What we do
AICS Hanoi Office is a regional hub, competent also for cooperation activities in Cambodia and Laos. At present, the interventions are mainly concentrated in Vietnam.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with a population of about 93 million people, one third of which is Youth, is still among the best performing countries in South-East Asia in terms of economic and social indicators. Since 1986 when the “Doi Moi” (Renovation) reform process was launched, Vietnam has made strides on its development path, lifting 40 million people out of poverty over 2 decades, reaching the rank of Middle Income Country (MIC) in 2010, and achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Over the years economic growth has been impressive, even in spite of the global economic crisis.
However, the Country faces the important challenges of making its growth stable, equitable and sustainable, and avoiding the so called “Middle Income Trap”. There are still significant inequalities, especially between urban and rural areas, among provinces, ethnic groups and various population groups, with a significant portion of the population vulnerable to falling back into poverty. Significant investments over recent decades have made headway, but more productive infrastructure, particularly in energy, transport, water, sanitation, and telecommunication, are needed. Job creation and training of skilled and specialized human resources, with an eye to new technologies, are also paramount for a sustained growth. Further, the impact of this growth on the environment cannot be underestimated, with environmental emergencies related to the unsustainable use of resources and Climate Change requiring urgent attention.
Since Vietnam, as Middle Income Country, started attracting more private sector investment (Foreign Direct Investment - FDI) rather than Official Development Assistance (ODA), several international development actors have changed their strategy in the Country. Italy also recognizes that the evolving needs at this stage of development require an even stronger presence on key areas in order to foster the sustainable and equitable development of the Country. In over a quarter of century of cooperation, the Italian Development Cooperation, and its Vietnamese partners, have deepened their knowledge of the varied and changing demands and challenges, and accumulated a wealth of experience on how to best respond to them.
AICS Hanoi is now adapting to the crucial needs of the country for economic restructuring and enhancement of the role of private sector, in particular Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), for Human Resources (Vocational Training) who are better protected from and prepared against Health threats as well as able to provide capable workforce, and for a better use of resources, such as Water and Natural Resources in general, in the effort to contribute in the mitigation on the effects of Climate Change and Natural Disasters. Building on the successes and lessons learned from our past and continuing activities in the sectors of Water and Sanitation, Environment and Health, we intend to boost support on the Environment, developing new interventions in the sectors of Sustainable Energy and Water Resource Management in a more holistic and multi-sectoral approach that can effectively address the complex issues faced by the country, while utilizing Italy’s distinguishing expertise, in a new phase of cooperation. Just as more efficient and clean energy production, distribution and consumption is crucial not only for the Environment but also for sustainable economic development, a good management of Water Resources, in particular around the two main river basins of the Red-Thai Binh River and Mekong Delta, will be key to create the right conditions for people to prosper in those areas and beyond, preventing natural disasters as well as food security and health risks, thus enhancing community resilience.
Environment Protection and Water and Sanitation
Vietnam is among the ten countries in the world most affected by the negative effects of over-exploitation of natural resources and Climate Change. For this reason both the Vietnamese Government and the international donor community have set environmental protection as one of the priorities. Italy has consequently decided to focus the Debt-for-Development Swap programme (about 7.7 million Euro) on a wide spectrum of environmental protection activities. Along with the Debt Swap programme, Italy has financed a number of other initiatives related to the environment. In order to reduce the negative impacts of recurrent floods along the coastal areas of Central and South-Central Vietnam, two projects, one (2.5 million Euro) concluded in 2011, and its ongoing second phase (4 million Euro) are improving the national flood forecasting and warning systems. Italy has also funded a project worth 1 million Euro, led by the Politecnico di Milano University, to enhance the efficiency of the management of the multi-reservoir systems in the Red-Thai Binh river basin. Building on success of the flood warning and sustainable river-basin management projects, a new project that will combine the methodologies and technological contributions of the two approaches is currently under formulation.
Environmental protection is closely linked to the issue of Water and Sanitation. This is why the Programme Aid, worth 2.4 million Euro, aims to provide the Country with the necessary equipment to make a more effective and efficient use of water resources. Several other initiatives - worth almost 50 million Euro altogether - are being implemented in Central and Southern Vietnam to counter the deterioration of the environment caused by rapid urbanization, and to provide adequate access to drinking and irrigation water.
