It’s early on a Friday night in Ho Chi Minh City, and local children are gathering for a martial arts class. The same scene plays out nightly against a backdrop of the first EKOCENTER in Asia, which opened last year just 2 kilometers from the Coca-Cola bottling plant that serves Southern Vietnam.  

I arrived a few hours earlier with a small camera crew to document our progress. As the local team had explained, there wasn’t a need to organize any special activities. On any given day, a steady stream of local residents arrive to fill water from a tap that never shuts off and take advantage of vocational training and exercise facilities. As children arrive on their bikes, the teacher asks me if I can pose for a picture with him.  

Clearly, the community has taken ownership and this is what makes it a success. This week, two new EKOCENTERs opened in Vietnam, and there are plans to open at least 10 total across the country. If the others get even half the buy-in of the Ho Chi Minh center, it’s clear they will also be a big hit. 

Vietnam EKOCENTER infographic

Unlike the EKOCENTER model that is unfolding across much of Africa, the Vietnam sites include sporting facilities and a community center that is up to 10 times as big as the actual EKOCENTER. Like the Africa model, they are perfect examples of social enterprise, a sustainable model founded on the fact that government, NGOs and business can achieve much more when they work together. This week, Dell and Microsoft announced they would be joining our initiative in Vietnam, joining PACCOM, the Red Cross and Vietnam’s Women Union, among others.  

The last time I spent a significant amount of time in Vietnam was in early 1999. Today, 17 years later, I am here to help launch EKOCENTERs in Hanoi and in Danang, with a quick stop to Ho Chi Minh in between. What struck me most throughout my 10-day trip was the rapid level of development. The country is booming. I read somewhere that since the early ‘90s, the Vietnamese economy has grown an average of 7 percent annually. The same article mentioned that up to one-third of the Vietnamese population is dangerously close to poverty, which makes our efforts even more worthwhile. 

Vietnam EKOCENTER

The woman operator in Ho Chi Minh, Ms. Tham, tells me she is very excited about the change the EKOCENTER has brought to her life. 

“In the past year our, finances have improved to the point where I am now able to provide for my entire family,” she explains. “I am so proud to run this center, where people get clean drinking water and receive services to help them develop.”

The people have embraced the concept of EKOCENTER in Vietnam. Time and again, you see new ideas and testimonies, unprompted, telling us how the tri-sector model of development adds lasting value.  The children at the playground on a Friday night will have no idea of this broader concept. Yet they are the ones who benefit from our efforts, and they are the ones who will think it natural that the private sector, the NGOs and the government should combine their efforts to help communities thrive. 

EKOCENTER is a social enterprise initiative started by The Coca-Cola Company in 2013 to help underserved communities gain access to goods and services. Learn more at www.coca-colacompany.com/ekocenter