The moment you leave your home country, you never truly leave, yet you never fully return. Instead, you find a new place to belong. And to some, it can be a little tricky and oftentimes exhausting.
More than just a network, the Overseas Vietnamese (OV) community is like a big family reunion, where connections are made, inspiration flows, and success stories are celebrated. The Overseas Vietnamese Summit: HOMECOMING, which was the first-ever ‘reunion’ for overseas Vietnamese, brought together people from all walks of life – students, CEOs, and professionals – who may be scattered across the globe but are united by their Vietnamese heritage.
The 3-day gathering kicked off with a lively Cocktail Reception on January 23 at Shri Lifestyle Dining, providing a perfect setting for connecting and reconnecting with fellow members of the diaspora community amidst a night of mingling and celebration.
On Day 2, the action shifted to the New World Saigon Hotel for the Conference, where attendees were treated to a dynamic exchange of ideas, success stories, and thought-provoking discussions.
Quang Do, the visionary behind it all, kicked off the Conference with a simple yes or no question: “Do you consider Vietnam to be home?”
Though it seemed straightforward, the audience’s responses were mixed. About half refrained from raising their hands, and those who did offer nuanced replies like, “Yes! But I wasn’t born here!” or “Yes? Only because of my parents!”
Yet, with a subtle modification – the addition of a single letter – unanimity swept through the room. A resounding “Yes” resonated in response to the question, “Do you consider Vietnam ‘a’ home?” And just like that, the true essence of this gathering became palpable.
Now, let’s dive into the heart of it all: the highlights and the moments that made this gathering truly special. We’ll explore the key takeaways, the inspiring stories shared, and the invaluable insights that left a lasting impression on every OV who participated in this monumental event.
What it’s like for OVs doing business in Vietnam
After the 20-year Vietnam War ended in 1975, the country, initially among the world’s poorest, witnessed slow economic growth. Fast forward to 2018, the World Economic Forum termed it “The Story of Vietnam’s economic miracle.” Despite the global pandemic, Bloomberg recognized Vietnam for achieving Asia’s fastest growth, solidifying its status as an emerging market with unmatched potential in the region.
For Cuong Dang, who moved from the US six years ago, resilience is what keeps the Vietnamese economy rising — the people’s ability to bounce back. “Through tough times, we’ve seen during the war and post-war, different eras that Vietnamese that they come together as a community,” he said during the Cross-Border Influence: The Role of Overseas Vietnamese in Enhancing Vietnam’s Global Presence discussion.
However, when it comes to actually (re)building the economy, Vietnam will need more than resilience. Before 2023 ended, the world’s largest chip producer, Nvidia, made a whopping $250 million investment in Vietnam — a piece of fantastic news. However, Cuong raised a crucial question: Are we truly prepared for this? Is this something our country can handle?
“What’s missing is we’re not there because we don’t have the legal skill sets to do so,” the Forbes Vietnam founder and executive board director said.
Taking a different angle: Is Vietnam’s Funding Future Really Bright? Huong Tran, Venture Partner at Monk’s Hill Ventures, delved into the basics when discussing the pros and cons for foreign investors in Vietnam. According to her, a significant factor is mastering the English language.
She pointed out the benefits of English proficiency, especially in the business context in Vietnam. While knowing Vietnamese is useful for personal connections, English is crucial for in-depth business discussions and investment analysis.
The concept of “first principles” involves breaking down hypotheses into essential factors, often done in English during analytical processes related to global business terms, financials, and deal underwriting. Therefore, English proficiency is seen as a valuable asset for individuals in the industry to aim for in their careers.
As for Binh Tran, Co-Founder & General Partner at Ascend Vietnam Ventures (AVV), it’s all about authenticity, transparency, and a desire to build lasting relationships. Their ultimate goal is establishing long-term relationships and contributing to a transformative shift in how businesses are perceived.
Not directly tied, but similarly to Forbes Vietnam’s Cuong Dang voicing concerns, Binh, when asked about the benefits of investing in foreign-founded companies versus local ones, highlighted Vietnam’s openness to international professionals, including Viet Kieus.
Comparing population sizes with China, the AVV co-founder stressed the need to make Vietnam’s market accessible to foreigners for sustained GDP growth. “Vietnam really has to make it very accessible to foreigners or international posts to see it as a growth market. And that knowledge transfer over time helps the company, the country, and the people become very competitive globally.”
Binh remains optimistic about Vietnam’s potential global competitiveness, believing that embracing international players and supportive policies can elevate the country to a new level.
Before the panel discussion ended, Monk’s Hill Ventures’s Huong was asked about other sectors she finds as trends, and the answer covers multiple areas. She first mentioned the significance of Vietnam becoming one of the top 10 largest global consumer markets by 2030, particularly focusing on the emerging consumer segment, including various needs such as food, agriculture, healthcare, and financial services.
The second trend she highlighted is Artificial Intelligence (AI), with a specific focus on its potential for increased productivity and reduced costs. Huong identified two main themes within the AI trend: AI combined with Machine Learning and the importance of responsible AI, emphasizing the need for cybersecurity measures to address potential issues like scams.
