produce more things and then we can also import other things. We do not have. For example, before in my age we do not have milk, but nowadays they have more milk for children to take or more nutrients to take. And then in some areas we like using more kind of how can they say food now it's more available for people and wix are very achievable, it's affordable, it's cheap.
Craig Pollard [00:09:58]:
And I'm really interested in what is it about your work now that sort of really sort of excites you and switches your lights on. And I know you were having a meeting about a new potential sugar tax that's coming into Vietnam. What is that and what role have you been playing in helping that to progress?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:10:18]:
Yes, exactly that for help research. Also joining with other agency to advocate for the sugar tax in Vietnam because recently the Ministry of Finance released their proposal to revise the sty text and they including SSB, the sugar sweetened beverage, as a subject for text. And then who is recommended for tobacco, alcohol and sugar drink tax is one of the best they can Best buy option to tackle the problem from using such kind of harmful products like tobacco, alcohol and SSBs. So we're joining with the UNICEF, who and Ghai here in Vietnam to advocate for the government of Vietnam for helping.
Craig Pollard [00:11:34]:
That's, it's always a difficult balance, I guess, your partnership with government advocating and being a sort of fundraising organisation as well, how do you balance that partnership? Because I think there are a lot of restrictions on what foreign organisations like Healthbridge like UNICEF can do in Vietnam in regard to fundraising and communications and advocacy. Can you tell us about some of those restrictions and how you navigate and balance?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:12:12]:
The government in Vietnam has some regulation to monitor and for all the NGOs here in Vietnam, in one hand it is like to monitor but also the ways provide support for ingo with some regulations. For example, we have to get the permission for the organisation to have here in Vietnam, operate here in Vietnam every five years. And whenever we receive any project, we need another approval from them. And even when the project is approved.
Craig Pollard [00:12:51]:
Every new project that you do has to be approved by the government of Vietnam.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:12:56]:
Yes, every project. And even when the project is approved and when we have conduct any workshop or conference involving with expatriates like this funding from international NGO, we also need getting the permission to asking for the permission again. So this is a lot of regulation, of course, but I found that because we work with the government and we work with the partner here and we keep thinking it's a transparency, so we're just following the regulation, even it's time consuming, of course, but we're still following that requirement from the government.
Craig Pollard [00:13:46]:
Yeah. Can you fundraise in Vietnam?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:13:53]:
Ah, so SINGO, we cannot fundraising from the donor in Vietnam, only accepted, which is huge. Yes. And only accepted for the case, for emergencies, so for emergency response. And also is it that amount of money cannot spend for our staffing.
Craig Pollard [00:14:16]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:14:17]:
And this is very impossible for us if we do anything without. So our fundraising is for the donor out of Vietnam, not donor in Vietnam.
Craig Pollard [00:14:32]:
Right. What happens if a donor wants to partner with you? You just can't. It's not an option. You mean partner in terms of funding? Provide funding? It's not possible. They have to support a local Vietnamese NGO.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:14:51]:
If they are here in Vietnam, they can have two options for them. The first one, they can fund for local NGOs here in Vietnam. The second thing, that if they still want to give funding for international NGO like Healthish, for example, we have to sign the contract between them and our headquarters. And then the money will go through the headquarters to our office in Vietnam.
Craig Pollard [00:15:20]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:15:21]:
Craig Pollard [00:15:22]:
Okay. And then to fundraising is difficult. Right. We've had these conversations before.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:15:34]:
Craig Pollard [00:15:35]:
We've had very honest conversations about how hard fundraising generally is.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:15:40]:
Craig Pollard [00:15:42]:
Then there's fundraising for something like nutrition advocacy, which is at the top end of the scale of hard things to fundraise for. It's not sort of a children's cancer ward, for example, which is a lot easier to fundraise for. But also the fact that you're doing this in Vietnam. I struggle to find sort of another example of a more challenging set of circumstances to actually fundraise for. So you have very little option. You rely heavily on international funders.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:16:17]:
Exactly. We almost rely on international funders, not in Vietnam. And then also, like you said, that we're working a lot on advocacy thing and research, so and getting funding from the individual on advocacy and riches, it's not their priorities or they're not anything like tangible or it takes terms and et cetera. So that's why it's not easy for getting funded funding is not easy and getting funding for wishes and advocacy is more difficult. And we also need to get funding from international donor, not domestic donor.
