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Jun 21, 2016

Return To Roots: The Reverse Migration

Vietnam's reverse migration is just starting to take off. What are some themes to look out for as the last of the Asian Tigers fulfills its economic and cultural potential?

Return To Roots: The Reverse Migration

The Chinese and Indian diasporas have been tracked for hundreds of years. The Chinese have been in America since the California Gold Rush, filling a need for migrant labor to build cross-country railroads. Labor migrants and merchant class Indians found themselves living in far-flung British colonies beginning in the 19th century until the end of the British Raj, in places like Africa, the UK, and the Middle East.

The sun never sets on the Indian diaspora.

Vietnam’s diaspora has been concentrated in a much shorter window of time. Instead of hundreds of years, Vietnam’s diaspora was formed mostly after the Vietnam War. A generation of Vietnamese moved and built families in countries that accepted refugees. Most of this newly formed generation is now in their 20s or 30s, Western-educated, and living in prosperous and free countries like the United States, Australia, and France.

With a local population that is around the same age as its overseas counterparts, this is an opportunity to collaborate, share knowledge, and create value unlike any other diaspora in the world.

To match this demographic phenomena, Vietnam’s growth has placed emphasis on industries that our generation is interested in (technology, entrepreneurship, professional services). If you happen to find yourself in transition, in a creative rut, or in search of inspiration, Vietnam can be your outlet. It’s ripe for the next great (reverse) migration.

Why Vietnam for a 20- or 30-something?

When an already large market is expected to grow six-fold over 10 years, people will follow.

Vietnam is emerging as a viable global business and cultural ecosystem. There are low financial and social barriers to entry. I’ve met overseas Vietnamese that have started their own cafes with their savings to local Vietnamese who are designers of their own clothing brands.

As Tuan Le, founder of The Lab and Work Saigon, put it: the unifying theme from all of these people is that they are uniquely and unmistakably Vietnamese in their inspiration, or “New Vietnam.

Being unmistakably Vietnamese is being part of a collection of robust, diverse, and creative communities of young business people, fashion designers, writers, technologists, and small business owners. The low barriers of entry to being creative in Vietnam have fostered a group of people that are executing successfully so many different ways. I’ve met more people in Saigon from outside the technology industry in the last month, than I have in my entire time in my hometown of San Francisco.

And Vietnam, has a ton of secret weapons at its disposal. Top local tech talent. Deep connections to the most powerful country in the world, America. A mature investment market compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. And a culture that is known for aggressive and entrepreneurial thinking.

Bringing all of this together is a young local and overseas Vietnamese population that are of similar age, in their 20s and 30s.

It’s a natural place to go, if you’re overseas Vietnamese. If you picked up even the smallest bit from your parents, the food, the language, and the mannerisms will be refreshing and genuine.

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What’s the future for Vietnam as a whole?

It’s rapidly becoming known as a place to invest, work, and live.

One of the challenges that Vietnam faces is a workforce that lacks experience and proven business acumen. It is a young, unproven market with immense untapped potential. Finding reliable business partners or coworkers can be challenging. Analytical, big-picture, long-term vision is valued.

There’s been a lot of exciting news about Southeast Asia generally that have me sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see bigger things coming. These articles give a big picture perspective of what’s next: Room for more investment in Southeast Asia (WSJ), Southeast Asia digital market will 6x by 2025 (Tech in Asia), Could Vietnam become the next Silicon Valley? (BBC). 

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t visited Vietnam, you should do it now. Even if you can’t move here, the growth and ever-changing nature of Vietnam puts things in perspective. I ignored it for the longest time because I thought America was the only place that could offer a career, a productive lifestyle, and success.

I didn’t visit Vietnam for the first time until I was 19. It’s never too late. And if you do come, reach out to any of us here at Vietcetera. We’re happy to bring together more people excited about what’s coming next.