Saigon, Vietnam

Olivier Rousset

IMG_5093I stayed 2 additional days in the Hanoi region. I met in particular with 2 additional microfinance institutions (MFIs), which to my surprise provide micro-health insurances to all their clients. And these insurances are compulsory when the client takes a micro-credit. I believe these 2 MFIs could be sound enough to qualify as investees and to go for an in-depth due diligence.

IMG_5614Next stage was Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon). I took a 2-hour flight to the city based in the South region of Vietnam. Here the landscape was quite different, much more business and fast-paced oriented. While Hanoi is the political capital with the NGO ecosystem around, Saigon is definitely the business capital. Coming from Hanoi, I was surprised to notice that cars actually stop at the red light (not all though!) and that restaurants stop serving after 10pm! Although right downtown it feels like a more modern city, as soon as you are 1km away, you get again the feeling of a developing country’s bubbly environment.

I met in Saigon with a few players such as the Clinton Foundation and its Health Initiative, an impact investment fund with a similar approach to ours (multi-sectorial), a social marketing company with a focus on health (PSI) …  My overall impression from these meetings is that there is a large space for the private sector to get involved in the health sector. Some private actors (like a pharmaceutical company targeting the BOP as clients) are already doing good business, although they don’t call themselves social enterprises per se.

IMG_5280I also decided in Saigon to go right on the field, at the heart of the health sector, by visiting the largest hospital in the country (Cho Ray hospital). I was lucky enough to meet a couple of people (not many) speaking English or French (Hospital staff, pharmacists around the hospital) and investigate a bit. I learned that the public hospital is highly overcrowded with patients, which it’s easy to notice as soon as you enter the building. The service is not always of good quality. You actually don’t need a certification in Vietnam to become a doctor, you just need to do the years at the University. I also learned that an ecosystem of private clinics and points of care around the hospital is now becoming well established delivering most of the time a more efficient service and of better quality, but where patients have to pay a fee. I also understood from a pharmacist that a lot of poor people, especially from rural areas (Mekong delta), came to the hospital. Most of them come only for serious medical issues as the trip can take a full day; for smaller medical incidents, they tend to solve these by themselves.  And most of them have no insurance and need to pay for their visits (even though it’s a public hospital) and for their medications they get from pharmacies around.

This prospection right on the field was a concrete confirmation that there is a clear space for the private sector to get involved in the health sector in Vietnam.

A few reflections on my trip …

I was not expecting the mission to be as challenging. I had to be quite resourceful and perseverant in order to meet the right parties. I also realize that you really need to understand the market environment before searching the right social enterprises. If you dig in right away, you are likely to waste quite some time by meeting not so useful players. I also realize quickly that, like in the Western world (and still more), you only get to meet people/businesses here if you are introduced by a credible and local player. Especially when you are a foreign investor not speaking the language …

IMG_5157On a more personal point of view, of course the experience was very enriching. Again I’m happy to notice that Vietnam keeps its roots at its core. Everything is local here and fortunately we are far from establishing a uniform global world. I also see Vietnam filled with very dynamic and smart people, who clearly have the will and ambition to grow and provide their children with better IMG_5383opportunities for the future. My sense is that a country like Vietnam that already took off, is catching up with Western’s standard of living much faster than we think. 

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Olivier Rousset – November 18th, 2013Vietnam 2IMG_4997Vietnam 1

My mission in Vietnam is slightly different from my GCP peers in the sense that I have to build from scratch the pipeline of potential investees across Vietnam, and more broadly across Asia. So it’s a lot more about prospection and soft analysis, than in-depth due diligence.

On my way to Vietnam, I made a short stop in Singapore where I thought I should meet a couple of BOP-related players operating /investing across Asia from the Singaporean Hub. So far not very demanding in terms of cultural adjustment as obviously Singapore is very westernized …    I had discussion with Quadria (careful not Quadia!), the investment manager of the Asia Health Fund, but quickly figured out that their mandate was much less social than ours. Their investment size started at no less than $10m and could go as high as $100m, a clearly different positioning than ours. A more fruitful meeting was with the IIX Asia (Impact Investment Exchange Asia), a platform connecting social enterprises with impact investors across Asia. I believe we could partner with IIX and benefit from a solid pipeline in Asia for seeking both investees and investors.