Craig Pollard [00:17:05]:
That's incredibly difficult set of circumstances. So where is your funding coming from? Is the majority from Canada? Is it from Europe? Where does it all come from?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:17:19]:
We have been received funding from very diversified sources like from the government of Canada, IDRC Ziz, and we also received funding from some foundation like Bin and Media Gate Foundation via Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. We also received the funding from.
Craig Pollard [00:17:42]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:17:43]:
Bloomberg via Campaign for Tobacco Freekies and Global Health Advocacy Incubator. JJI. And we also receive some funding from the small foundation like Uniform Peter Gingang. So this is diversified from both government and from non government.
Craig Pollard [00:18:08]:
And you're the country director, right?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:18:11]:
Craig Pollard [00:18:12]:
In Vietnam, you have massive programme responsibilities and fundraising on top of that as well. How do you find the time and make the decision about how much time to put to fundraise, to developing these proposals?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:18:31]:
Good question. We are small organisation and all our staff have responsibilities in doing fundraising. But like programme staff are responsibility in developing the project idea, finance staff, working on estimated budget and programme staff. And one of the top of my task is for fundraising because without funding, the organisation can survive. So this is very key point for me, and as you said, it's too busy and we have many things, but the key point for me when looking at the fundraising is the first thing that is in line with our mission and vision for helpish and then our programme strategies or not. The first important thing, the second thing, I myself think that we are eligible or not.
Craig Pollard [00:19:36]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:19:37]:
Because I can share a story and a big lesson learned for us.
Craig Pollard [00:19:42]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:19:44]:
Few years ago, when we prepared the concept note the proposal. Yes, concept. I can't remember right now for a foundation and at that time we fail. The year after that, they opened the corner again and now we think that we have a better idea and we come up with writing, very beautiful one. We spend a lot of time working on that, et cetera, et cetera, and we press the submit. Few months later we received the feedback saying that we are ineligible because the funding is one of the criteria, is the funding for small organisations, small and medium organisation. And on last year, we received the big funding from the government of Canada, for other countries, from our headquarters for Bangladesh. It's around like $10 million.
Craig Pollard [00:20:45]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:20:46]:
Craig Pollard [00:20:47]:
So it wasn't even funding for your programming in Vietnam, it was for funding that was coming through Vietnam for.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:20:56]:
I mean, because we submit under the name for the headquarters, not under the name of Vietnam.
Craig Pollard [00:21:04]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:21:05]:
And at that year, our headquarters received big funding for Bangladesh, so we are not eligible. But the year before that we cheque for the criteria and we are eligible but for the year after that we forgot to cheque if we are eligible or not because we are the programme people with the writing and then we invest a lot of time and energy on that. And then we forgot to recheck if we are eligible or not.
Craig Pollard [00:21:37]:
That's a difficult lesson to learn.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:21:39]:
Yes, and then we so silly, we all think that. How are we so silly like that? We forgot the key point for the cheque, eligible or not, but it's a.
