The lasting imprint of Swiss cooperation in Vietnam

Article, 12.05.2017

As planned several years ago, the SDC officially terminated its bilateral cooperation activities with Vietnam at the end of 2016. Much lasting progress has been made over the years, and many rural inhabitants now have a say in local decision-making.

Villagers gathered in a room vote with a show of hands.
Through their active involvement in local development plans, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have experienced a taste of participatory democracy. © SDC

As 2016 came to a close, so too did 25 years of SDC bilateral cooperation in Vietnam. Swiss support there is now in the hands of SECO, which has included Vietnam among its priority countries for economic cooperation since 2008. The SDC's future involvement in Vietnam will be solely in the context of regional programmes and interventions in specific theme areas, such as food security, water management or climate change. Meanwhile, the FDFA's Human Security Division will continue its human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese government. 

Why has the SDC ended its bilateral cooperation in Vietnam? And what conclusions can be drawn? Vietnam has made substantial progress in poverty reduction and institution building. So much so, in fact, that it joined the group of middle-income countries in 2010 and, compared with other priority contexts, no longer met the SDC's criteria for long-term engagement. Withdrawing from Vietnam leaves the SDC with more resources to invest elsewhere, such as in Africa.

Participatory democracy

In its 25 years in Vietnam, the SDC invested a total of CHF 216 million in some 30 projects. The decision to end its presence there was based on some extremely gratifying results, as noted in an external evaluation commissioned by the SDC. Several projects have contributed to a growing culture of participatory democracy, at least in the regions concerned. Hundreds of thousands of villagers are now regularly involved in drawing up local development plans – quite an achievement in a country known for its very centralised regime. 

For example, the electorate voted on which local investments to prioritise and participated in decisions to build or renovate almost 3,500 infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, pipelines, schools and crèches, public toilets, cultural centres, etc.).

Asia Brief «For the first time we can ourselves decide what we really want!» (PDF, Number of pages 4, 654.8 kB, English)

 

Around 20 villagers with spades helping to build a path.
Villagers working to build an access road to their village after convincing local authorities of the importance of such an investment. © SDC DEZA

The SDC's work should be seen as more than just a temporary helping hand in some rural regions of Vietnam: it serves as the gateway to fundamental change in the decentralisation of power. In two provinces (Cao Bang and Hoa Binh), the authorities have included the participatory approach advocated by the SDC in their regular procedures. They now allocate part of their budgets to local development funds. Other provinces are expected to follow suit.

Promotion of local products

Another of the SDC's flagship projects in Vietnam has helped to promote eight key economic products, including spices, bamboo, tea and traditional textiles. More than 25,000 families have seen their incomes grow as a result. In general, the business strategies proposed to SMEs and a number of government-owned companies to improve their access to national and international markets have borne fruit. Improving the competitiveness of local SMEs will remain a topic of Swiss cooperation under SECO.

Asia Brief: «Targeting the persistent pockets of poverty in Vietnam with a value chain approach.» (PDF, Number of pages 4, 756.1 kB, English)

Film: «Market Access for the Rural Poor» 

A woman in traditional dress picking tea leaves.
Tea is one of the agricultural products in Vietnam that the SDC has helped to promote. © SDC DEZA

Other areas of SDC support in Vietnam between 1992 and 2016 include the establishment of an MBA programme, an extensive participatory planning programme for urban development, vocational education and training projects, and 'one-stop shops' for public administration services. Other projects were less successful, however, such as the support given for capacity building and empowering of elected officials within the National Assembly and the provincial parliaments, which was abandoned after failing to make satisfactory progress.

Asia Brief: «25 years of SDC in Vietnam» (PDF, Number of pages 4, 1.1 MB, English)

The SDC in Vietnam between 1992 and 2016: an overview of the number of projects by sector

The SDC in Vietnam between 1992 and 2016: an overview of the number of projects by sector
©SDC SDC