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Imago Work Experts Visit Global Politics Class

As part of the Global Politics' IB DP course, UNIS Hanoi students had the chance to chat with Michelle and Michael Beard, founding partners of Simple Coffee Hanoi to get a sense of what they are doing in Vietnam to help with sustainable patterns of production and consumption in the coffee industry.

With so many countries tied in to the globalised coffee market, our students wanted to know “Where does Simple Coffee source their coffee beans and how much does the workers get paid? Does simple coffee source their own coffee beans and does it make sure there are ethical workplace conditions?”

Students learned that Simple Coffee does not work according to the Fair Trade model, with rigorous standards for farmers and purchasers as well as the use of cooperatives and minimum prices, but they do engage in Direct Trade.   

Further more, informed by their experience of raising a son with Down Syndrome, Michelle and Michael Beard started Imago Work as the social enterprise arm of their Simple Coffee brand.

Imago Work provides in-house training for Vietnamese with special cognitive abilities such as Down Syndrome or Autism with the goal of creating a network of socially inclusive work spaces.  

They have a few partners in Hanoi and are always on the lookout to find job placement opportunities for their beneficiaries.

Helping Lives Bloom

The impact of microfinance has become more than a theoretical case study in an IB Economics class thanks to UNIS Hanoi’s 25th Birthday Gift fund and a ‘blooming’ partnership with a local NGO. Our students are now at the hard end of decision making, with real lives at stake.

Today, a second loan application is up for consideration. A request for what to many of us is a meagre two million Dong, but to an isolated pregnant mother in a rural farming village it meant much more. It meant a lifeline. Young, uneducated and a victim of domestic violence, the two million Dong, she hoped, would give her the chance to buy and rear 50 chicks; just enough to generate an income for her, her young daughter and her yet-to-be-born baby to live on. 

Yet despite her determination to work towards a better, safer future, the decision to turn her plans into reality was not in her hands, but in those of five UNIS Hanoi students. 

As part of the School’s Microfinance for Change service learning programme, students deliberate over real loan applications received from women living in one of six villages in the Phu Minh Commune in Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province. In collaboration with micro-financing cooperative, Bloom Microventures, the students review at least four loans every month. And they soon discover that it’s not just cold, hard facts and figures that play a part in granting loans. Social circumstances matter also. “When we look at the applicant’s loan history, she has proved she can pay back” said Carl Anderson, a High School student, originally from Denmark. “But her situation seems to be much worse now. There is little guarantee she’ll be able to meet the repayments. Yet I do think we have a responsibility to help her while she’s pregnant.”

Listening to the discussions is the Operations Director from Bloom Microventures, Ly Tran. She suggests the students take into consideration the purpose of microcredit, which is meeting the human needs of people on the breadline. “Our work is the story of small changes,” she reminded them. “Through microfinance and social enterprise we help women in farming communities improve their cash flow so that they do not simply rely on income from perennial crops such as cassava and canna. We also believe we have a social responsibility towards the women to help improve their quality of life. That includes assisting women in dire needs who, despite their best efforts, simply may not be able to repay.”

However, thanks to the extremely low interest rates, successful loan applicants have all repaid their loans. 

“Over the course of two academic years, we have overseen 47 active loans,” said Donna Frose, UNIS Hanoi teacher and one of the facilitators for the Microfinance for Change programme. “Our partnership with Bloom Microventures who work with the local Women’s Union means we are dealing directly with a community based, local organization who are a part of the community themselves. We receive very solid applications for real need and minimise the risks usually associated with lending.”

But it’s not all paperwork for the group, the students also visit the villages, meet the faces behind the names and hopefully witness the difference a small loan can make. Donna continued, “At the beginning of the school year, we take a trip to the area so that the students get a sense of the applicants’ daily lives; the culture, the economics and the personal lives of these people. We also make connections between the economic concepts that they are dealing with in their classes and very practical realities.”

In 2014, the Microfinance for Change programme was created from a $10,000 grant from UNIS Hanoi’s 25th Birthday Gift Fund. Since its start with micro-credit, the programme has expanded.

 “One group of students oversees the active loans, while another group of students market and sell honey produced from the farmers who live in the same commune” explained UNIS Hanoi Community Liaison Officer, Nathalie Grun who also works with the group. “From the profits, we hope to be able to increase our budget for lending, giving us the opportunity to offer further loans to more people.”

“Remaining involved in the same area, helping the same group of people but in different ways means our service becomes more engaging and sustainable for everyone” affirmed Nathalie. “We are excited to be part of a programme that truly transforms lives.”


To What Extent Should the Public Have Access to Son Doong Cave?

Grade 11 ESS students participated in a role play to explore the question of public access to Son Doong cave. Students modelled different environmental value systems including deep ecologist, soft ecologist, environmental manager, and cornucopian. 

Son Doong cave in Quảng Bình province is the largest in the world. The cave contains areas of primary forest with high biodiversity including endemic species of arthropods, blind fish, rare centipedes and white translucent shrimp.

Grade 11 ESS students debated plans to construct a cable car to enable mass tourism to the cave. The activity made links to SGDs #8 and #15 and engaged students in conversations about protecting Vietnamese biodiversity. Students explored the concept of environmental value systems which is foundational to the DP Environmental Systems & Societies course.