Craig Pollard [00:21:51]:
Big lesson learned for us and how things change as well and not to make assumptions around what was relevant last year is not always the same the next year and that's with donor policies as well, right, exactly. But this feels always and this is something that we're trying to do through this programme, is to help people really focus their proposals as part of this programme. The Global Radicals Programme is that this is all on you. This is all on the Vietnam office. And your limited resources and the time and effort, the hours, weeks that you spent putting together this proposal, you're never going to get that back. And that's so difficult. That's such a difficult thing to have to and I find it's happening. I find it happens all over the world. Is that a technicality or something changes means that a proposal is no longer eligible or that there's a slight change in policy or that there's a slight change in the requirements about the legal status, for example, of organisations and that these are really fundamental but they're not particularly well communicated by donors as well. But this feels like this is all on country offices, actually for HelpBridge.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:23:18]:
We receive a lot of support from headquarters in supporting us for fundraising because we know that this is the important thing and they not only help us to identify the potential opportunities for writing consumer, but also they work very closely for developing the idea and the concept, of course. And back to that case, at that time, the programme person in headquarters worked very closely with Vietnamese office here to writing that concept note and we work hard and we achieve, but we just only focus on the programme section, even we follow all the requirements from donor, et cetera, but we forget the keyboard. So I think that, yes, this is not only from the headquarter and then the country office, but also from the programme people with the finance or administration people. But again, I think that is our fault, the programme people from headquarters and help rich Vietnam team at that time, we not cheque that.
Craig Pollard [00:24:31]:
What do you do now before every proposal? Do you have a process that you go through?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:24:37]:
Yeah. Yes. So the first thing I said is to see that in line with our strategies or not. The first one, the first important and the second thing is for criteria and the third point is that we send to the relevant people to discuss to go or no go for that before we go in detail and invest a lot of time on that.
Craig Pollard [00:25:09]:
That's a good lesson to share as well, having a very strong process and that's a great checklist. Right is first, does this align with our strategy? Second is are we eligible and do we meet the criteria for this proposal? And then third, thinking about partners and collaborations, is this possible? Do we have the group, the organisations and the capacity to deliver what we're promising to deliver? So I think that's a great sort of three checklist, three things to focus on.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:25:39]:
But even sometimes I think that it's so silly like if to share with other people, it is quite silly because it's very obvious but actually it's our big lesson learned for that.
Craig Pollard [00:25:52]:
If your lesson, if sharing your one lesson stops one other person from doing that, that would be fantastic. If you're enjoying this conversation and would like to hear other global perspectives on fundraising and leadership in the nonprofit sector, then please do subscribe using the links in the show notes. If you want to find out more about our work, please do visit our website, fundraisingradicals.com. Now back to the conversation. I remember when you were doing the programme two years ago, the Global Fundraising Leadership Programme. It was during COVID You're a medical doctor, you had to step out of your role and you were volunteering as a medic. Can you tell us a little more about that and how the office and the work and the partnerships flexed during COVID and how much time you had to actually do your job versus the volunteering?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:27:01]:
Yes, during COVID and then we had to work from home and yeah, of course it's more difficult time for me because it's the first time ever and many staff who working from home, it's not like from physical meeting and then it's quiet burden. For example, if I can talk with you, I can market a meeting online and talk with you in 1 hour. Face to face is totally different with online I feel that I feel more exhausted when talking online rather than face to face discussion. So in some days when we worked it from home, I have like three or four meetings and I feel very exhausted and feeling like not only in term of physically, but in terms of emotionally. And at that time, because it's many cases in Ho Chi Ming at that time, it's many COVID-19 cases in Hoshiming. It's seriously. And then when I saw on the television saying that a lot of children affected and the poor women affected. So I feel that I need to do something. And then that's how my friends sharing voluntary work as anyone they call anyone who have medical background can have for them to support, to provide advice. And is this some people, when we talk with the people with COVID-19 patient at that time in Vietnam is COVID-19 it's kind of how can you say it is kind of serious busy and people scare of that and then no one want to talk with people. It's like a kind of discrimination or isolation. Okay? And they invite us using the high technology, using the phone like we can using the laptop with the internet connection and cone for the patient with COVID-19 to asking them how are they any symptom, et cetera and then give them advice and connect it with the doctor. So it is not required much on medical thing but it since then have from the medical background I can support them to identify which is serious or it is a wounding symptom I need to refer for the person in charge of that and at that time we still have no vaccination yet and many cases have been in emergency thing like for example I still remember a few cases I have dealt with at 10:00 p.m. In the evening because I have no time during the daytime so I called them from 08:00 p.m. To 10:00 p.m.. It's a little bit too late for them. Yes, I know, but have no time.
