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|Eliminating poverty is the main route towards economic stability Photo: Le Toan|
Hundreds of local and overseas visitors were attracted to the stall of Vun Art on the sidelines of the ASEAN-China-UNDP Symposium on innovation in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and eradicating poverty taking place in Hanoi last week. Some were delighted to find that the beautifully hand-made folk pictures were created by people with disabilities.
“They are so talented. They are people with disabilities but they have beautiful souls,” Jianshan Zhong, a delegate from China, told VIR. “The pictures tell me some of the features of Vietnamese culture. I was also so surprised to find that all these pictures were made from fabric waste.”
In operation for over a year, Vun Art is a social enterprise founded by Le Viet Cuong. Used to having many difficulties in finding a job and often harbouring feelings of uselessness, Cuong now wants to help people like him. “The name Vun means small pieces of rags that have no use – just thrown away things in the thoughts of many people. Just like those with disabilities, when we seek results together as one piece, we can create great social significance,” Cuong said.
Next to Cuong’s stall is another with bamboo items like watches, tissue boxes, and straws. These are products are made by Bamboo Vision, a member of Berlin Love Vietnam Co., Ltd., founded by two Germans and one Vietnamese.
“Vietnam is the land of bamboo. Currently, the regions with bamboo are usually rural areas where people’s lives are still difficult,” said CEO Robert Spilabotte. “Bringing technologies from outside and inside Vietnam, we want to create jobs and new businesses for people in these regions, along with replacing single-use plastic items with bamboo.”
According to Spilabotte, with the support of government organisations, so far, Bamboo Vision has worked with two facilities and created jobs for 75 people in the central province of Thanh Hoa.
Social enterprises like Vun Art or Bamboo Vision and many others are contributing to creating jobs and reducing poverty in different localities in Vietnam. Meanwhile, in other ASEAN countries and China, these kinds of enterprises are also actively making life better for people with disabilities and those in rural areas, in an attempt to ensure that no one is left behind. It is a reason why innovation has been identified a key factor to achieve the SDGs and eradicate poverty in the region.
Role of innovation
As one of the most important economic regions in the world, the ASEAN has significant potential to influence the global trajectory, in terms of both achieving the SDGs and mainstreaming innovations that are inclusive and financially sustainable. Over the years, the ASEAN has made significant achievements in the implementation of several key SDGs, especially regarding Goal 1 (Poverty), with the number of people living on a maximum of $1.25 a day falling from one out of every two people in 1990 to one out of every eight in 2015.
The ASEAN has also achieved significant achievements in Goal 4 (Quality Education), with the primary school graduation rate above 95 per cent for all ASEAN member states; and Goal 3 (Health and Welfare) with a steady decline in childbirth and tuberculosis prevalence in almost all ASEAN member states. However, some areas still need improvement and creative approaches to ensure all 17 goals will be achieved by 2030.
Emphasising the role of innovation and creativity which is extremely important to achieve sustainable development and poverty reduction, according to Kung Phoak, deputy secretary general of the ASEAN and in charge of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. “Creativity and innovation go beyond the scope of science and technology, and require a new and improved way of working whether in the field of policy or co-operation. We must ensure to build a willingness to innovate and promote inclusive and non-divisive innovation,” Phoak said.
According to him, the United Nations’ SDGs and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 have complementary points. “Efforts to achieve the SDGs are also to achieve the ASEAN agenda. Comprehensive and inclusive innovation is indispensable if we want to realise the ASEAN vision and SDGs for the benefit of all people,” he added.
Next year, Vietnam will chair the ASEAN and become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, thus fulfilling commitments to the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is both a duty and mission for the country.
Highlighting Vietnam’s determination in contributing to achieving the goals, Nguyen Quoc Cuong, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed his appreciation for support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and from China.
“China and the UNDP have helped the ASEAN and Vietnam promote poverty reduction and sustainable development efforts in many aspects, from consulting and resource support to implementation of development programmes, building integration capacity, and green, clean, and sustainable development,” Cuong said.
Cuong noted that building a harmonious, sustainable, and people-centred community is always the ASEAN’s top priority. Along with domestic efforts, the bloc is attaching great importance to co-operation with partners, including strengthening connections between the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“The ASEAN’s 2019 theme of promoting partnerships for sustainability reaffirmed the region’s determination to promote sustainability in all three pillars of the community, and implement the SDGs towards 2030,” said Cuong.
Meanwhile, Valerie Cliff, UNDP deputy regional director for Asia-Pacific, offered proposals to create a conducive environment for inclusive innovation to accelerate and achieve the SDGs. The first is to embrace the role of the state in setting a direction for innovation at all levels of government. “Innovation has a direction and it can help or hinder the speed and scale of levelling the playing field upon which poverty sits,” she said.
According to Cliff, innovation is contextual. “It may go without saying, but we can’t remind ourselves enough that we cannot copy and paste success factors or failures,” she emphasised. “We must engage citizens throughout the policy process. Many governments are already starting to shift their approach in regards to how they listen, respond, and in some cases, even anticipate what citizens need and want.”
As a member of the ASEAN, over the years, the Vietnamese government has identified that if poverty is not solved, the state cannot achieve its development goals such as economic growth, stability, and human rights. “Therefore, poverty reduction has become a major policy of the Vietnamese government on the way to sustainable development,” said Le Tan Dung, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
In 2016 and 2017, the government spent VND14.58 trillion ($634 million) out of VND41.5 trillion ($1.8 billion) of the National Target Programme of Sustainable Poverty Reduction for the 2016-2020 period. In addition, the government allocated VND44.2 trillion ($1.9 billion) to implement the regular poverty reduction policy, supporting the poor in health, education, housing, and credit. The localities throughout the country have also raised more than VND7.3 trillion ($317 million), VND5.56 trillion ($241 million) of which was spent for social security and poverty reduction in 2016 and 2017.
According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA), poverty reduction results in Vietnam have seen remarkable changes. The average poverty rate nationwide fell from 9.88 per cent in 2015 to 5.23 per cent by the end of 2018; the rate of poor households in extremely difficult-to-reach communes reduced by an average of over 3 per cent annually; and the rate of poor households of ethnic minorities decreased from 39.61 per cent at the end of 2016 to 35.28 per cent at the end of the following year.
“Vietnam will continue to implement livelihood improvements and raise the quality of life for the poor, ensuring that income per capita of poor households nationwide by the end of 2020 will increase by 1.5 times compared to the end of 2015,” Dung from the MoLISA explained. “Particularly, the income of households in poor districts, poor communes, villages, and hamlets in extremely difficult circumstances, as well as the poor households of ethnic minorities, will be doubled.”
In 2017, Vietnam approved National Action Plan to implement the 2030 Agenda for SDGs with 17 common goals and 115 detailed targets, improving co-operation among ministries, sectors, and localities. “So far, 12 ministries and 40 localities have issued their detailed action plans, following the contents and assigned duties,” Dung said.
He believed that with the government’s continuously improved policies and support of international partners worldwide, Vietnam can achieve its SDGs as well as the UN’s ones along with realising the ASEAN Vision Community 2025.
“From the practical experiences in China over the last 40 years, we have seen 700 million people overcome poverty. People themselves have the capacity to eradicate poverty if the government has good policies,” Huang Xilian, China’s Ambassador to the ASEAN told VIR.
He also emphasised the importance of community connection, and economic openness. “These are crucial elements for poverty reduction and sustainable development,” he said.