In the misty mornings in the remote mountains in northern Vietnam, a young boy walks past his village through a field to an isolated building built by FedEx. He does not drop off a package. Instead, he drops into a classroom with other students to learn about the world around him.
Through the dedicated efforts of the Vietnam Children’s Fund, in cooperation with Vietnamese officials, this two-story structure in Yen Bai is the fourth new school FedEx has funded in Vietnam. According to FedEx colleague Stacey Han, “Traveling to the new school took seven hours on rural roads, but it was worth it to see how amazingly happy the kids were to have a school in their town.”
This little-known corporate effort is part of a rare bricks-and-mortar project, although in this case, a concrete example that reflects FedEx commitment to the next generation’s future in an economically emerging nation. Currently there are more than 2,000 children attending FedEx-funded schools in Vietnam, and many graduates now serve their communities as teachers, doctors and administrators.
That kind of investment in learning is critical to competing in an increasingly differentiating global economy. With a population estimated at 88 million, Vietnam hosts a young workforce – about 60 percent of the population is under 25 – and a low but steadily growing consumer base in which the median age is 28 years old.
This summer, Junior Achievement and FedEx joined together for the annual FedEx Express/Junior Achievement International Trade Challenge, a competition designed to educate and build entrepreneurship and business skills for teens throughout Asia. Students from nine Asian markets devised detailed plans for promotion, pricing, inventory and product distribution strategies for an overseas market. Two talented young men from Singapore won this year, and for the first time, students from Vietnam also participated in the contest. By successfully demonstrating their strategy for developing an international business, they made it all the way to the finals.
Even with the downward gravitational pull of the economy as a whole, Vietnam trade growth is still expected to rise 187 percent over the next 15 years, nearly twice the rate of trade globally, which is projected at 98 percent according to a June 2012 HSBC Global Connections report.
A member of the WTO since 2007, Vietnam’s export growth is expected to hover between 5-6 percent, which while below earlier forecasts, is a trajectory moving forward. Its major export sectors to the U.S. remain footwear and furniture and for other markets, crude oil and coal.
Like many other emerging markets during this shaky economic recovery, the trading health of Vietnam is realistically one of slowly treading water amid competition from other small Asian markets and some challenging internal issues. However, as with many markets globally, the emergence of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is a potential bright spot.
When it comes to defining SMEs, the Vietnamese government divides them into three levels – very small, small and medium according to the size of the assets or workers. In a country where SMEs account for over 90 percent of all businesses, and over 40 percent of the GDP, that is a significant group with potential to grow into regional and global businesses.
To succeed, these businesses need access to market opportunities not only through improved connectivity and speed but also an educated workforce.
FedEx has served Vietnam since diplomatic relations with the U.S. were re-established in 1994 and is the first international express transportation company to operate its own flights into and out of Vietnam. With around 10 flights per week, it connects Vietnam to its major trading partners – the U.S., the EU, China, Japan and other intra-Asian markets – and offers solutions that support local business growth.
“It only takes two business days to send our urgent samples from Ho Chi Minh City to our customer in the UK,” said Ms. Thu from the Vietnam branch of British apparel company, Carmel Clothing. “With the fast customs clearance process of FedEx, we save time managing the procedures for import duties and taxes.”
It’s been almost 40 years since FedEx started as one person’s idea and grew to change what’s possible for millions of people in hundreds of countries. In Vietnam so far, the company has helped the Vietnam Children’s Fund build schools in Chu Lai, Nam Dinh province, Quang Nam, and now northern Yen Bai. This continuing commitment helps to improve the educational environment for business, but more importantly, may give some children the skills and determination to go out and change the world to benefit us all.
Hopefully, in about ten years when the 300 students are starting out in the global workforce, there will be some who recall opening day at the FedEx school in Yen Bai, where one young girl promised: “I will try my best to study so that I can live up to the expectations of my parents and my teachers.”
Somehow, I’m sure she will.
Raj Subramaniam is Senior Vice President, Global Market Development, FedEx Services