The new cyclo challenge

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From fund-raising to raising awareness charity event shifts focus to become more inclusive


A race gets underway at the Saigon Cyclo Challenge 2010. The event will become more inclusive this year, doing away with stiff entrance fees and setting much lower fund-raising targets, in order to focus on the charity message, organizers say.

One of the major charity events of the year in Ho Chi Minh City, the Saigon Cyclo Challenge, will no longer seek to match or raise more funds than its previous editions.

From a high-profile event involving stiff entrance fees, corporate sponsors as well as corporate participants, the event will have free admission and a considerably lowered fund-raising target that takes a lot of pressure off the organizers.

"This year we're in a fortunate position where we can say if the funds are less, it is okay... because we see having more people know what we do is equally valuable," said Kimberly Brennan, head of fundraising at British NGO Saigon Children's Charity (SCC) that hosts the annual event.

Launched in 2001, the charity race aimed to raise funds to support underprivileged children in southern Vietnam. Last year it raised around US$60,000, a 40 percent drop from the record $100,000 in 2008.

This year, the target has been halved to $30,000.

SCC said that at the end of the day, it is not all about money.

Denying that dwindling contributions had anything to do with the shift, SCC director Paul Finnis told Thanh Nien Weekly: "The key reason for redesigning the Cyclo Challenge this year is that we found the running of the event was simply taking too much time too much time for SCC and too much time for the sponsors.

"With help from 150 volunteers it felt as though SCC was more like an event management company than an INGO."

Finnis said the support the event receives from HSBC Vietnam, its gold sponsor over the past 11 years, remains as strong as ever.

In a statement sent to Thanh Nien Weekly, HSBC Vietnam said it believes the new format of the event will help all participants focus on the race itself.

"It will be refreshing... Since people will not have to pay attention to other events like in previous years, we will have one event to invest in," the London-based bank said. "The race itself has always been the most exciting and challenging part and this year it is believed to be more challenging."

A representative of the Vietnam branch of Adidas Group, another main sponsor, also welcomed the change, saying it would make it much easier and simpler for his staff to participate in the event.

"[What is] equally important is the message of SCC: We are a charity organization that works for children's education," said SCC's Brennan.

"In the past everybody knew Cyclo Challenge was organized by SCC but sometimes that message might have gotten lost in the huge festivity of that day," she added.

"So rather than trying to have a small and exclusive event and charging a lot of money for ticket fees, we will make it a community event and the community will know [more] about SCC."

Set to kick off at 9 a.m. on March 12 at The Crescent in HCMC's Phu My Hung area, SCC said this year it would inject new life into to the cyclo race.

"This year's race will be held... with a completely new design and a new streamlined format that will make the races even more exciting," a SCC press release said on Thursday (February 17). "The final round will be the battle between the three fastest teams... Stripped of any unnecessary embellishments, Cyclo Challenge focuses entirely on strength and speed, giving the audience and the participants the feeling of what a true race is all about," it added.

"It will be a great day for the community [when] everybody comes out and enjoys it," Brennan said.

On Thursday, SCC has announced it was partnering with Zing Me, Vietnam's largest social network, to launch a new version of a popular online game on the network. "By introducing Cyclo Challenge to the audience, we hope Zing Me to reach out and inspire young people to effect positive change for the community," the press release said.

Brennan said feedback on the streamlined version of the Saigon Cyclo Challenge would help SCC shape the event next year.

Whatever changes the event undergoes, one thing would remain the same, Brennan said. "We will use the money to the best of our ability in order to carry out our program: education for children."

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