Vietnam has been selected to host ASOCIO, the trade organization of 10,000 mostly-Asian information and communication technology companies based in 29 countries. The event, scheduled in Hanoi for late October, is emblematic of Vietnam’s meteoric rise in technology.
The first time Vietnam hosted the annual convention, 11 years ago, the industry barely existed in the country. In 2003, less than 5% of Vietnamese people had access to the Internet.
Since then, Internet usage has grown to 35%, and Vietnam’s hardware and software industries are experiencing annual growth rates in the 30% to 40% range.
ASOCIO says the organization chose Vietnam because of its rapidly rising capacity and prestige in information and communications technology — and cited Vietnam’s vision, policies and strategies. Vietnam is positioning itself to become a major global tech center.
Says another: “How many more children have to die before you declare an epidemic? If you still have some dignity, please resign and give the position to someone else with better qualifications and more willingness to do the job so that the people will suffer less.”
Other Internet comments suggest health officials are downplaying the crisis because of Vietnam’s commitments to eradicate measles by 2017 — inspiring this caustic Facebook post: “Through this we can see how talented our health minister is—too talented. Her motto is listening to no one, knowing nothing, seeing nothing.”
Criticism escalated when Tien seemed to minimize the undeclared epidemic by contending only 25 deaths were technically attributable to measles, even though scores children have died as a result of measles-related complications such as pneumonia.
The World Health Organization says it is “very concerned” about the outbreak, partly because WHO and UNICEF undertook an apparently less-than-successful vaccination campaign to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.
In the age of the Internet, the message for Vietnam is the same as that for government agencies worldwide: Google knows and Facebook shares.
Vietnam’s science ministry reports four technology exchanges accounted for 5,482 service and equipment transactions worth $129 million last year — 34% more than a previous year, and far exceeding expectations.
In Haiphong alone, 40,000 people exchanged scientific views and searched for technologies. The Danang exchange has recorded 5,321 domestic businesses and 153 foreign companies registering 7,754 technology transactions over the past five years.
These are signs that Vietnam is serious about being a global technology leader and consumer. The government projects a 15% annual increase in technological product and service sales through 2020 as exchange projects expand countrywide and universities grow the country’s tech expertise.
These developments have generated a growing awareness among global technology leaders about Vietnam’s potential. This week’s examples:
- On Thursday the Vietnamese and Finnish governments signed a $14 million agreement to implement the second phase of their joint innovation partnership to enhance the capacity of Vietnam’s information technology system and increase activities in scientific research and technology development.
- On Friday Microsoft formally agreed to a long-term partnership with Vietnam to focus on four technologies (1) IT infrastructure, (2) cyber security, (3) cloud apps development and (4) IT human resources.
The race is on to capitalize on hi tech hunger in a promising frontier market of nearly 100 million people.
If you don’t think Vietnam has arrived yet as a player in the global economy, consider the case of Flappy Bird. The sensational smart phone app dominated downloads of games on android and iTunes until its creator yanked it from the Internet last weekend.
The Flappy Bird inventor is a Vietnamese software engineer named Dong Nguyen, who lives with his parents in Hanoi. He withdrew the app — even though it was bringing in up to $50,000 a day in ad revenue — because he was tired of the notoriety that was ruining his tranquil life.
A few years ago, millions of people in Vietnam didn’t have electricity, land lines, computers or access to the Internet — much less smart phones, and nobody in the Western world could have imagined a 29-year-old Vietnamese geek inventing a silly game that would consume hundreds of millions of hours that could otherwise have been spent on something more productive. Yet that is exactly what has happened since Dong released Flappy Bird to the global economy last May.
Dong’s critics — and there are many of them — question whether he withdrew the game from the market as a publicity stunt to get people to focus on his next act. He says the game disappeared because it is too addictive and because the international attention caused him too much grief.
A broader explanation might be cultural: Vietnam has changed so dramatically and so fast that sometimes its ways of life cannot catch up with technology and market realities. One of the cultural attributes of traditional Vietnam is a tendency not to bring attention to oneself — to be unassuming, modest, shy. Could that be part of the reason Dong wants to get his life back?
