The State of NGOs in Vietnam in 2023

Vietnam is a country that has undergone rapid economic and social development in the past decades but also faces many challenges such as environmental degradation, poverty, and inequality. While the government has made significant efforts to reduce poverty and inequality in Vietnam, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also play an important role in addressing these issues, providing humanitarian assistance, advocacy, education, health care, and community development. 

However, these philanthropy organizations also face many difficulties and obstacles, such as limited funding, legal restrictions, and lack of public trust and awareness.

In this article, we will examine the trends, challenges, impacts, and results of NGOs in Vietnam in 2023, based on the available sources and data.

 

General Trends of NGO Activities in Vietnam in 2023

The number of NGOs operating in Vietnam increased from 183 in 1992 to 514 in 2003 and 800 in 2010.

In 2023, according to the NGO Explorer, there are 244 UK NGOs working in Vietnam, covering various sectors such as education, health, environment, human rights, agriculture, and livelihoods. These NGOs range from large international organizations such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision, to smaller grassroots groups such as ActionAid, CARE, and Plan International. 

Some of the main trends among NGOs in Vietnam are:

 

Increasing collaboration and networking among NGOs

Both within and across sectors, to share best practices, coordinate activities, and amplify their voices.

By collaborating with other civil society actors, NGOs can benefit from mutual learning, exchange of experiences and best practices, joint advocacy and campaigning, resource mobilization and pooling, innovation and creativity, and increased legitimacy and credibility.

More collaborations would be very welcome though. The NGO Resource Center has a few working groups, but most are inactive. The group in HCMC has not met for almost 2 years. Online meetings offer a useful option, especially for those outside the main cities.

Moreover, collaboration with other sectors, such as governments, businesses and academia can influence policy-making and decision-making processes, access more funding and technical support, generate more evidence-based knowledge and solutions, and create more holistic and integrated approaches for the common good.

For example, the Vietnam NGO Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) is a network of more than 70 NGOs working on climate change issues in Vietnam, which organizes regular meetings, workshops, and advocacy campaigns. These NGOs also engage in other charity and philanthropy work, such as providing humanitarian aid, raising funds, and supporting vulnerable communities affected by climate change.

ccwg

CCWG visited the model and workshop “Promoting response to climate change in Ca Mau”. Source: CCWG.

 

Diversifying funding sources and seeking more local support

As foreign donors reduce or withdraw their aid to Vietnam, due to its graduation to a lower-middle-income country status.

Some NGOs have launched crowdfunding campaigns, social enterprises, or corporate partnerships to generate more income and sustainability. This way, they can ensure sustainable development and reduce dependence on external donors.

Namely, the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, who fights human tranficking. KOTO,  IECD, provide vocational training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth in the hospitality industry.

Mekong Quilts is a famous social enterprise providing employment to village women; all profits go to support scholarships in the same villages. They also call for charity donations from both foreign and domestic donors with the slogan: “Your gift gives twice.”

 

Adopting innovative and participatory approaches to provide beneficiaries with sustainable growth.

Some charities have implemented community-based projects that empower local people to identify and solve their own problems, while others have used digital platforms to enhance access to information and services.

These approaches aim to increase the impact and sustainability of NGO interventions, as well as to foster a culture of collaboration and learning among different stakeholders. CED (Center for Education and Development) in partnership with Aflatoun International, and ORCA, created a training program that introduces cryptocurrency, decentralized finance, and blockchain technology to young users (and potential users). The content focuses on introducing basic knowledge of cryptocurrencies as part of the financial system to help young people make informed decisions.

CED

The Blockchain and Cryptocurrency training course CED conducted in May 2023. Source: CED.

 

Challenges NGOs in Vietnam are Facing

Despite their contributions and achievements, NGOs in Vietnam also face many challenges and risks, both from external and internal factors. Some of the main challenges are:

 

An ambiguous legal framework

The legal framework of nonprofit organizations in Vietnam is regulated by several laws and decrees, such as the Law on Associations, the Law on Enterprises, the Decree on the Management and Use of Foreign Non-Governmental Aid, and the Decree on the Registration and Management of Operations of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations in Vietnam.

The Law on Associations, which was passed in 2016 but has not been implemented yet, imposes strict requirements and procedures for NGOs to register and report to the authorities, and grants them broad powers to suspend or dissolve NGOs that violate the law or the national interests. In August 2022 Decree 58 was issued to prohibit any fundraising within Vietnam by foreign NGOs.

Moreover, a decree issued on August 31, 2023, restricts international NGOs operating in Vietnam from doing anything against “national interests, laws, national defense, security, social order and safety” and “social ethics, national fine customs and practices, national traditions, identity or great national unity” of Vietnam. No definitions of these terms are provided in the decree, but groups deemed to violate these provisions will be shut down.