Craig Pollard [00:30:00]:
So this is on top of work. So you were still working full time and then you were doing this on top in the evening?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:30:05]:
Exactly, I called them from 08:00 p.m. To 09:00 p.m. And usually I focus on try to depend on how many patients I go allocated so usually I put from eight to 09:00 p.m. Trying to fix on that time but I still remember some cases they difficult for breath so I have to make further call to et cetera. So it can last until 10:00 p.m. Or even 11:00 p.m. To trying to found out any hospital available to receive the emergency k and then the ambulance is not ready and the doctor is busy and then calling the health centre at the commune is all busy and trying to cone back to patient to keep them calm and require them or guiding them how to breath deeply and slowly, et cetera. So it is take time but sometimes it is good that they feedback us. It's very helpful, very useful when we call them but also some people they not happy with us, they said that why are you asking a lot, et cetera. And I explained to them that I'm working here is voluntary because they're afraid that they do something like take advance from that and cheated them, et cetera. And I explained to them that I'm doing voluntary, I'm a medical doctor, et cetera. And they asked you are voluntary, why you come to Ho Chi Ming city? Why are you sitting in Hano and just talking? And that time it disappointed me a lot but I felt that yeah, we are here looking it's voluntary and then why I had to be upset it with subscribe feedback. So I keep continuing and just dropped him. I said that if you didn't want me to call you again, okay, I can put it down here saying that you do not want us to following up. So I dropped the case and then trying to think positively for that. But again, back to your question, that is like combination. It's on top of my work, but it also bring me some, how can I say, motivation for our work. And I think that okay, we seen why we are here in Hanoi. We cannot do anything to support other people, but we still can contribute something for other people in Vietnam and in the world. So why we can support that, that's amazing.
Craig Pollard [00:32:55]:
It's an amazing commitment.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:32:57]:
And also because I'm a medical doctor, but I'm not practised in the hospital and not talking with the patient. So it makes me feel that, okay, I still can practise some knowledge that I learned from the universities and things like that. I still like filling up useful people or the people with some value for that.
Craig Pollard [00:33:21]:
But you have your medical training. Is there a sense of like it's important, it's valuable and whenever called upon, you have to put yourself forward to volunteer this.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:33:35]:
Exactly. Because otherwise I feel that I'm not doing how can I say I've been trained being the medical doctor and if I didn't do anything, it's my fault, my responsibility for not doing something to help other people.
Craig Pollard [00:33:54]:
But it's interesting because this is a theme, this is a recurring theme throughout these conversations. Is this sense of duty exactly, the duty of care. Yeah, it's duty of care that is, of doctors. But it goes beyond the medical profession as well. People who are working in INGOs, people who are working in local NGOs have this duty and this willingness to step up, to put themselves forward and say, look, I have this experience and I'm going to work for the community. And that requires a level of determination and resilience to do that on top of your already demanding huge job to add that to it. And how do you sustain yourself? How do you make sure you look after yourself with that duty and that burden of that duty?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:34:51]:
Yeah, interesting question. My previous boss, a long time ago, he told me that I'm a person, as a communist person, is this the person who want to do for other people rather than for I myself? So he already pointed out long, long time ago, he told me that. And I think that somehow is correct. I want to do the good thing for other people, even if I feel like I have work more hours. But I feel very I gain the positive energy to bring back from my work. So I think that it's not like I'm doing voluntary, but it's also helped me a lot.