The lesson for Western investors is they are well advised to learn the difference between cultural modesty and lack of initiative. Vietnam is full of Dong Nguyens — millions of brainy entrepreneurs prepared to transform their own country and, in the process, infuse the world with Flappy Birds.
Posted in Vietnam development
Tagged Vietnam business, Vietnam communications, Vietnam culture, Vietnam development, Vietnam economy, Vietnam exports, Vietnam investing, Vietnam society, Vietnam technology, Vietnam Trade, Vietnam workforce
Garment factories, fish processing facilities, traffic signals and everything else that runs on electricity in 22 Vietnamese provinces shut down this week for half a day when a crane operator accidentally knocked down a tree — and cut the power supply for a third of the country.
Accidents happen, but this one heightened investors’ anxieties about Vietnam. As global manufacturers rush to Vietnam as an otherwise stable, lower-cost alternative to almost every other country in Asia, some of them wonder if Vietnam can keep with the surging demands on its transportation and energy infrastructure.
The country has been rapidly modernizing roads, seaports, airports, and energy supply — including oil refineries, hydroelectric facilities, and planning for two nuclear power plants — much to the chagrin of environmentalists concerned this is happening at the expense of Vietnam’s health and culture. They may have considered the brief delay in economic expansion a breath of fresh air.
For a few hours, restaurants served tourists by candlelight. Water supplies began to dry up. Factories shut down. Traffic jammed, especially near nonfunctional traffic lights.
When a tree falls in a developing country, the sound you hear is usually called progress. But when this particular tree fell on the nation’s main high voltage transmission line, the air conditioners stopped. And the sound the government heard was sweaty criticism of the state-owned electricity company.
Posted in Vietnam energy
Tagged Vietnam business, Vietnam culture, Vietnam development, Vietnam economy, Vietnam energy, Vietnam environment, Vietnam government, Vietnam infrastructure, Vietnam investing, Vietnam manufacturing, Vietnam technology, Vietnam transportation, Vietnam workforce
Vietnam’s mass communications regulators are risking cutting off their information-obsessed citizens from TV stations CNN, BBC, Discovery, CNBC and others by requiring them to pay for translation of all their programming into Vietnamese.
That may not happen in some cases, and the decree that took effect last week could simultaneously stifle millions in the entrepreneurial Vietnamese workforce from getting information they crave and undermine their passion to learn English.
It may be understandable that the government wants to preserve Vietnamese culture, including the language, but at what cost? Vietnam government French broadcaster Canal+ and Vietnam’s national TV broadcaster suspended retransmission of 21 TV channels, and Reporters Without Borders complained the decree is too costly and facilitates censorship.
The simultaneous translation decree applies to four categories: movies, news, educational programs, and entertainment (including sports and music). Some stations — Cinemax, Fox Sports, and others — have already met the translation requirement and obtained licenses from Vietnam’s information ministry. Sixteen stations have yet to comply, and some probably never will.
Vietnam’s plunge into the 21st Century global economy can be painful for traditionalists. Even so, for Vietnam’s millions of hungry capitalists, it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
A blogger on ZDNet, the global online resource for IT professionals, observes this week that the government hoping to use the Internet to engage Vietnam’s tens of millions of young people is the same government that jails bloggers for posting political dissent.
Vietnam is building an online social network for its youth, its prime minister told the Communist Youth Union in Hanoi last weekend. He said the government needs to educate young people in patriotism, love for the nation, and love for the government.
Imprisoning bloggers may not be a good way to get the younger generation to love their government, but it illustrates the challenge every generation faces as it tries to control young people. Rational elders usually figure out, sooner of later, that youths are hard to control but end up loyal to their country and respectful of their elders anyway.
The telecommunications gap between Vietnam’s young people (under 30?) and the ruling elite is staggering — and not only because technology has evolved rapidly.
Vietnam is only a generation removed from starvation poverty. It’s ruling elders experienced first hand the tragedy of war and the pain of hunger. Every one of them has a gripping personal story of sorrow. Certainly they want to stay in power (and see bloggers as threatening) — but many of them also want to spare their country’s children of the suffering they experienced.
What have Vietnam’s young people experienced? A global revolution in popular culture, and the freedom to exploit opportunity in one of the world’s most dynamic frontier economies.
