To those interested in the student volunteer community and social efforts in Vietnam

Findings from 3+ week research on Vietnam's volunteer communities

Tiếng Việt đọc tại đây.

In my previous blog, I shared about my passion in making a social impact in developing communities, especially my home country, Vietnam. I also mentioned that I have not yet found a specific cause on which I wanted to focus. Recently, I came across the book “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelley (founders of IDEO) on creating a culture of innovation, and the light bulb went on. I figured that if I want to contribute to social innovation, one of the best approaches is to nurture the social innovators.

Days of research led me to a promising group of social activists in Vietnam — a community of young volunteers. More specifically, they were high school and college (first and second-year) students who had had more than one year of volunteer experience. I then conducted 17 interviews with members of both the community and its satellite groups. This blog is a synthesis of what I have learned.

I hope sharing this would be helpful for anyone either in Vietnam or overseas — interested in supporting volunteer communities or social efforts in Vietnam.

With great support from the participants, I have put together a community map that visually explains the different roles and influential nodes of the community, as well as its relationships and key interactions with others.

Get to know the community

Who they are — They are unregistered groups of volunteers who share the same vision of how to help the underserved communities. They became volunteers for different reasons: to join a social activity with friends; to prepare for studying abroad; to gain more experiences in project management, teamwork and leadership; to improve soft and hard skills; or simply to contribute to a cause in which they believe. They are young and passionate about what they do. They are willing to learn and always seek for knowledge that can optimize their capabilities and contributions.

Khang and Hưng are member and former volunteer of #projectSUGAR, a Community Involvement Project dedicated to working with children with special needs to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of the HIV/AIDS, Disability and Human Trafficking Victims.

What they offer — The most significant values they can bring to the table are a large number of participants, time, energy and compassion. Through my interactions with them, what impressed me the most was their tremendous and genuine support, patience and understanding. On top of that, they were responsive and accommodating despite their own busy schedules.

Who they serve — Since it’s hard to gain trust from the community institutions (shelters, disability centers, etc.), most of the groups focus on the easily accessible audience, such as children, including orphans, kids with special needs (HIV/AIDS, Disability, Autism), kids who don’t receive sufficient education or who are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and human-trafficking. Some groups also provide aid to elderly adults who live alone or in assisted living centers.

“Tết yêu thương", a project organized by the volunteer group Trái Tim Thiên Thần, provided opportunities for kids from families that were living under the poverty line to celebrate Lunar New Year with games, fun and friends.

How they do it

  • Besides internal work, they also collaborate with professionals that have specialized knowledge in the subject for advice and direction. For example, to help students that suffer from bullying, the volunteer group would reach out to a therapist who specializes in kids’ psychological and somatic effects of bullying.
  • Regarding activity/event promotion and utilizing shared resources, they would team up with other volunteer groups who work on similar projects. However, at this moment, they mostly find those groups via Google or through their members who also work in other groups.
  • As for fundraising, there are three primary sources: 1. ask for funds from corporations, community development organizations, and personal contacts (family); 2. competitions for social impact ideas; 3. self-organized events and sales.

Their current challenges

  • Lack of general experience leads to short-term vision, smaller scale, and short life-span projects. Since they are young and mostly work without the involvement of professional non-profit organizations, they lack the basic experience of running projects: soft and hard social skills, project management, fundraising and handling paperwork.
  • They have yet to have effective solutions for documenting progress, project evaluation, records of past projects, and success metrics. The project’s successes depend on the team’s leadership but the average period of engagement is quite short (1–3 years). Thus, there’s not enough time to either build a strong foundation or cultivate an innovative and creative environment for the next generations.
Tuyền was an active volunteer for more than two years, working on projects for kids with special needs, especially the autistic ones. She had experience working in different positions, from management team member, mentor to event operator. Cường was the president of #projectSugar. He’s now leading a social club at his university.
  • There’s often duplicate work, and valuable information doesn’t get shared as most of the groups within the community work independently. There’s currently no central space for groups to keep each other updated on their activities, or to share their insights and resources.
  • Fundraising can occupy a lot of time and effort, which prevents the group from investing in the actual work. It’s even harder for them as they are not a registered social group, and lack experiences of preparing funding proposals.
  • Volunteer work is highly demanding but the students (especially the high school ones) receive little encouragement from their family to participate in those activities as they want their children to only focus on studying.
Hằng is a content development manager of Tòhe, a social enterprise in Vietnam that provides a creative learning playground for children with special needs to play and learn in a different academic setting. Sơn is the Deputy Director of LIN Center for Community Development that connects individual and corporate philanthropists with non-profit organizations located in and around Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

What’s next

I hope that at this point, we have gained a deep understanding about the student volunteer community and the social efforts they have been making. Thus, we could make a better informed decision on how to invest in and support them. Let’s explore what could give this community opportunities to grow, innovate, pursue their ideas for good cause and create more impactful outcomes. My next research will focus on the four main topics below.

This is Share A Cause Project blog series. Share A Cause Project is a social campaign that explores what could give the student volunteer community in Vietnam opportunities to grow, innovate, pursue their ideas for good cause and create more impactful outcomes.

How you can be part of this exciting campaign

Since this campaign aims to build awareness and inspire actions, I invite you to share it to your communities and those interested in this matter ;) You can also follow my Instagram account @angie_ngoctran or hashtag #ShareACause🇻🇳 for more field notes.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped me with the research. It was a fantastic experience getting to know each of you and your community :) The journey ahead is still long but I’m excited!


Product Designers by day, Zen practitioner all the time 🧘🏻‍♀️ One mindful moment at a time