Changing Vietnam’s Environmental Attitudes Through ChangeVN
By Brielle Birgensmith
On December 29, our group from the University of Montana met with Ms. Nhi Thoi, the Program Manager for an environmental nonprofit organization called ChangeVN. Our meeting was held at the Nha Hang Viet Heritage restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Prior to Ms. Nhi Thoi’s presentation I knew very little about how nonprofit organizations worked in Vietnam. Going into this program, I was briefly informed of various environmental issues Vietnam has been facing and I wanted to learn more about how citizens were responding to these issues. Aware that Vietnam is a socialist republic with a one party system led by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), I hoped to better understand how nonprofit organizations worked within the country. Our meeting with Ms. Nhi Thoi was able to answer all of my questions above and beyond.
NGOs in Vietnam are not fully independent from their government. They must submit their activities to the CPV for approval, and must apply for permits that are reviewed through four different ministries. ChangeVN has been in Vietnam since 2009 but initially was not legally registered and worked under another organization that was licensed. Now, ChangeVN is registered under the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Association.
The Change in ChangeVN stands for Center for Hands-On Actions and Networking for Growth and Environment. Founded in 2013 by the first Vietnamese to set foot in Antarctica, ChangeVN is one of the few environmental NGOs based in Ho Chi Minh City (most are headquartered in Hanoi where the government ministries are located). Currently, ChangeVN has 10 full time employees as well as various interns. Their mission is to promote and encourage the care and preservation of the environment through education and innovative communications that change habits and inspire community action in Vietnam. ChangeVN focuses on three main environmental issues, which are wildlife trade, climate change and sustainability. Here I focus primarily about their work related to climate change.
ChangeVN focuses on communication aspects of climate change. This includes outreach and education to promote clean energy sources in the community. They have completed a number of projects throughout the last several years. In 2013, they conducted a three-phase power shift campaign in Vietnam. The first phase was nationwide. Ms. Nhi Thoi informed our group that the majority of their projects are funded by foreign donations. The second phase was to target Ho Chi Minh City and lastly to reach out to various cities and provinces outside of Ho Chi Minh. ChangeVN also work to train youth in becoming climate leaders. In 2014, they created ‘Black Day’ to mobilize youth and artists in raising awareness on coal impacts on human health and environment. In 2015, they organized a Divestment Day that directly pressured Japan to stop financing coal in Vietnam. Another campaign in 2016 called “I Can’t” aimed to illustrate the deadly effects of coal through creating a number of dramatic posters starring famous Vietnamese people. In 2017, ChangeVN produced public service announcements (PSAs) in the form of street art.
I was very grateful to have learned about this unique nonprofit organization that brings awareness of environmental issues in Vietnam as well as hear how passionate Ms. Nhi Thoi was to be working with ChangeVN.