The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great impact on the operation of many enterprises, but it is in such difficult circumstances that the “female generals” of the Vietnam Association of Women Entrepreneurs (VAWE) have proved their mettle and talent.

The businesswomen have not only led their businesses through the COVID-19 storm, but also shown a spirit of compassion and mutual support through the organization of various activities to support the community.

A proud journey

Looking back on the past period of great challenges, VAWE Chairwoman Thai Huong expressed her gratitude to the Party, State and Government for taking drastic actions to fight the pandemic like fighting the enemy.

The Prime Minister presents flowers to VAWE members (Photo: VAWE)

“The pandemic broke out across the world in an unprecedented manner, so we have no experience in coping with it, but with a progressive and resolute attitude, the Party, the State and the head of the Government have made clear-sighted decisions thus gradually driving back the pandemic,” Huong said.

“And more than ever, businesses have been aware of their role and responsibility in seriously implementing the Government’s decisions and policies,” the VAWE Chairwoman stressed.

She noted that women entrepreneurs nationwide have held significant activities, for example conferences and forums to share values, help each other enhance capacity in digital transformation, corporate governance reform and response to newly arising problems. She cited as examples forums held by the Ho Chi Minh City Association of Women Entrepreneurs on leadership to create breakthrough, adaptation to the new normal situation, and surmounting life crises. The association of Hanoi women entrepreneurs has initiated a so-called diplomatic party programme linking members with embassies and international organisations. Meanwhile, the association in Hai Phong city opened a showroom for hand embroidery products, which helps provide occupational training for women with disabilities or rehabilitated women.

Marching side by side with their male peers, many members of VAWE have gained great achievements, and been honoured by noble titles and international awards, such as Labour Hero in the Doi Moi Period, 50 most powerful businesswomen for many consecutive years, Outstanding ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs, ASEAN Empowering Women Award at the World Knowledge Forum in the Republic of Korea, Asia Responsible Enterprise Awards,  Stevie Award, 50 most influential women in Vietnam, and more. 

Many VAWE members have also been recognized by the Government, sectors and organisations for their outstanding contributions, including Nguyen Thi Bao Hien CEO of Hien Le Group, Vice Chairwoman of VAWE and Standing Vice Chairwoman of the Business Association of Vietnamese Veterans; and Nguyen Thi Vinh, Director General of Thai Hung Trading JSC and Chairwoman of the Thai Nguyen Association of Women Entrepreneurs, who were conferred with the Vietnam Women Awards 2021 last October.  

VAWE, in coordination with the Improving Private Sector Competitiveness (IPSC) project, holds a workshop on the theme “Digital leadership thinking for women entrepreneurs”. The ISPC is sponsored by USAID and the Enterprise Development Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment is the project’s leading agency. The workshop receives technical support from Deloitte Vietnam (Photo: VAWE)

Community sharing spirit

During the difficult period under the great impact of the pandemic, women entrepreneurs did not become discouraged or look for outside support. Instead, they proactively worked to address problems inside their businesses and at the same time took the lead in joining hands with the State and the community to fight the pandemic. They have donated to the national vaccine fund, purchased ventilators and medical supplies for the frontline forces in the pandemic fight, and opened “zero-dong” markets and charity programmes for labourers in hardship with total funding amounting to thousands of billions of dong.

As head of the VAWE, Chairwoman Thai Huong hopes that her companions continue to show their compassion, especially in the post-pandemic period.

Thai Huong speaks during a meeting with the Prime Minister (Photo: VAWE)

 “In family, we keep the home fires burning and help our partners and children overcome hardship. In society, we are leaders of collectives and contribute to realizing the growth target set by the Government,” she said. 

Huong noted that businesswomen, especially those in the VAWE Executive Committee had initiated many significant activities during the pandemic to share difficulties with the business community and the people.

They have made contributions in the capacity of not only VAWE members but also their own firms, with total value reaching thousands of billions of dong. For example, VAWE Vice Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Nga who is chairwoman of BRG group and vice chairwoman of the SeABank donated 50 billion VND, while TH Group and Bac A Bank of Ms Thai Huong contributed hundreds of billions of dong in cash and kinds.

But according to Huong, the biggest contribution of women entrepreneurs is their compliance with the Government’s policies in the pandemic fight. Next is their efforts to ensure the livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of their employees.

“In the TH Group where I chair the Strategy Council, I have built a sustainable development strategy with five core values, with the first one being Community Health and the fifth one Harmony of Benefits. The benefits here are not only of the State, the company and consumers, but also of all species, towards sustainable development and with an emphasis on the environment,” she shared. 

Thanks to those values, TH Group has stayed strong, with yearly growth constantly rising since the financial crisis in 2011. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the group still enjoyed two-digit growth. Along with growth, TH has always ensured that its products bring health benefit meeting the people’s needs during the time of pandemic.

Huong added that the VAWE has upheld its role in connectivity by organizing activities to help women entrepreneurs realise their potential, and foster their innovative spirit of as well as the nation’s aspiration. Besides capacity building work, the association also facilitates members’ participation in trade promotion events both in and outside the country, and promote linkages among members. 

The association also held events for members to contribute feedback and recommendations to draft documents of the National Party Congress, laws and policies, while encouraging members to observe the law and fulfil their duties to the State as well as to employees.