After a brief stop in Singapore, I headed to Hanoi, North of Vietnam, a country for which I’ve always been fascinating without really knowing the reasons. Maybe because it used to be a former French colony and, from years in school in France, I’ve been more sensitive to the history and progress of this country. Or maybe because Vietnam has a weak private sector not much developed in comparison to the omnipresent public sector and there is therefore an enormous potential to leverage the private sector so to scale up small projects …

My first meeting in Hanoi was with the IFC, the head of health-related investments in South-East Asia. Very early in the meeting, he clearly told me that the IFC had not found any private company in the health sector sound enough to invest in (yet). I expected Vietnam to be a challenge, i.e. seeking small-size private companies in a largely stated-owned economy. But that was quite a clear starting statement! And coming from an organization established in Vietnam long ago … Still, hope remained because the IFC only funds projects for min. $10m on the debt side, which is quite substantial for a young middle income county.  Since then, my days have been very productive, I’ve encountered many parties/players, UNAIDS of course, some “social innovation” centers, a couple of investment funds in the impact area, several microfinance institutions (and one that should qualify as a potential invested!) etc.  Fortunately, after a week, I don’t see a reason to already pack my luggage. My reality after a week here is a bit different. True that the ecosystem for social enterprises is close to being non-existent today in Vietnam. But there are examples of small private companies out there with a social mission. Now how many are investable? That is the question! Stay tuned …

Let me just quickly end this chapter by sharing my first impressions and surprises about Vietnam. Since the country has been strongly influenced and driven by a communist system and still is in large part a state-owned economy, I expected Vietnamese people to be a little bit inhibited and un-resourceful.  Well I was wrong! I’ve been in fact blown away by the energy emanating from Hanoi City and the feeling that Vietnamese people appeared as being very dynamic, even liberal in their attitude and they have an excellent sense of trade. That gave me good hope that there had to be quite many entrepreneurs in this country, and considering Vietnam is officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, why not many Social entrepreneurs!  My second surprise. Since France had gone into war with Vietnam for many years and not so long ago, I expected to be “coldly welcomed” in particular by the older generation. Well once again, completely wrong! Vietnamese people were unbelievably (and above all genuinely) warm and helpful anywhere in the street despite a clear language barrier. Maybe so because the French  actually lost the war! Another positive surprise was to notice with my own eyes that the world is far from being globalized and may never be. Sure I knew that from some trips to Africa in some clearly remote villages (where I scared children who really thought I was a white monster or ghost). But here I was in Asia, in the second largest city of a middle-income country. Yet I can tell you that Vietnamese think local, speak nothing else than Vietnamese, eat local and impose huge barriers to imports (200% taxes for foreign luxurious goods).  From the Western world, we tend to think or at least we are mistakenly taught that we live in a globalized world (i.e. Westernized world). But Vietnamese (and many others) certainly don’t have this impression …

Evaluating Client Engagement outside of Nairobi

On Tuesday evening, I met with the management team (and intern) of the second organization at a local tech incubator hub (pictured below). Nairobi is full of foreigners who are doing lots of interesting work and seeing many of them in one space was fascinating. We discussed our agenda for the next three days and called it a night.

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Wednesday, I went to their first retail shop in Rongai, met and interviewed the staff  about their daily work. The sales agent and I went around the local area to meet with 6 clients asking them about how they felt about the organization, the current customer service and what else they’d be open to in the future. As we left one of the clients homes and slipped my shoes back on, I quickly realized that her chickens had left some presents inside…amusing in retrospect but a bit challenging in the moment.

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The interviews went well and today I did the same in another location which was made up of a lower income demographic.

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Tomorrow, the goal is organize the last two days interviews and meet with the management team before my late evening flight!

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a beekeeper who made his one beekeeper suit with a backpack as the hood!

Nairobi

Emaan M. Entry #3

It’s been a very productive time since returning from Sindo. I have spent time with the management team and did a full assessment of the management dashboards currently in place and those that they would like to have in existence. It’s been busy! Worked through the weekend – created templates for reports, worked on process improvements on existing reports, added formulas, pivot tables, automation without overcomplicating things and started to document all the processes. My main deliverable is to document the inventory of reports with all process flows, source data, distribution, etc. Quite similar to a project I did in my role at work a few years ago!

