Ethnic minority women living in the communities of Dien Bien and Bac Kan located in Northern Vietnam follow traditional gender roles. Most of their days are spent doing household work and taking care of their children. Preparing meals can take hours since they have to travel across the forest to collect firewood. Collecting firewood is a difficult task that the majority of women perform weekly or monthly. It normally takes a full day for them to collect. Carrying firewood from forest to home by motorbike can be very dangerous due poor road quality. For those who can afford purchasing it, this represents an expense of $4 a month which is a high cost for families living in this area. Additionally, toxic smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires causes long-lasting damage to the environment and household health.

CARE in Vietnam partnered with GreenGen JSC, a Vietnamese company delivering advanced biomass cookstoves with efficient combustion. GreenGen cookstoves help reduce deforestation and decrease exposure to harmful indoor smoke.

Through the “Empower Me” project ethnic minority women, who are active members of the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA), were given the necessary training to become saleswomen or cookstove “marketing supporters”. VSLA is a platform for women in disadvantaged areas to create strong friendships, share experiences and livelihood skills, and  self-manage a savings fund.

In 2016, two trainings under the “Empower Me” project were carried out during the month of December, giving enough time for the participants to take advantage of the upcoming Tet- Vietnamese New Year holiday, a high peak selling day. “Empower Me” is built on CARE in Vietnam’s Ethnic Minority Women’s Empowerment project which aims to empower ethnic minority women to actively participate in local socio-economic development planning and decision making.

As an Alliance Women’s Empowerment Fund partner, CARE in Vietnam values the partnership with Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, as it enables access to international resources and information which are key to continue the mission of empowering and improving the lives of women.

During the first training, participants were introduced to the concepts of climate change and renewable energy. Additionally, they learned how to use GreenGen’s cookstove properly and discussed basic skills needed to run a successful business.

The second training was mainly spent developing business plans in addition to a deeper discussion of business skills. A total of 98 business plans were developed at the end of the 2 trainings. 

Before the trainings, a quick analysis of potential barriers such as: duration of the training, family support, taking care of children and household chores, was conducted. Those barriers were discussed with participants to find a proper solution to allow them to complete the training without cutting into their household work. The result was facilitating two trainings in two weeks instead of one long training.

As a strategy to engage men in this project, dialogues will be conducted between men and women in the coming months. This strategy will also be a gateway to promote healthy communication in the household, particularly in the work load sharing and decision making process over household’s income generation.

The “Empower Me” project represents more than just business training.  It has created a new role for women, the role of businesswomen. It has also provided them with a set of life and business skills they can use in any future business venture.  As shared by one of the program participants, Ms. Quang Thi Kien, head of a VSLA group in Dien Bien “By participating in the training, I can use the knowledge and skills in household planning such as in buying and selling things as rice, pig or chicken. It is better to have plan for every other activities. I also wish to use this knowledge and skill in doing other businesses in the future”.

Of the many lessons learned throughout the execution of this project, one that is prevalent is that the majority of women participants had experienced selling, mostly poultry or household agricultural products, at their local markets. Their entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to improve their families’ livelihood were some of the factors that drove them to engage in this project. Despite the fact that only 4% of the women participants had completed high school they were still able to engage, calculate, and account money.

The long-term goal of the project is to reach more provinces in Vietnam by facilitating the establishment of micro-enterprises that are ran primarily by ethnic minority women. In addition to empowering ethnic minority women, who face many challenges in the business world due to gender inequality and traditional gender roles, this project also aims to contribute to Vietnam’s global efforts to tackle climate change and promote renewable energy.