Private-Sector Solutions to Public Health Challenges
Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, 18 - 30 April 2016
In April 2016, GIFT returned to Ho Chi Minh City to examine a pressing challenge: how to improve public health in rural Vietnam.
Working with HappyTap, a company that has produced a low-cost and low-tech handwashing station for Vietnamese families and communities, GLP participants designed a business plan that developed new distribution and sales channels for HappyTap's revolutionary handwashing device and designed a path towards its further expansion in Vietnam, which could easily be applied to other developing countries.
Vietnam is one of the last remaining Communist countries in the world, though it has pursued a path of economic liberalization and market-driven reforms since the 1980s. The country has recovered from the economic and political aftereffects of the devastating Vietnam War, joining ASEAN and normalizing relations with the United States in 1995.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city, with a population close to 9 million. It contributes 20.2% of Vietnam’s GDP, and the city’s economy grew at the rate of 9.5% in 2014.
Ho Chi Minh City, as Saigon, was the traditional capital of both the French colony of Cochinchina, and then the independent Republic of South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City, as well as South Vietnam in general, is the centre of Vietnam’s growth engine.
(Photo from Flickr, from user Brian Huang)
Handwashing as a Public Health Solution
In the 1990s, 2 out of 5 people in Vietnam did not have access to improved sources of drinking water and 80% of the population lived in rural areas where tap water was non-existent. Today, 98% of the country’s 90+ million residents have access to improved drinking water sources.
The UN estimates that every US$1 spent on sanitation brings a US$9 return by keeping people healthy and productive.
In 2000, the Vietnamese government, supported by international organizations, developed the National Rural Clean Water Supply and Sanitation Strategy, with the goal of universal access to water and sanitation by 2020.
In spite of Vietnam’s significant progress, there is still much to be done. Five million people in Vietnam still practice open defecation. Many rural households have a septic tank, but unsafe design and poor maintenance can cause widespread water pollution. The transmission of water-borne ailments costs Vietnam about US$262 million every year.
(Photo from Flickr, from user M M)
"Washing hands with soap… is frequently referred to as among the most effective and inexpensive ways to avert child deaths. It has been called the “do-it-yourself” vaccine, yet despite its low cost and proven benefits, rates of handwashing with soap are very low throughout the world".
Handwashing rates remain severely low. Only 3% of Vietnamese mothers reported washing their hands with soap before preparing food. Only 9% did the same before feeding a child. This is despite widespread access to soap and water.
Vietnamese, however, do not have easy access to sinks. Millions of rural Vietnamese do not have washbasins, and sinks are often out of reach for children.
GIFT’s Return to HappyTap
This is GIFT’s second time working with handwashing in Vietnam. An earlier GLP in 2010 with the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank and iDe resulted in a prototype for a low-tech and affordable handwashing station.
The 2010 GLP resulted in the creation of HappyTap, the commercial entity that would distribute and sell the new device, named Labobo. GIFT’s return to work with HappyTap was to help start the next phase of its growth: distribution at scale across Vietnam and beyond.
On the Ground in Vietnam
The group visited the fertile province of Tien Giang, home to over 1.7 million people. Tien Gian’s economy is primarily based on agriculture, and is commonly referred to as the “Rice Province.”
The group visited iCare Benefits, a social-benefits programme for emerging middle-class workers. iCB uses an innovative credit mechanism combined with a seamless end-to-end retail platform: it partners with employers to boost the purchasing power of workers earning less than US$400. iCB sells products in installments, with no interest payments, and through automatic salary deductions.
One part of the population that would benefit from HappyTap's product is the "base of the pyramid," or the billions of low-income people underserved by the private sector. While many products targeting this segment of the population have been developed, marketing these products remains difficult. Many local marketers are not aware of best practices developed elsewhere.
The Vietnamese government has started a more integrated approach to sanitation and hygiene. This approach includes a push for greater institutional capacity to manage sanitation, and increased efficiency for water supply and sanitation services.
HappyTap's product, the Labobo was desgined to be a premium and aspirational product for Vietnam's rising population. The name Labobo is derived from the French word for sink: "lavabo."
Building a Handwashing Solution
The group recommended that HappyTap develop an updated device with a liquid soap dispenser and sensor, to collect and analyse data on consumer behavior. The group also suggested setting up a non-profit Foundation focused on the design and delivery of hygiene-related educational campaigns.
Through meetings with government, community and business leaders, and through frank and open discussions amongst themselves, participants learn to navigate conflicting and contradictory views to transform concepts and theories into realities on the ground.
The GLP uses real-world field projects to hone the practical skills needed to manage diverse teams in unfamiliar situations. Participants create new business models to solve critical development challenges.
Participants proposed HappyTap target three groups of potential clients: partners with a strong customer base and existing channels; channel sales partners interested in selling a customised device as part of their existing products; and institutions wishing to use the handwashing device as part of their health campaign.
Participants developed a business plan that outlined their strategic recommendations for HappyTap. Below are a few excerpted slides.
Participants presented their business plan at a public forum at the Equatorial Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City on April 29th.
Niels Bardelmeijer, Robeco
"The Global Leadership Pogram has been a very engaging and interactive leadership course. Working on a real world project improved my skills in how to work with different styles and nationalities."
Minh Thi Hien Nguyen, World Bank Vietnam
"The GLP was an intensive but amazing journey in expanding knowledge and exploring ourselves. I learnt that thinking outside the box and empathy are critical factors for being a good leader in a changing world."
Maggie Lee, NEC Corporation
"Participating in the GLP was an unforgettable experience. Although we all had different jobs and cultures, we worked intensively towards a single goal. This was a very different experience which I believe will turn into a lifelong friendship. I am looking forward to applying this experience to my work."
For more information about the Vietnam GLP, and GIFT's other work in the region, please contact Helena Lim.