The official statement of Reaching Out is as follows:
Many of the employees I spoke with mentioned Binh not only as a manager, but as a mentor held in high regard. He has overcome many of his own challenges and broke through many social barriers in order to be successful in his mission to integrate people with disabilities in his community. I could not help but admire his strength and compassion. On many occasions during this past week I witnessed him take time to work closely with the staff and artisans in his shop, like he does in the photo above.
He went on to explain his decision to focus on a sustainable business model for empowerment, “I used to work with NGOs and charities. They rely heavily on donations, but suddenly if the donations stop most of the people that rely on those funds, how can they manage? …We know well that if we just rely on donations, how can we stand on our own? It is not sustainable.”
For Binh, starting a business which trained and hired highly skilled craftswomen and men with disabilities was the best way forward. “When we set up our business in the beginning we were searching for a good model or good way to work with our disabled producers. We established two core objectives when we set up Reaching Out:”
- Integration; help more local disabled to integrate into society through open employment
- Financial independence; we don’t want to rely on donations, but we want our organization to attain long-term financial independence.
- Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
- Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
- Equality of opportunity;
- Equality between men and women;
- Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
I had to agree with Binh about the “normal business model” as it is applied in Vietnam. Businesses here are more interested in profits than providing opportunities for disadvantaged people. As for the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), it has only been introduced recently, and to say the least there are not many takers, even if it is more about public relations than social responsibility.
What he said next caught me off guard: “And we learn from you. You meet us; share with me the Vietnamese booklet about Fair Trade principles. I share it with all of our staff. Only I read about Fair Trade in English. So you can talk with anyone about Fair Trade because of your booklet. We still have several copies. We are very lucky to meet you. Some of our staff can read in English, but it is very important to share with everyone.”
As consumerism peaks in the West this holiday season, be charitable. When you make your purchases, at least make an effort to ensure that no one was exploited in the name of corporate profit through your gift giving, or better yet, shop at your local Fair Trade store in the US or internationally. Learn more about the positive impacts you can make in your purchase.