 

Limited capacity and resources

Many NGOs have difficulty finding stable and appropriate funding sources for their charity goals and activities. Some NGOs also face administrative difficulties in reaching out to and involving the most marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as ethnic minorities. These factors limit the impact and scope of philanthropy and charity initiatives in Vietnam, as NGOs struggle to deliver their services and programs to the people who need them the most.

To solve these problems, NGOs in Vietnam need support and capacity building from relevant stakeholders, such as the government, international organizations, businesses, and the community. By participating in collaborative networks, sharing experience and knowledge, and promoting innovation and creativity, NGOs in Vietnam can improve operational efficiency and actively contribute to the development of the country.

 

A lack of public trust and awareness

Many NGOs have been unable to operate effectively or sustainably due to the uncertain and hostile environment. Moreover, the public awareness of such philanthropy organization is low, as they are often misrepresented or ignored by the mainstream media, which tends to focus on negative or sensational stories. As a result, many NGOs struggle to raise funds, recruit volunteers, and reach out to the communities they serve.

Moreover, some NGOs have to deal with internal issues such as corruption, nepotism, or lack of transparency and accountability.

 

Impacts of NGOs in Vietnam

Despite the challenges and constraints, NGOs in Vietnam have made significant impacts and contributions to the social and economic development of the country, especially in the sectors where adequate services or protection are insufficient.

 

Improving the quality and access of education

Especially for the poor, rural, and ethnic minority communities. NGOs with a focus on education have supported the construction and renovation of schools, the provision of scholarships, textbooks, and learning materials, the training and mentoring of teachers, and the promotion of inclusive and child-friendly education.

  • Room to Read programs and projects are successful across Vietnam in 35 out of 63 provinces, through its programs on literacy, girls’ education, and school libraries.
  • Saigon Children’s Charity has built or renovated over 200 schools, benefiting more than 75,000 children in remote and poor areas of Vietnam. They have also constructed over 500 toilets and hygiene facilities in schools, improving the health and learning environment for children. The expenditure on this philanthropy act in 2020 alone is over $1.5 Million.

room to read

Room to Read partnered with UPS Foundation to bring a research-based life skills curriculum to 368 adolescent girls in Vietnam. Source: Room to Read.

 

Enhancing the health and well-being of the population

Especially for women, children, and people living with HIV/AIDS. NGOs have provided health care services, awareness campaigns, counseling, testing, and treatment, as well as advocacy and policy recommendations.

  • Marie Stopes International has provided sexual and reproductive health services to over 2.5 million clients in Vietnam since 1989, through its clinics, mobile outreach teams, and social franchising network.
  • East Meets West has conducted an impact evaluation of its clean water and sanitation program in rural Vietnam, using a randomized controlled trial and a household survey, and found that the program reduced diarrhea incidence by 22% and increased school attendance by 3.5%.

MSIMSI worker promoting contraceptive methods to people in disadvantaged areas in Lam Dong. Source: VNExpress.

 

Protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development

Especially in the face of climate change, deforestation, pollution, and biodiversity loss. NGOs have implemented projects on natural resource management, conservation, renewable energy, waste management, and disaster risk reduction, as well as education and awareness raising. 

  • GreenViet has worked to conserve the endangered red-shanked douc langur, a primate species endemic to Vietnam, through research, community engagement, and habitat restoration.
  • GreenID has contributed to the development of several policy documents and reports on sustainable energy, such as the National Power Development Plan VIII, the Vietnam Energy Outlook Report 2019, and the Vietnam Renewable Energy Development Strategy 2016-20301. GreenID has also supported the installation of more than 1,000 solar rooftop systems and 300 biogas digesters in rural areas, providing clean and affordable energy for more than 5,000 households.

 

Conclusion

NGOs in Vietnam play a vital role in addressing the social and economic challenges that the country faces. However, NGOs also face many difficulties and dangers in their work.

NGOs need to adapt to the changing context, diversify their funding sources, collaborate with other actors, and innovate their approaches, in order to survive and thrive in Vietnam. Such charity initiatives also need to demonstrate their impact and results, using various methods and tools, in order to justify their existence and legitimacy and to attract more support and recognition. NGOs in Vietnam have a long and hard road ahead, but they also have a lot of potential and opportunities to make a difference.

Mekong Plus is a non-governmental organization in Vietnam and Cambodia that helps thousands of poor households escape poverty and improve their living conditions. Mekong Plus provides microcredit, education, health care, environmental protection, and community development programs in more than 1,000 villages, reaching over 200,000 people. 

 

Our NGO has: 

  • aided 35,000 beneficiaries through microcredit and social enterprises, 
  • offered 3550 scholarships per year, 
  • collected over 2.8 tons of plastic waste per year,

And much more! 

Une des beneficiaires dun des projets microcredit Mekong Plus

A beneficiary from Mekong Plus in her farm. Source: Mekong Plus.

 

Mekong Plus believes in low-cost, high-impact, and sustainable development that empowers the local people to become agents of change. Mekong Plus welcomes donations, sponsorships, volunteers, and partnerships to support its philanthropic journey.

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