Journey of giving: how grassroot innovators help people come closer to their dreams.

Blog by Head of Experimentation Tran Huong Giang and Head of Solutions Mapping Nguyen Tuan Luong, Accelerator Lab, UNDP in Viet Nam

March 28, 2023

"Garbage brings success to my life. Thanks to the kindness of people who gave me and my four brothers food and clothes, I grew up and succeeded. Therefore, in return I am sharing my technology to give women living in harsh conditions a chance to overcome poverty." - Ms. Trinh Thi Hong, Founder of Minh Hong Biotech.

When the garbage truck encountered a problem and could not come to collect trash, Ms. Trinh Thi Hong and people in her neighborhood in Da Nang city suffered from the unpleasant odor. Therefore, Hong collected fruit peels and vegetable scraps to produce shampoo, shower gel, dishwashing, and floor cleaning liquid. From this experiment, she came up with the idea of making non-toxic sanitation products from fruit peels and other food waste. Hong used to engage in social work and pharmaceutical sales, she didn’t have much formal training in creating cleaning products.  She spent more than three years researching, doing experiments, developing formulas, and improving her products so that they can meet the industry standards and regulations. One of her products - dish soap made from vegetable and fruits peels - contains enzymes. When used, this enzyme removes odor in the air and its residues purify water in rivers or seas. 

In her community, Hong noticed that due to urbanization, many farmers do not have land and it is difficult for them to find jobs. Conscious of the negative impact of toxic chemicals in industrial cleaning products that people use every day, Hong decided to expand her production, creating jobs for women with low income in her community.  As a result, women process around 109 tons of waste to produce more than 50,000 liters of products per month. 

"Nice rose with thorns cannot prevent you from holding it, hard circumstance cannot stop you doing wonderful things." - Ms. Nguyen Thi Van, Founder of Imagtor

While Ms. Hong in Da Nang is passionate about waste recycling and helping poor women earn a better living, Ms. Nguyen Thi Van in Hanoi has been overcoming her own spinal atrophy disease to support other people with disabilities to access decent employment opportunities.

Van has inspired people with disabilities to become leaders with a vision of creating a better working environment for people with disabilities. Her dream is to enhance the capability of people with disabilities in generating added values for themselves and for the society. Van understands the three main barriers to people with disabilities, including weakness in physical health, difficulties in traveling and limited access to good education. Therefore, she has provided 6-month vocational training courses for people with disabilities in photo editing skills as well as soft skills such as team work. She has also improved the accessibility of her office building to encourage more people with disabilities to join the training.

"We have a dream to transform fifty million gasoline motorbikes to electric motorbikes in Viet Nam." - Mr. Phuoc Nguyen, Founder of Selex motors

Also dreaming big, Mr. Phuoc Nguyen’s ambition is to make his home country, the fourth biggest gasoline motorbike market in the world, to be more environmentally friendly, especially when environmental pollution has become a major problem. In Viet Nam, with 50 million motorbikes in circulation, consuming more than 11,700 liters of gasoline and emitting about 35 million tons of CO2 per year, gasoline motorbikes have heavy impact on the environment and people’s health. Nguyen recognizes that the transportation industry has changed rapidly. The first transition in transportation over a century ago was from horse-drawn carriage and bicycles to fossil fuels engine and now it is the era of transition from fossil fuel- powered vehicles to electric ones.

Breathing polluted air every day while driving on the street, Nguyen was wondering why electric vehicles which do not emit CO2 are not more popular in Viet Nam, especially in the delivery industry. A shipper can drive nearly 200 km/day and would have to spend millions of Vietnamese Dongs in gasoline cost. If this cost can be reduced, it helps shippers not only gain more revenue but also emit less CO2 when they drive on the street. But, why not electric motorbikes made in Viet Nam? Nguyen decided to research and create e-vehicles. But things are often difficult before they become easy. The COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges to his company. However, he found out that delivery workers could still operate despite the lockdown. His business model became clearer and clearer; he focused on designing the prototype of e-motorbike for shippers with a comprehensive operating ecosystem including battery swapping stations, auto loss- and- found system, battery swap station navigation system and other solutions which make end-users more comfortable.

Doing good is good for business

The three innovators have different educational backgrounds, but they all dream big to tackle tough problems in their communities and transform the lives of thousands of people who are living in hard conditions. From their points of view, doing business is not simply to make profit but to contribute more values to the society. Hong from Minh Hong Biotech cares more about assisting poor households than losing her copyright. She has transferred the biotechnology to 140 poor women-led households, thus creating jobs for more than four hundred female workers, generating a stable income of VND 4 to 8 million for them.

Hong regularly shares her production processes and technology to women from low-income households and encourages them to make their own livelihood by joining the supply chain.

Trainees at Imagtor

‘I cannot help eight million people with disabilities in Viet Nam but if more people do business like me, we can.’ In an interview with The Leader, Van said that 2018 was the time when the company officially registered and gained revenue of VND 10 billion and profit VND 3 billion. To date, her company has trained about 1,200 people with disabilities, 80% of them have jobs, earning from VND 6,500,000 to VND 23,000,000 per month for their own living and helping their family.

Meanwhile, leaving a good earning and stable job in US and Viet Nam, Nguyen has been realizing his dream of transforming the transportation sector in Viet Nam.

E-motorbike by Selex motors

Solution mapping – finding answers to existing problems in the community.

The three stories above are from three inspiring individuals who each in their own ways founds novel solutions based on their own experience, observation, and passion for transforming their community for the better. From UNDP Solutions Mapping experience, we found that the most sustainable solutions are often from inside-out, meaning that it was born out of local needs, inspired by other initiatives from across the world, and through a process of experimentation, trial-and-error, these champions were able to create unique solutions that fit their local context.

I would like to end my blog with a saying by Ms. Ramla Khalidi, UNDP Resident Representative in Viet Nam: “To innovate means to break new ground, experiment, and solve old problems in new ways. Innovation shouldn’t be confined to high-tech parks, large firms, or international corporations. Many grassroot innovators provide low-income people with solutions to overcome their problems and improve their livelihoods. Minh Hong, Phuoc Nguyen and Van are representing for many grassroots innovators that UNDP is discovering and supporting for the benefit of their communities”. 

Leave us a comment and feel free to reach out at and if you have any thoughts to share on this.
Grateful to my colleagues Nguyen Viet Lan, Tran Thi Bao Anh for their inputs. In our next edition, we will take you to a series of grassroots innovations as well as policy makers’ journey to promote them in Viet Nam.