Huong took the occasion to call on all member associations and individual members of the VAWE to work together to build a strong association and help realise the aspiration of Vietnamese women entrepreneurs.

On March 20, 2022, the Hai Phong Women’s Union held a programme entitled “Godmother” at the municipal convention centre in response to an appeal by the Vietnam Women’s Union Central Committee. At the programme, members of the Hai Phong Association of Women Entrepreneurs become benefactors for 75 orphans (Photo: VAWE)

According to Ha Thi Thu Thanh, Chairperson of Deloitte Vietnam and Vice Chairwoman of VAWE, in the 2021-2026 tenure, the association sets the target of expanding its membership and improving the quality of members by helping member businesses develop production and business activities along with promoting cooperation and linkage.  

VAWE will cooperate with local chapters to build the Vietnamese corporate culture, enhance members’ leadership capacity, support community development, thus continuing to spread good values in society and contributing to national economic development.

Motivation to surmount the pandemic storm

The fight against COVID-19 has witnessed the concerted efforts of the entire political system and the drastic engagement of the Government, ministries, all-level administrations and sectors under the motto of putting people’s health and safety at the centre of all decisions and moves.

It is the Government’s hard work to care for the people and the business community that has created the motivation for businesses nationwide to sail through the pandemic storm.

Huong shared her feelings at seeing the Prime Minister in a sweat-drenched shirt inspecting pandemic prevention work in Binh Duong, waiting for reply to a call on the pandemic hotline or checking food supply for people under quarantine. She was also deeply moved by the images of medical workers, soldiers and policemen who worked round the clock in pandemic-hit areas.  Such images have awakened and encouraged the business community to work harder in surmounting difficulties.

“Women entrepreneurs nationwide have held significant activities, for example conferences and forums to share values, help each other enhance capacity in digital transformation, corporate governance reform and response to newly arising problems.” Huong noted.

She highly valued the Government’s care for the business community. In August and September, 2021, the Prime Minister held two big online conferences to listen to the business community’s problems and gave timely directions to ministries and agencies to remove difficulties for the community. 

The Prime Minister meets representatives from VAWE (Photo: VAWE)

“Thanks to those efforts and the unity of the entire society, the pandemic has gradually been contained. Along with other countries, Vietnam has actively rolled out a vaccination campaign against COVID-19, with 52 million doses administered so far, helping quickly reduce infections and fatalities. Vietnam’s economy is also showing good signs of gradually returning to normal,” Huong said.

She went on, “We believe that the Government headed by the Prime Minister will have suitable policies to reap benefit from the recovering trend in other countries and help the Vietnamese economy to join the world trend, step by step overcoming post-pandemic difficulties.” 

“Weapon” of women entrepreneurs

2021 was a year full of great changes under the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many localities recorded a surge in COVID-19 cases, causing disruption to socio-economic activities. In just six months since the start of the fourth wave of outbreaks, the country reported nearly 900,000 cases with more than 21,000 deaths. 

In such circumstances, the “steel roses” of the VAWE have made flexible transitions to adapt to the new situation and face head-on with difficulties.

At the dialogue, the entrepreneurs shared their feelings and thoughts when the country shifted from “zero COVID-19” to “safely adaptation” to the pandemic, amidst uncountable challenges to recovery. One of the issues that attracted the greatest attention was the “weapon” of women entrepreneurs to lead their firms safely through the COVID-19 storm.

“In any storm, be it in family or society, it is the strong points of women that help us avoid risks. Feelings, caring and flexibility help women entrepreneurs a lot in their business activities,” Huong said.

She recalled the time she attended the Global Summit of Women in 2017 in Japan. When asked about difficulties of female entrepreneurs, she replied that both men and women entrepreneurs share such virtues as strength, firmness, decisiveness and deep understanding. But women entrepreneurs are different in that they are forgiving, flexible and have the heart of a mother in their relations with employees, colleagues, and are calm in any situation. 

She said she hopes female business leaders can keep up their optimism, compassion and sharing spirit in their work in order to surmount ups and downs in life and society, and to join hands with the Party, State and Government just like in the past period.

“It is now the time to restructure our companies, keeping strong segments and cutting weak ones. We are now in a time of hardship, but with the strength and mettle of the women entrepreneurs, we will rise above difficulties, contributing to economic growth,” Huong said, noting her belief that the goal of 3 percent GDP growth of the Government is quite feasible.

Chairwoman of TH Group’s Strategy Council (centre) and members of the Vietnam Association of Women Entrepreneurs (Photo: VietnamPlus)

Also about the weapon of female entrepreneurs, Le Thi Nam Phuong, Chairwoman of the Da Nang Association of Women Entrepreneurs, emphasized that women are persistent, careful, meticulous and understanding, which she said is very important in connecting with their teams and employees, from which they would be able to find solutions to strengthen their companies.

 Looking back on the past journey with countless hardship but also full of pride, VAWE leader – entrepreneur Thai Huong affirmed that if businesses keep following the direction of sustainable development and rely on their own internal resources, they will be able to surmount any crisis. And that is also the philosophy for VAWE’s “steel roses” to stand firmly in a storm and continue to send forth their wonderful fragrance./.