Vietnam experience

26-Mar-2013    Caroline van Dullemen, director of WorldGranny, shares her experience of her recent trip to Vietnam.

It’s all about social capital stupid!


As more than 60 per cent of the country's 90 million people were born after the Vietnam War ended in 1979, Vietnam is often considered a young country. Travelling from Ho-Chi-Minh City and Danang to Quang Tri and Dong Hoi City, I have to admit: I did not see many old people on the streets. However, just one brief glance at the figures and you see that ageing is on its way. With the increasing life expectancy (today already 75.4 years!) and declining fertility (family planning), the proportion of people 60+ is projected to hit 20 per cent by 2035. By then Vietnam will be officially classified as aged country.


But for now, Vietnam is in a transition phase with an annual growth rate of an average 6% for the last 5 years. Therefore, WorldGranny Pension & Development Network, in alliance with Medical Committee Vietnam (MCNV) and Global Initiative on Psychiatry (GIP) has set up a 5 year TEA-program to focus on health and financial inclusion for those who were left behind. Working with 34 Community Based Organisations and 2 Non Governmental Organisation, the basic work of the alliance is strengthening organisational capacity. Or, seeing it with participant’s eyes: it is all about social capital. During a visit at a Disabled Peoples Organisation the treasury said proudly: ‘Because we are working together now, we can produce much more’ and by looking at his broad smile, it was even fun to work this way. The group made brooms out of weeds held together by bamboo straps, very elegant. According to the men, they could sell many more than they produced right now, if only they could find more funds to buy extra material. I witnessed a microfinance success story life.


However, reflecting on the total program with our colleagues, we learned about the hiccups to overcome. It appeared that the paying back of some groups were lower than expected. If only they could be able to communicate more and exchange experiences. My colleague on this visit, micro- pension expert Robert Timmer suggested to combine a informative website with mobile telephones and text messages to connect the groups. Herewith a link from the Google SMS services. This could make learning and exchange so much easier. Already 34% of the Vietnamese had access to internet in 2012!


Social capital, traditionally formed by large families, clans, religious organisations, mass organisations and work is now declining. Technology could be a new accelerator here. This might be difficult for the older generation, but probably as important since they will not be able to rely on family support as much as in the old days. Experts are concerned that the rate of demographic change could be faster than even Japan's. According to the General Office for Population and Family Planning, the number of Vietnamese people 60 and above reached 8.1 million by 2010, about 10 per cent of the total population and almost double of the year before. A suddenly aged population would create tremendous challenges for socioeconomic development. In addition to losses of productivity and older people do need more pensions and health care. Therefore the TEA-alliance is focussing on income in later life, will it be (micro)pension or work-related. In both cases a collective approach will be beneficial. Creating social capital is a crucial factor.

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