Craig Pollard [00:35:38]:
So you sort of get that sense of personal fulfilment, but also that sense as you've just described is very powerful.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:35:45]:
Yes, and also because using the very high technologies for using of that with the system like all the people resisted on that and then we can just press the button and call and then we can update the situation. So I'm also thinking deeply about that. We can apply such kind of technology to monitoring the children, nutrition children or the health status of the children and for example in people from in ethnic minority very far to rich area, we cannot go there. Even for the people at the commune health centre they cannot visit the children like every month. So they can just from the centre in the commune health centre because they have computer, they have internet, so they can press the button and then can update and cone the mother can update the situation or even like when we can reminding for the vaccination. I'm just thinking how to apply such kind of thing in our work.
Craig Pollard [00:37:00]:
Are there donors that are interested are you coming across donors that are interested in providing the funding for investment in technology that will help you do those? Are you succeeding?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:37:18]:
Craig Pollard [00:37:21]:
So you're looking for very specifically tech investors who are interested in nutrition advocacy in Vietnam. It's a niche, I think, but it feels like a very sort of impactful investment in your work and something that can really help you reach communities that are far away from the centres and perhaps need that support.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:37:48]:
Exactly, yeah, I'm trying to on the other side for advocacy work we also want to do things like using applying the technology so we can reach the people who we cannot reach to support them to improving their life. This example like when the women like when they knowing their pregnancy, they can putting in that system and then we can reminding them for the pregnancy vaccination or we can provide education thing for them or consultation for them through phone et cetera.
Craig Pollard [00:38:29]:
Are there technology organisations within Vietnam who have this skill and capacity?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:38:35]:
Yes, there are, yes. The one I just mentioned for the COVID-19 monitor it's initiative by a startup in Vietnam.
Craig Pollard [00:38:48]:
But are there too many blocks and barriers to you creating a funded partnership? Would that have to be through other partners?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:38:57]:
Yes. Is this thing that need to systematically from the government? Firstly from the government and the secondly is to finding any donor who willing to invest on that thing because it's also including some risks for that we know for example, is it the privacy thing, the name of people there, the.
Craig Pollard [00:39:28]:
Address and the data management side of it. Privacy, yes.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:39:35]:
And then some agencies they think questions about the privacy thing.
Craig Pollard [00:39:44]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:39:45]:
And some people still hesitated to do some technology because after COVID, people using a lot of apps like for in Vietnam, like more than 20 apps applications on smartphone, on COVID-19 and people overwhelming with that so they're not. Interested on that, but I'm still very keen on and looking for that one because I'm still thinking for the remote area because people still there and many people we still not reach in, reach out. So that's why we still want to work for that.
Craig Pollard [00:40:27]:
And this is not just an issue within Vietnam, this is a global issue, access to health care. I know we're having conversations here in New Zealand about how Maori and Pacifica communities that are remote receive a much poorer service when it comes to health care. And this is I mean, in terms of the differential here compared to the differential in northern Vietnam or in Afghanistan or in Peru. The challenge about access to healthcare and the importance of technology in helping to bridge this gap is massive. Is this likely to become a priority for you? For international donors?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:41:19]:
Yes, I still think that this is very important and technology could help bring the gaps between the geographic areas. So the technology greenflay is an important role for that.
Craig Pollard [00:41:33]:
Yeah. I've got so many questions for you. I don't know where to I speak to a lot of fundraisers and a lot of fundraisers fundraising is difficult. When I speak to you and the sort of layers of challenges that you're facing and you're still sort of laughing and smiling about, even though fundraising, your fundraising is so difficult, there's something about this determination, I feel like that sort of grit that is so central to being successful in fundraising and in international programmes as well. It feels like there's a real this determination and commitment is so fundamental.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:42:19]:
Yeah, I think that from personal perspective we need to like you said, that it's very difficult, but we still keep working on. So is this positively thinking it is important. We know that it's not easy, so we can keep working on that. But also from the professional working, we know that many donor has come along with us for many Ralph funding. So the most important thing to keep them, to fund us because of our result, our impact of our work, we have to show them the value of money they invested. And I think as smart investor, donor have to look for the good grantee to help them to achieve their mission and vision as well. So that's why we need to show them the value we added to their organisation. But not all projects are going well as planned. Honestly to say that of course, some project for out control reasons may not success as we expected. Like few years ago we received a grant pilot by sharing model in tourism cities in Vietnam in maybe you know that area and main target clients are foreigners. And unfortunately when we just complete to set up the infrastructure like the buy stop separate land for bike purchasing, bike building up an app for bike hiring when everything is ready to roll now COVID-19 came border closed lockdown no foreigner, no tourists. And our project team at that time had to keep the donor informed about the situation and informed them in discussion for solution. So I think it is a clear communication and transparency about the project, particularly when it's not going well as planned, is very important.
