We recently had the opportunity to meet with Louise Tran, Co-Founder of VietHarvest and Head of DNA & Innovation at OzHarvest, to learn more about the exciting VietHarvest CEO CookOff event. This initiative brings together Vietnamese and Australian business leaders, aiming to raise funds and awareness to expand VietHarvest's operations in Ho Chi Minh City.
The inaugural VietHarvest CEO CookOff event is happening on June 4, 2023 (eve of UN World Environment Day) and will showcase the power of cross-cultural collaboration and authentic connections between the social impact and business sectors. With support from the Australian Government and various partners, this culinary-driven event exemplifies how passion, innovation, and cooperation can create positive social change.
Louise Tran, co-founder Jimmy Pham, and the entire VietHarvest team are dedicated to making a difference through CEO CookOff, fostering collaboration and highlighting the potential of shared missions in addressing pressing issues and improving lives.
How did you go from working in Australian food rescue to driving VietHarvest? What inspired you to take on this challenge?
Since meeting OzHarvest's founder, Ronni Kahn, in 2010, I have been inspired by her mission to reduce food waste and support those in need in Australia. I had the opportunity to work alongside Ronni in raising awareness about food waste, and I have been dedicated to this cause ever since.
After collaborating with the United Nations Environment in Peru and Thailand to educate on food waste reduction, we started receiving inquiries about sharing the OzHarvest model globally. This sparked the idea of addressing the need in Vietnam. I questioned the role I could play in bringing this model to life in Vietnam, utilizing my knowledge, networks, and experience in the sector.
This idea materialized when I met Jimmy Pham, the Founder of KOTO, whom I deeply admire for his remarkable impact on numerous lives. Jimmy supported the idea from the beginning, and together we established VietHarvest as a social enterprise. I am also grateful for being selected as a delegate for the Australian Vietnam Leadership Dialogue, which allowed me to further develop and bring this idea to life through the connections and network I built.
How has your Vietnamese heritage influenced your work in food rescue and social impact?
My parents, who were teenagers at the time, arrived in Australia as refugees from Vietnam in the late 1970s. Growing up, I witnessed the tremendous sacrifices our family made to reach Australia. I was aware that life wasn't easy for them here, as they faced language barriers, and lacked possessions and qualifications.
However, they worked tirelessly to provide my brother and me with love, security, a home, and food on the table. Their experiences profoundly shaped my core beliefs and values. It ignited a strong desire within me to assist those in need, understanding that even a small amount of support can transform lives, bring joy, preserve dignity, and make a significant impact.
What is the primary goal of the VietHarvest CEO CookOff event, and why did you choose this format to raise awareness and funds?
The primary aim of the VietHarvest CEO CookOff is to raise funds for the expansion of our operations in Ho Chi Minh City and generate a greater social impact. Additionally, the event aims to foster authentic and valuable connections between the social impact and business communities. We firmly believe that collaboration is essential in addressing the world's greatest challenges ahead, benefitting both the planet and its people.
Having been involved with the Australian event since its inception in 2012, I have witnessed firsthand the lasting impact this event can have beyond the day itself. We recognized that the CEO CookOff would deviate from the traditional event format, with CEOs actively participating in cooking activities and being guided by renowned chefs such as Peter Cuong Franklin, Julian Perraudin, and Thi Le from Australia. This event also represents a new and innovative way to raise funds through digital platforms, and we were excited to explore its potential impact.
The CEO CookOff event is said to bring together Vietnamese and Australian business leaders. Can you talk about the importance of this cross-cultural collaboration in the context of VietHarvest's mission?
In 2023, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of bilateral relations between Australia and Vietnam, making it particularly meaningful to receive support from the Australian Government and numerous partners from both countries for this event. The inception of OzHarvest in Australia two decades ago and the opportunity to share this model in Vietnam exemplify a remarkable story of cross-cultural collaboration.
As an Australian-born Vietnamese, my personal connection to Vietnam has deepened through this work. The generosity of spirit exhibited by the individuals I have met and collaborated with to bring this event to life has been truly uplifting. Such collaborations play a vital role in strengthening both business-to-business and people-to-people connections even further.
The CEO CookOff is inspired by OzHarvest's successful initiative. Can you talk about how the Australian experience has informed the planning and execution of the event in Vietnam?
The CEO CookOff, initiated 12 years ago by OzHarvest with the support of Qantas, has become a remarkable event. It is particularly fitting that our inaugural event in Vietnam is sponsored by Vietnam Airlines and hosted at the extraordinary InterContinental Saigon, an IHG property.
This event encapsulates the essence of our mission, bringing together chefs, business leaders, and representatives from the impact and charity sectors to share food for a noble cause. We serve as a catalyst, uniting individuals who share the common vision of nourishing and supporting communities in need. While our first year in Vietnam may have a smaller gathering compared to the Australian event, the evening promises to be truly magical.
What are some of the challenges you anticipate in expanding VietHarvest's food rescue mission in Ho Chi Minh City?
One of our primary challenges revolves around educating businesses and the general public in Vietnam about our food rescue model. It is a novel concept here, and we must redefine the perception of "food waste." It is not simply leftover scraps from a restaurant plate but rather good quality surplus food that is perfectly edible. Through our refrigerated van, we collect this food and directly deliver it to those in need, nourishing them. The quality of the rescued food we have obtained so far has been exceptional.
As with any logistics business, we anticipate initial challenges in establishing efficient routes for food collection from various points such as hotels, catering companies, restaurants, and supermarkets and delivering the rescued food to our partner charities. We are immensely grateful to our logistics partner, ABA Cooltrans, for their support in ensuring a smooth kick-off in Ho Chi Minh City.
We have been amazed by the overwhelming support for our mission to reduce hunger and food waste. Companies in HCMC, including 4P's Pizza and InterContinental Saigon, have already begun donating food to VietHarvest. They understand that true sustainability requires a commitment to changing business practices. These companies are exemplary leaders, making better business decisions that contribute to the well-being of people and the planet.
The CEO CookOff event will take place on the eve of the United Nations' World Environment Day. Can you speak about the significance of this timing?
Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, ranking as the third-largest emitter after the USA and China. It accounts for approximately 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions, underscoring the importance of public education on this issue, particularly on World Environment Day.
Globally, approximately 30% of the food produced is wasted, while nearly one billion people suffer from hunger. To achieve our sustainable development goals, action is imperative, and this is precisely what VietHarvest aims to inspire through this event and beyond.
Although our official registration birthday was on June 5th, 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from immediately launching our food rescue operations. We decided to postpone the launch until June 2022, conducting a pilot food rescue in Hanoi with the invaluable support of our partners at Action on Poverty.
How can individuals or organizations get involved and contribute to the cause of VietHarvest?
Every donation we receive contributes directly to providing a meal for someone in need in Vietnam. To support our cause, individuals can donate through our event website.
We are incredibly grateful for our dedicated network of volunteers and are always excited to welcome more passionate individuals to join our mission. If you're interested in volunteering, please sign up on our website.
If you're a food business with surplus food to donate, please reach out to our HCMC Manager, Phuong Anh Ngo. We accept fresh fruits, vegetables with blemishes or bruises, imperfect produce, items nearing their best-before date, as well as cooked food.
Together, we can make a difference in reducing food waste and alleviating hunger in Vietnam.