It’s been a whirlwind and fulfilling experience to come in a little over a week ago, see how the company functions and evaluate the best type of value-added (in addition to BAU) reporting options. Yesterday, the office learned the magic of pivot tables. It was fun to see their eyes open up and realize how much faster they could analyze data with this small trick!

Today is my last day at the first social enterprise, will be working with another social enterprise for the next three days. Tonight, I have an evening prep meeting with the co-founders before we head off to the field tomorrow. Though I must admit, its a bit tough to switch gears from one company to another. There is much left to be done for the first one, which will carry over to my time at home.

Field visit to Sindo

Emaan M. Entry #2

Arrived safely to a well lit airport in Nairobi 5 nights ago. On Sunday, I met with one of the organizations and we debriefed on the company, my project and strategized on how to best utilize my time here.

On Monday morning (also a national holiday – Heroes Day), the Head of Field Ops (HFO) and another member of the mgmt team and I headed to Kisumu from where we drove/took the ferry to Sindo. As it was a holiday, we took full advantage of spending the full day traveling (6 am-8 pm).

We spent two days conducting site visits in rural Western Kenya and meeting with farmers to see how their beekeeping was going. It was a great opportunity to dive into the field operations of the company and see how things work on the ground. I learned a lot from the HFO and we had plenty of time to go over the management dashboards that are under his mandate and come up with ideas for new reports.

Flew back to Nairobi early this morning and went into the office to meet the Head of Internal Ops. She showed me around the facility, going over the production, sales and distribution of their product. I was able to spend some time with some staff members in the office and make some process improvements to some existing reports.

The next few days will be spent in the office, reviewing reports, documenting processes, and implementing dashboards where possible given the data available.

Some pics – Sunset over Lake Victoria, rural Kenya before a storm, local Sikimu and fish, farmland

Sunset over Lake VictoriaSukuma (swiss chard) and fish from Lake VictoriaIMG_20131023_123634

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Off to Nairobi: pretrip entry

Emaan M. Entry #1

In a few hours, I’ll be heading off to Nairobi, Kenya for two weeks. From my understanding, I’m the last of the Global Citizens in this bunch!

My time there will be spent with two local organizations working on two different projects. One will involve revising and implementing a Management Dashboard and the other will be focused on creating a client engagement process for a fairly new organization. The plan is to spend some time in the office and a few days in the field (still TBD).

Throughout this past week, I have had the chance to speak to management of both companies and get a background on what the assignments will entail. They have sent over information that will be my reading material on the two flights over. Will be arriving on Saturday evening and then meeting with one of the orgs on Sunday for lunch.

It’s been a whirlwind week with finalizing details for the trip. Very much excited to see what the next 14 days bring!

A week in South Africa

Edward Kelly – September 30th, 2013

I have been in South Africa on the GCP programme for just over a week now, and have really enjoyed being in a new environment. Much of my time here has been spent understanding the market, the issues and the opportunities.

What has struck me initially is the level and prevalence of HIV / AIDs in South Africa. With a population of c. 52 million, it is estimated that approx. 6 million South Africans have HIV/AIDS, or just under 12% of South Africa’s population. This is one of the highest rates (if not the highest rate) world-wide, and therefore is one of the focus countries for the GCP programme this year.

Interesting meetings this week have included visiting a fast-growing company providing affordable life insurance products to individuals with HIV, which is still relatively unique in SA. By becoming involved in the healthcare process via an adherence to treatment management programme the company is able influence the insurance risk profile of clients and offer access to life products based on a commitment to ongoing health monitoring. This unique approach to life insurance enables the company to offer more competitively priced life cover, and to extend cover to individuals who the established life insurance industry may regard as ‘uninsurable’. I also visited a Healthcare company, primarily focused on managing HIV/AIDS in the workplace and treating HIV-positive people on behalf of employers and medical insurers.

There is much more for me to learn and understand this week. I will be seeing a number of companies including those involved in the social housing space in Johannesburg and those generally active in Impact Investment in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.