Craig Pollard [00:44:34]:
And how was that bad news received by the donor and what happened? Are they still with you? Did they all fall apart?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:44:44]:
Yes, they stayed with us and they know that's a situation there, we inform them and we cannot change. We try our best already and the situation is out our control. And yes, that project is a pilot project. We are not successfully for that project, but it's not our fault and they still keep funding for us, but for another project, on another area, not by sharing that project at all.
Craig Pollard [00:45:17]:
But this is important. I think that honesty and that transparency is what builds trust. So even I think there's often a misconceptions that donors only want to hear good news and I think the reality is that donors want to hear the real news exactly. And not just be sort of fed this constant stream of positivity and what's gone right. I think what happens in my experience is that when bad news is shared, what it does is and when it's done well and communicated well, is it deepens the partnership, it deepens the trust and that sense of being in this together. And I think that sort of partnership is really important and shows a certain maturity in that connection between the donor and the ingo.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:46:19]:
Exactly, yeah, exactly. We have to keep in touch with our donor proactively, to share with them our success of God, but we can also share with them some emerging issue or the problem that we observe or realise and together with them to think about the solution and not informing them at the lash test, like everything bloom and then picked out control.
Craig Pollard [00:46:50]:
Yes. Suddenly it's like all good news and then all of a sudden it's really bad.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:46:58]:
To call them as a part of the situation. They are not outside of the situation. So this is the way we working with the staff from the daughter.
Craig Pollard [00:47:14]:
I joke about the sort of like good news, good news, good news and then really bad news. But I've done that before. We can manage this little hiccup in the programme. We can manage this next little hiccup in the programme, but then these things can snowball if things aren't going particularly well and it can be shifting personnel and it can be sort of changes in circumstances. But even when those what I learned early on is that early in the stages, when things do start to even, they may seem small. Having that communication and having that level of transparency means that if things do get worse, the donor is still with you.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:47:54]:
Exactly. Yes, exactly. It's the same for my approach for working on that.
Craig Pollard [00:47:59]:
That was a hard lesson I learned early on though I have many of them.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:48:06]:
Craig Pollard [00:48:09]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:48:10]:
You have any situation that when you share that with them, the problem this is even from the early states, any negative reaction from daughter?
Craig Pollard [00:48:23]:
Yeah, mostly positive, but that's because I think of the effort myself and teams have put into building those sort of individual relationships as well as the sort of partnership as a whole. But there have been instances when I really messed up by, for example, not inviting somebody really senior to an event that they should have been invited to and that sort of dense. Or when things have gone wrong. And some donors, inevitably, these are people we're dealing with. We're working with people if something goes badly wrong that might not be recoverable. And there are funding relationships that have gone very badly. And my fault, donors fault, sometimes it's a whole mix of but I think what we can do is particularly the effort that it takes to bring a new donor in. It is a lot less effort to maintain a relationship, a partnership with a donor than it is to keep bringing new ones in. And I think that investment is so important and that communication and that constant trust building.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:49:37]:
Yes, exactly. And I think that also it depend on the person that we work with. It's not depend on the organisation because I thought that the donor or the organisation, they work well, not some people themselves is not good. It doesn't mean that that organisation not.