An emerging area of interest is Sustainable Energy. In line with recent multilateral agreements, such as the COP 21 in Paris, the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Italian Development Cooperation emphasizes the importance of an integrated approach, which foresees the involvement of various stakeholders and recognizes the role of energy in sustainable development and environmental protection. Italy can count on its wealth of experience and competences from the institutional actors, private sector, civil society, research and academic world to support this sector in Vietnam, where an increasing population, a rising desire for goods and services, rapid urbanization, and fast growth of industrial and service sectors, are exerting increased pressure on energy supplies, with consumption foreseen to increase by 10.5% per year between 2016-2020. Furthermore, the ambitious national plans and international commitments regarding the development of Renewable Energy Sources confirm the strategic relevance of the sector, in which AICS Hanoi is currently identifying new initiatives. In particular, AICS Hanoi is developing project proposals on the integration of Renewable Energy Sources into the national electric grid, supporting the development of the regulatory framework and the introduction of smart grids technologies. It also engages in the promotion of energy efficiency for SMEs.
Small and Medium Enterprises Development
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Vietnam’s private sector and can be the driver for sustained growth. For this reason the Italian Development Cooperation has chosen to focus on improving their competitiveness and productivity in order to facilitate the journey towards a more open market economy. This is mainly being done through a new programme that will create a credit line to ease SMEs’ access to finance in order to improve technology and know-how levels at both firm and sector level. In a declining ODA scenario, focusing on SMEs is also a strategy to ensure the success of a development programme, also thanks to the involvement of the Italian private sector. By choosing specific sectors, such as that of leather and shoes, textile and woodwork, the Italian Development Cooperation avails itself of the experience of Italian private sector actors that will contribute to the development of the same sectors in Vietnam.
The final goal is to promote a more sustainable and inclusive growth of the private sector, which can enable Vietnamese SMEs to compete steadily on the international market. To this end, the quality standard of goods produced need to positively relate to the standards offered by other countries, and production costs need to be lowered.
Enhancing the vocational training sector is a very important part of the work of the Italian Development Cooperation in Vietnam. The new programme “Supporting Employability and Social Inclusion in Vietnam Vocational Training Schools” focuses on the provision of advanced machinery, training of school staff, update of curricula, and set up of career guidance services in three schools. The focus of the programme is increasing the quality of the workforce in order to enhance competitiveness and quality of the trained workers. The programme on development of SMEs - although not specifically on vocational training - also includes a component on training.
In the effort of diversifying the offer of vocational training, another programme is being envisaged to follow up on a previous archaeological restoration initiative, implemented in partnership with UNESCO, in the archaeological site of My Son. Under the programme “Vocational Training Centre for Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Heritage” beneficiaries will be trained on a number of restoration techniques, from the most traditional ones to more modern ones, including dedicated IT programming.
Different sorts of training are provided also through other initiatives. For example, the programme to prevent human trafficking between Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, carried out in partnership with IOM, seeks to mitigate economic vulnerability of migrants and their families in source communities through skill training and job placement.
The rapid economic development of the Country has an impact on several social issues, including the level of healthcare being offered. Despite the recent improvements in the national healthcare system, various aspects may be improved, such as infrastructure, human resources, medical equipment, and the general management of available resources.
Far from the country’s main metropolitan sprawls, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s central region is the one suffering the most from the lack of innovation in the healthcare system. Since 2007, the Italian Development Cooperation has been working with Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy, in order to implement a programme, divided in three phases, on epidemiology and pandemic risk response. The programme takes its name from the Italian Doctor who first identified SARS in Vietnam in 2003, Dr. Carlo Urbani. The premature passing of Dr. Urbani, due to the disease that he had isolated and was trying to defeat, was the reason for the launch of the programme, which led to the creation of an advanced epidemiology center at University of Hue. Over the years, several doctors and biologists have been and are being trained thanks to the Italian intervention; furthermore, a degree programme has been launched in collaboration with University of Sassari, in order to update the personnel’s knowledge on the most advanced techniques in risk prevention and response, both at the local and international level. Nonetheless, since the healthcare sector requires high qualitative standards, AICS has launched a new programme (13 million euros soft loan) in order to widen the scope of intervention in the same geographical area.
Migration and Human Rights
Since the 1990s, a key priority for countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), such as Vietnam, has been to improve connectivity and reduce trade costs, in an effort to boost the sub-region’s economic growth and competitiveness. Numerous Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been created along economic corridors and within key strategic border areas, especially between Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, with the aim of attracting inward investments. The mushrooming of SEZs has resulted in an increase in human trafficking—especially vulnerable children living around border areas—due to various factors. Firstly, the increased internal and cross-border labour migration flows comprise a large number of vulnerable migrants. Secondly, the entertainment industry is one of the most lucrative in the SEZs, and there has been a growing demand for sex workers. Thirdly, the privatization of land in SEZs has increased the pressure on poorer farming households to move off the land and look for employment opportunities elsewhere.
In 2014, the Italian Development Cooperation launched a regional programme, implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to prevent the trafficking of vulnerable migrants, in particular minors, within the SEZs and economic corridors of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and to enhance the protection of vulnerable migrants, especially victims of trafficking.