Lastly, her personal connection to underrepresented female tech founders. Huong shared the importance of supporting female-led startups and technologies, noting the economic potential revealed by recent research indicating a $1 trillion opportunity in addressing gaps in women’s health over the next 10 years, as highlighted by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey Institute.
How can OVs fit into Vietnam’s workforce and culture
Having gained an understanding of what it’s like to do business in Vietnam, the question now arises: “Can the OV community fit in? If so, how?”
It’s safe to say that every overseas Vietnamese who thought about coming to Vietnam has been confronted with a question: Why come home to a place only your parents know, to a place you’ve only heard about on TV, a place where you don’t speak the language, and a place that feels foreign even if you blend in physically? And each knows there’s no simple explanation for that.
For Tran Tue Tri, Senior Advisor at Vietnam Brand Purpose, this question became a personal conversation when her daughter, who is completing her college education in America, expressed a desire to return to Vietnam. To this, Tran Tue Tri’s response was, ‘Out there is knowledge, Vietnam is opportunity.’ She shares insights, emphasizing that individuals with significant exposure can contribute to Vietnam by bringing valuable knowledge.
Australia-born Marina Tran-Vu’s first job in Vietnam encountered a significant cultural difference during her first job in Vietnam. Having worked in her home country, the US, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Canada, she found that Vietnam’s work culture presented a surprising contrast. During lunch breaks, many colleagues would take naps, almost like a communal practice.
At first, she was shocked to see people resting under desks and in common areas, thinking someone might have fainted. However, it turned out to be a cultural norm — a moment for everyone to recharge and relax. This unique aspect of the Vietnamese work culture was both surprising and interesting to her.
In addressing the question on leveraging networks and careers, Luc Nhon Ly, CEO at Sun Life Vietnam and Tuan Le, Co-Founder & Creative Director of The Lab, shared valuable insights during Corporate CEO and Startup Entrepreneur: What Path To Take? panel.
Tuan emphasized the challenge of returning to Vietnam, where language barriers and the pursuit of business can lead to feelings of isolation. He highlighted the importance of Overseas Vietnamese (OV) networks in providing companionship and the significance of mentorship gained through dinners and coffee meetings, citing personal experiences seeking advice on work-related challenges.
Luc added to the discussion by recounting a valuable lesson he learned from Hao Tran. He shared how Hao advised him to ask when meeting someone new, “If I were to meet three people, who should I meet?”
Luc applied this technique in Myanmar, where, upon landing, he knew only one person. By approaching individuals and asking for introductions to others, he expanded his network significantly.
Talents shaping Vietnam’s tech landscape
Vietnam, a tech talent hub per the 2023 Southeast Asia Startup Talent Report, boasts strong tech skills and notable digital literacy. In a PwC survey, 60% of Vietnamese anticipate AI boosting productivity, surpassing the Asia Pacific average of 41%. This underscores Vietnam’s pivotal role in the regional tech talent landscape.
An Luong, Head of AI & Data Science at Masan Group, shared insights on the key advantages and disadvantages of working for a tech company during the Is Vietnam Tech As Hot as People Say It Is? session in the second part of the Conference.
He emphasized that while working for companies like Microsoft and Walmart involves cutting-edge research, joining a company like Masan Group may not offer the same level of innovation in AI. However, the advantage lies in the high impact on unmet space, especially in restructuring supply chain systems. An highlighted the unique application of AI in Masan, acknowledging both the advantages and potential disadvantages in terms of cutting-edge research.
Additionally, an in-depth discussion about whether one’s background aligns with the requirements of Vietnam’s leading employers today. In the session with Nguyen Le Thao Nguyen (Veo), Head of Talent Acquisition at Techcombank, and Phuc Pham, Country Manager, Robert Walters Vietnam, we got valuable insights into the tech hiring strategy.
Techcombank’s Veo highlighted three essential professional types crucial for success in Vietnam’s tech landscape. She emphasized fairness, stating that when choosing between two candidates — one with overseas experience and the other local — she wouldn’t automatically favor one based solely on international exposure. According to her, the decision depends on factors like capabilities and job-related competencies.
Digital Innovators are experts in digital tech and data, crucial for executing the bank’s 2020-2025 plan. Journey Designers enhance customer experiences both offline and online. Business Enablers operate at the front line, actively generating revenue and ensuring operational efficiency, contributing significantly to the organization’s overall effectiveness.
To wrap things up, Phuc shared a few things to consider when finding opportunities in Vietnam.
In essence, finding a job is not just about the paycheck. It’s a significant decision that impacts your career and growth. For him, it’s not just about getting in; it’s equally crucial to navigate and thrive once you’re in the business. Connecting with someone who understands your experiences and expectations is vital. And OVs should take note and maximize the connections they’ve found, especially from the event.
At Robert Walters Vietnam, they believe in finding opportunities in Vietnam, especially in multinational companies, by using networks. Consultants are essential for identifying these opportunities and managing expectations. It’s crucial to position yourself in the job market and understand how employers see applications. Phuc pointed out: the key is to find the right person to guide you and make the most of available opportunities.
The Conference day concluded with an After Party at Wiking Salon, where the festivities continued in a vibrant atmosphere of camaraderie and shared successes.