Craig Pollard [00:50:00]:
Good yeah of you because you're in the Vietnam office and you have headquarters in Canada. Do you have direct contact with the donors or do you go through Canada? Is it all coordinated by Canada? Is it different for each partnership?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:50:19]:
Depends on what type of donor, what kind of project we have. For example for example, if the project can I explain if the project from receiving from the headquarters and then give funding for different country office like Vietnam is also one, so the headquarters will deal with donor there. But if for any donor booking only specifically for help with Vietnam, like for example that we received the funding from TFK Tobacco tobacco Free Kit campaign so we can receive, we can communicate directly with the donor at headquarters, at the headquarter, I mean yeah.
Craig Pollard [00:51:06]:
And how does it feel the difference between from your perspective in the Vietnam office, how does it feel about sort of your role and the quality of that partnership from your perspective? The ones you manage directly and have direct contact with donors and those that sort of are managed by head office because this is common across the entire ingo sector. Some are direct and you have direct contact, others are managed by from Geneva, New York, Canada. How does it feel from your perspective?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:51:41]:
It's very difficult for me to compare because, for example, is this a receipt for the project that received by the headquarters and then we just only report to the headquarters about that project or any some problem. And we considering they are as our how can I say funding.
Craig Pollard [00:52:00]:
Yeah. So they're your donor.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:52:02]:
Yes, we kind of that because we have not to deal with directly with the donor and all the things we report for the headquarter and the headquarter we're working directly with the donor so we have no dealing with the donor. So we don't know.
Craig Pollard [00:52:19]:
But that's really interesting because I think that's very common is that offices based in the global south, in the global majority often have that sense of if head office is playing a sort of brokering role and sort of leading on big proposals, those people are your donors. Which is a really interesting dynamic within INGOs. And when it comes to sort of building proposals for direct donors, it's just very complex and very interesting, I think. And I think increasingly as the localization of international development continues, is that more and more I think donors are demanding direct contact with offices in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc. So I think there's going to be a real evolution in that over the next decade or so, I'd hope, because I think having that sense of ownership of donor relationships is such an important part of fundraising and having the power, the ability to nurture and support and inspire donors directly, rather than sort of relying on other parts of the organisation. It's a difficult tension. I think that a lot of people will recognise who are listening to this.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:53:45]:
Yes. As I said, it depends on kind of the project. So we are happy with that. Of course it's okay if we communicate directly with Donna and even sometimes we feel less stressed when we have communicate with Donna.
Craig Pollard [00:54:06]:
Okay. Yeah. There is a silver lining there, right? There is the sense of that. I guess when a head office takes on responsibility for that, then that's a responsibility. You play your role in terms of reporting impact, et cetera. But the relationship management, the partnership management lies elsewhere because that is a lot of stress.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:54:29]:
Craig Pollard [00:54:34]:
I remember I hope you don't mind me talking about this, but I remember we had a call, must have been maybe a year ago and you had a massive proposal for Lego. Yeah, huge research.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:54:50]:
Yes, I remember.
Craig Pollard [00:54:53]:
And it was a significant piece of work and there were so many moving pieces and you needed sort of like academics in North America to sign onto this. You needed local partners. And I just remember you feeling overwhelmed by the whole massive pressure of pulling this all.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:55:19]:
Yes, yes. You have very good memory. Yes, I still remember for that one at that time we have writing the proposal for Is. I think it's just something about the research, about something related to COVID the women or health status. Is impact of the health status and economic recovery after COVID-19.
Craig Pollard [00:55:53]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:55:54]:
And yes, of course this is required. A lot of they call the principal investigator should be from the American, from the Canada and also from Vietnam and from also the academy here in Vietnam and people from Zander, people from ethnic minority, people from people with disabilities, et cetera. It's a very how can I say it's? Just like a hot pot for everything.
Craig Pollard [00:56:26]:
The donor demands were spectacular for that. But this is not uncommon. I think a lot of people do get to the point when they're pulling together proposals that rely on other people's engagement and sign in. It's not easy.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:56:43]:
Yeah. And then thanks for our headquarters to find out. One who visits from the Academy in Canada, because we are here, we could not find suitable one for. Yeah, it's just good that we have headquarters. Our headquarters here, very supportive and very willing, because even at first they told me that this is very challenging, it is very competitive one. And we may not have a capacity for working on that, but if I still want to do it, they will support me.
