Business for a cause
Vietnamese-American David Duong has spun gold from American trash.
The slight, mustachioed entrepreneur made his fortune managing a recycling firm in California. Now, he’s hoping to afford opportunities in education to eager students in Vietnam who may lack the means to make it to American universities.
Last February, President Barack Obama appointed David Duong to serve on the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF)—a scholarship organization run through the US State Department.
In a way, the move signifies the final achievement of a lifetime of educational philanthropy.
David Duong made his fortune as CEO of California Waste Solutions, a top US recycling firm. He returned to Vietnam to create Vietnam Waste Solutions, which collects and processes solid waste in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I am not interested in business only,” David Duong said. “I also care about education. That I invest in Vietnam, care about the country and the Vietnamese community is no secret. That’s why US Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others nominated me for the position [at VEF].”
David Duong was born in 1958 in Saigon. He and his family emigrated to America in 1976. When he landed in America, the young man worked as a waste collector and went on to establish Cogido Recycling Company in 1979 with the help of every member in his family.
Following his rise to prominence, David Duong opened Vietnamese summer classes for young people, raised funds for American schools and created scholarships and awards for the best Vietnamese students in California.
In Vietnam, David Duong’s company has furnished schools with computers and established scholarship funds for promising, underprivileged students. He has also created entities to help families overcome poverty which is often cited as one of the main reasons that young students cease attending school.
“I don’t want to just hand out fish,” said the businessman. “We’re teaching people to fish here.”
According to David Duong, VEF spends US$4-6 million annually to fund higher-level education for Vietnamese students who wish to study in America. Under the VEF scholarship program, after finishing their two- to four-year course, the students return to Vietnam to serve their homeland.
David Duong said that interested applicants can request recommendations from their schools, or contact VEF’s office in Hanoi to apply for the scholarships. They must pass interviews with professors from the US in order to obtain the honorarium.
This month, the panel of professors will come to Vietnam to select 40 students from more than 80 candidates for the 2010-2011 school year.
“Starting in 2011, we plan to increase the number of scholarships for locals to study in the US. We will also increase the budget for these grants. At the moment, we can only afford to accept about a third to one half of the increasing number of candidates we get every year. To execute this plan, we will seek donations from big companies who have set aside money for education,” David Duong said.
Bringing it all back home
THE VEF EXPLAINED
Founded in 2007 through an initiative by former President Bill Clinton, VEF is an independent organization, funded by the US government. VEF aims to promote a closer relationship between the US and Vietnam and also improve the quality of education in Vietnam. VEF is governed by a board of directors which includes three US senators and several individuals appointed by the President. VEF grants scholarships to young Vietnamese scientists and students to study in the US.
At the moment, David Duong’s latest project aims to bring American University campuses to Vietnam.
He said that instead of sending the students to America, the idea of bringing US universities to Vietnam could help more students enjoy high quality education at a more affordable cost.
Currently, David Duong and his co-workers are putting together a committee to the idea to VEF. David Duong says the notion will prove “beneficial for both Vietnam and America,” he said. David Duong added that students from all over the world can come to study abroad at such campuses.
“All of the things I do for the benefit of the two countries, I think, will surely bear fruit,” David Duong said. “I believe I will have the full support of the Vietnamese government since both the Minister of Education and Training and the Prime Minister are determined to improve the quality of local education,” David Duong said.