A powerful generation clash became inevitable when Vietnam opened itself to free enterprise and international trade. The young Vietnamese and their government love their country; and they will figure out how to honor each other as the telecommunications revolution exposes Vietnam’s growing pains.
The online global technology site The Next Web tells of a Google software engineer who found many Vietnamese 11th graders could easily pass Google’s notoriously difficult interview test. The discovery speaks volumes about Vietnam’s future.
The engineer, Neil Fraser, visited classrooms from grade 2 to 11 to learn about Vietnam’s computer science curriculum. He found that 3rd graders knew how to use Windows and Microsoft Word in English. And 4th and 5th graders were doing complicated computer programming — far outstripping the skill level and curriculum offered in the US.
- 3rd grade English-speakers in Vinh City
In grade 11, Fraser gave students a sophisticated challenge and then asked a colleague at Google how they did — and found they would be in the top third of Google’s job candidates. Fraser concluded about half of the students in the class could pass the Google process.
This discovery should shock anybody who has heard about the supposedly dismal condition of Vietnam’s education system. Overall, there’s no doubt the country faces a major challenge modernizing its education system, but the other half of the story rarely has been told.
Vietnam has a centuries-old respect for education, which has been confirmed in my visits to schools throughout the country. Parents value teachers and sacrifice mightily to help their children learn. Third graders learn English. They are disciplined. And the typical grade school in remote areas of Vietnam has a computer lab with about 30 work stations and Internet access. The photos on this page are from my visits last fall to classrooms in the northern provinces of Nghe An and remote Ha Tinh.
Google engineer Neil Fraser’s discovery is no surprise to anyone who has experience with today’s Vietnamese children. Over the next generation, the rest of the world will be exposed to their potential.
Grade school computer classroom in Vinh
A high school English class in Ha Tinh Province
Vietnam says 85% of its people will have access to broadband within two years. What each individual does with that access will determine whether he or she ends up living in luxury or prison.
Government leaders know Vietnam’s continued rapid economic development depends partly on Internet access, but they don’t want citizens challenging authority, government policies or, especially, the one-party system that keeps the current regime in power.
So Vietnam is leap-frogging generations of communications technology, such as skipping fixed-lined infrastructure, and getting the latest smart phones in the homes of remote villagers who only recently got access to electricity.
But anyone who uses state-of-the art technology to bite the hand that feeds them, as bloggers do worldwide, risks the fate of Nguyen Dac Kien, the journalist who was fired last month from a state-run newspaper and threatened with prosecution for criticizing a Communist Party leader on his personal website.
Vietnam faces a big challenge managing the freedoms that the communications revolution has brought. Vietnam’s economy can’t thrive without technology that facilitates free enterprize — but its one-party system may not survive if the same technology facilitates free expression.
After travel this fall through 25 provinces in Vietnam — from the Mekong Delta to the Chinese border — I’ve compiled a 5-minute slide show. Our trip was to evaluate the investment climate in this promising frontier market, and to grow our coffee brand (www.templehillsonline.com).
The photos will give you a feel for Vietnam today.
Click here for the photos. For captions, click “show info” at the top right.
Jeff Browne — 262-641-0737 (o); 262-271-7330 (c)
The address for the slides: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vietnomics/sets/72157632231224520/show/
Vietnomics LLC, through partnerships in the US and in Vietnam, is a global sourcing consultancy that links US and VN investors and companies. Our advisors provide cultural training and services regarding sourcing, marketing, investing, government relations, factory evaluation, social investment and legal solutions. We provide quarterly updates and frequent blog posts (vietnomics.wordpress.com) about opportunities in Vietnam.
Posted in Vietnam culture
Tagged Vietnam agriculture, Vietnam aquaculture, Vietnam business, Vietnam communications, Vietnam culture, Vietnam development, Vietnam economy, Vietnam education, Vietnam environment, Vietnam exports, Vietnam Health, Vietnam infrastructure, Vietnam manufacturing, Vietnam real estate, Vietnam society, Vietnam technology, Vietnam tourism, Vietnam transportation, Vietnam War, Vietnam workforce