Craig Pollard [00:57:21]:
Okay. And you said yes, let's do this.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:57:27]:
Similar one with another proposal that we developed for mental health.
Craig Pollard [00:57:33]:
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:57:33]:
Because I found that the mental health is also a big problem here in Vietnam and then we want to do something for that, but for HelpBridge headquarters and in Vietnam, in country office, we do not expertise on that.
Craig Pollard [00:57:48]:
Okay, but there's an increasing demand for that.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:57:52]:
Yes, but when I share with the headquarters, they also share their concern that we do not have the expertise. But my boss, my line manager saying that if I interested to work on that, they will support and then they supported us. And even we not successfully for that proposal. But I felt that it's a lot of things we can learn from that as well.
Craig Pollard [00:58:24]:
I think it's often proposal building. It's interesting hearing you say that, because you learned a lot from that proposal, even though it wasn't successful. What were the things about it from the process, the partnerships that you sort of the conversations you had? What were the lessons you took from the fact that it wasn't successful?
Dr Thi An Nguyen [00:58:46]:
A lot. I think the first thing about in terms of programme, we need to have a clear long frame. We should know what we want for the goal objective and the activities, et cetera, the first thing. But the second thing is also important that for looking for partnership to founding any potential partner who are good at something. And then we can work together and then we can take advantage of when we collaborate, we can utilise the strength needs of each parties which are with us. So I think that important. Like for similar Quick Lego Foundation core, we think that it's good to do, but we could not find any potential partner to work with. So finally we drop it.
Craig Pollard [00:59:49]:
It's interesting, isn't that the decision about whether what to go for, what not to go for, but also the idea that an unsuccessful proposal, if you do everything right, you have no control often as to whether that gets funded beyond that. But the partnerships, the internal conversations, the connections that you make as a result of pulling together that proposal and the value of that, you don't know how useful and when that'll be useful for you in the future as well. About in terms of all of those connections and the understanding of the issues and growing your sort of network and expertise. That's really interesting.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [01:00:27]:
Yeah, exactly. I try to keep my mind to remember two sentence lose the writing and lose the ting rice.
Craig Pollard [01:00:40]:
Okay. Yeah, it's good. That sort of level of focus is really important. And thank you so much for your time today. I massively appreciate you talking to me. It's fascinating to hear about the challenges and the opportunities and the realities of what you do and fundraising in Vietnam. So thank you so much for your time.
Dr Thi An Nguyen [01:01:08]:
Thank you so much. It's been so pleasure for me to talk with you always, every time, talking with you. Very nice.
Craig Pollard [01:01:16]:
Thank you for listening hard to this conversation with Dr Thi An Nguyen. I hope it's given you insight into the challenges of securing funding in Vietnam. I'm sure that much of what An shared is relevant to you if you're working in Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Latin America, where government policies can significantly narrow fundraising opportunities and even freedoms. But there are so many things we can all take away from this, whether it's the role of grit and determination in fundraising success and the ability of people like An to find motivation and continue their work even when the odds are so powerfully stacked against them. Or whether it's managing the real life stress of fundraising, sharing the burden of designing and delivering major complex proposals across multiple stakeholder groups. And, of course, the many lessons we can learn from proposals that aren't successful. And the silver lining that is new partnerships and conversations and ideas that are initiated as we explore fundraising opportunities. As always, we're grateful to Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network and Care International who are co funding the Global Radicals Fundraising Leadership Programme, of which this podcast is just one part as we navigate global fundraising together as a global community. If you've enjoyed this conversation, please do subscribe to the Fundraising Radicals podcast on your favourite platform. And if you would like to find out more about the Fundraising Radicals, please do visit www.fundraisingradicals.com. Thanks for listening.