What does success mean to you? For Mai Vo and Quang Do, founders of Overseas Vietnamese, a global community of Overseas Vietnamese professionals, success means setting the next generation up for success the way their parents did for them.
Now more than ever, the world is facing challenges that dwarf individual capacities. Reaching out across generations was never going to be easy, which makes it all the more important for the Vietnamese to come together despite cultural differences.
Though Mai and Quang have not met in real life, it has not stopped them and their co-founders from building an ambitious volunteer team to connect overseas Vietnamese seeking professional and personal development, whether it be through celebrating their members’ pioneering achievements in written articles, their podcast series, or virtual meet-ups.
Calling in from their respective offices in Berlin and London, Mai and Quang recount OV’s origin story, share their thoughts on why Vietnamese people are natural-born entrepreneurs, and explain how the future belongs to those who have trust in their dreams.
How did Overseas Vietnamese start?
Quang: OV started as an ambition to build a professional network for myself. Before breaking into the venture capital industry, which is famously difficult to enter, I realized that it is very much about relationship building. To get a job in VC, I knew I needed to connect with the right people.
I went on a lookout for existing networking groups, specifically for Vietnamese entrepreneurs. The groups I found were focused on other industries, had a different target demographic, or were inactive. So, I thought, why not establish my own community, one that targets the millions of Overseas Vietnamese (Viet Kieus) like myself.
I created a simple LinkedIn group and began inviting Vietnamese people from across the global diaspora. Along the way, I received a personalized message from Mai. I messaged her, we jumped on a call, and just clicked. Our goals were perfectly aligned in terms of how we wanted to advance the Vietnamese society and community. Mai was the tipping point that marked OV’s shift from a local to a more global platform.
Mai: During lockdown, I started a small project called Dragon Fruit Collective in the hopes of reconnecting with my roots. While searching for similar communities online that told stories of being Vietnamese, I came across OV (on page 10 of Google!). I was shocked to see that my cousins were already part of it, yet I hadn’t known. I quickly messaged Quang and that’s how we connected.
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What are you guys hoping to achieve with OV?
Our mission is to foster the professional and personal development of the Overseas Vietnamese at a higher level. We want to help expand our collective understanding of the world and strengthen our bonds as Vietnamese people regardless of our differences. We are the first generation that can come together in this way.
There is so much we can do if we support each other. It's important to celebrate the achievements and social advancements of our people by telling their stories. Eventually, we hope to socially acculturate Vietnamese people and give back to those who didn't have the same opportunities growing up like we did.
Another part of our mission is to change the global image of Vietnamese people. We have resilient spirits and an unmatchable culture. Being Vietnamese needs to be recognized as a strong characteristic.
What are the inner-workings of OV?
Our team of over 30 volunteers is always thinking about how we can better connect people. Our LinkedIn group has over 6,000 members and will probably reach 10,000 by early next year. But because people see LinkedIn as a primarily professional tool, we started our Slack channel. It was important for us to create a space that was more comfortable for the community.
We connect people through 3 dimensions: their industry, their geographical location, and their common interests outside of work. We also have features like member of the week, our podcast series, monthly articles, and the newsletter.
We even activated a bot that pairs people up every week for a virtual coffee across borders and time zones –giving people that opportunity to connect on a deeper level: on both career related and non-career related topics.
How does OV intersect your everyday jobs and who you are outside of work?
Mai: I started working at Google to harness our corporate resources for social good and recently moved to Google’s Digital Responsibility team in the UK. My work in particular is with NGOs, and social impact is something I'm very passionate about, which is where OV comes in. I've always been a big community builder, so I wanted to incorporate my passion for social good and community building in an initiative that would benefit the Vietnamese community.
Quang: My current industry is venture capital. It's important to have an up-to-date internal database of people to connect them with each other. That is the same when building a community. I enjoy meeting new people and can confidently say that I have never met as many inspiring people as I have with OV. The community and our mission have become a vital and ingrained part of me.
What are some strengths you've noticed in the working Vietnamese community?
Being entrepreneurial is something that goes hand in hand with being Vietnamese. We naturally have a strong entrepreneurial drive and business acumen. We get things done because we have had to historically, which has carried through to our generation today.
It all comes down to our grit and hustle; this is especially true for Vietnamese women. They're powerful. As a people, we don't feel sorry for ourselves and don't complain. We're go-getters; we plan out our sufferings and we take them head on. We do it for ourselves and for our families.
What advice would you give to the younger generation of Vietnamese?
Despite having entrepreneurial DNA, younger Vietnamese people currently don't pursue entrepreneurship as much as they should. If you come from a family where your parents sacrificed a lot for you to have a good education, you would typically be more drawn to establishing a career in a way that is more stable.
But we need to take more risks; we have it in us. We cannot be afraid to start something from the ground up or pursue careers in the creative field if we want to become role models for the future generation. If we don’t enter these career paths, it’s going to take another generation before we get ahead in these fields.
We want to reach that point of social advancement where people dare to dream big, where we stop comparing ourselves to our Western counterparts or see ourselves as inferior just because we grew up surrounded by a different culture or because we look different.
That's why Overseas Vietnamese spotlights Vietnamese entrepreneurs in our podcasts and articles. We're here to build that confidence Vietnamese people need to pursue their big dreams. We are celebrating people who are successful against all odds. These stories deserve to be told and celebrated.