Vietnamese Restaurants Turn Philanthropy Into Business


KOTO trainees, some of whom lived on the street before joining the program, have a staff meeting at the restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. (VOA / L. Hoang)

He wants people to come to KOTO for the quality, not just the philanthropy, but says it will remain a “business with heart.”






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HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM — Among the countless street children Jimmy Pham has met over the decades, the one who comes to mind most often is a young girl whose mother slammed her head against a wall 16 years ago.

“It’s Uncle Tuan!” he remembers the five-year-old greeting him on the street. The girl’s mother, who was beside her, then suggested beg for money from Pham, a stranger who lately had become a kind of casual benefactor to the local children. When the girl refused to beg, her mother punished her with a beating.

The memory of that girl, and others like her, played a key role in the origin of KOTO, the restaurant chain Pham went on to found in 1999. KOTO uses its eateries to take young people off the street and train them in the service industry.


Jimmy Pham, 40, says the first street children he trained at KOTO just saw him as a "big fat turkey" from whom they could steal. (VOA / L. Hoang)

Unlike when Pham started out, Vietnam now has a whole host of vocational charities that take the teach-them-to-fish approach. Instead of a handout, the organizations specialize in teaching [a] marketable skill - from baking brownies to tailoring trousers. The thinking is that they can pass these skills on to poor or disabled people, who then can support themselves. But Pham says even this approach is no longer enough.

“We’re not content with showing them how to fish anymore,” Pham, 40, said in an interview at KOTO’s restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. “We want to show them how to set up the fish shops and teach others to fish.”

Case in point: Pots 'n Pans. A group of KOTO alumni opened the restaurant in Hanoi this year, using the experience they gained through their alma mater and sending some of the profits back to it. KOTO stands for “Know One, Teach One.”

The non-profit’s shift in strategy is still new, but reflects more generally the endless reinvention that began from KOTO’s early days.

Pham, who as a baby fled Saigon for Australia as the Vietnam War was winding down, returned in 1996 as a travel agent. He was struck immediately by the poverty and says he spent his first few weeks buying meals for street children and giving them money.

But he knew that couldn’t last. After a few years, he set up a sandwich shop in Hanoi so he could hire young Vietnamese and help them earn a living. He called that group KOTO’s inaugural class (twice a year, the KOTO branches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City each welcome a new class of 30 recruits).

But the first class looked nothing like the ones today. Pham rented a house for the teenagers, who left it a mess and told the landlady to charge him double so they could keep the extra money. They skipped out on their English classes and thought of him, Pham said, as a “big fat turkey.”

“Looking back, I could have been very angry,” he said. In the background at the restaurant, “Hello, Vietnam,” a song of homecoming by a Vietnamese-Belgian, played softly.

But instead of giving up, Pham and his colleagues built on the concept. Over the course of 13 years, through a process of trial and error that still is evolving, KOTO has become one of the most recognizable socialenterprises in the country. Its restaurants, which serve Vietnamese and fusion cuisine, are a favorite stopover during diplomatic visits, and its catering appears regularly at embassy and consular functions.

Thuy Hang, a public diplomacy officer at the Australian Consulate here, called KOTO “special” because it “not only provides a high standard of employment-focused skills training to young people, but also broader 'life skills' training.”

The recruits live together for two years at a training center, one in each city, but food service makes up just part of their lessons. They learn English and play soccer, but also take 36 workshops that cover everything from personal finance to sex education.

The rigorous application and vetting process requires that the trainees start between ages 16 to 22 and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. More than 500 Vietnamese have graduated with a certificate accredited by Box Hill Institute, which provides vocational education in Australia and through international partners.


Bui Viet An, who grew up in a thatch-roof house before a storm blew it away, believes KOTO accepted him into its program because he has always wanted to make a better life for himself. (VOA / L. Hoang)

Soon, Bui Viet An will count himself among those alumni. Having lost both parents by age 10, he grew up with grandparents in a thatch-roof house that, one year, blew apart in a storm.

“I wasn’t happy, because it was just my grandparents and they were sick,” An, 23, said during a break from his training. “From seventh grade, I would go to school in the morning, and in the afternoon go look for work.”

He was bussing tables at a noodle shop, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., and as late as 2 a.m., when he heard about KOTO. After he graduates at year’s end, An hopes to work at a five-star hotel.

At this stage in its transition, KOTO is moving to shed the image of charity and become a self-sustaining business. The organization has had its share of lean years, relying on government, corporate, and private donors because its restaurants still don’t make enough profit to fund the training, which costs an estimated ,000 per student.

Pham, dubbed a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum last year, talks about turning a profit by diversifying the enterprise, maybe expanding into the hotel business and setting up in other countries. He wants people to come to KOTO for the quality, not just the philanthropy, but says it will remain a “business with heart.”

Language Notes

slam (v) 猛推,猛擊

benefactor (n) 捐助人;施主

eatery (n) (小)飯館

vocational (a) 職業的

handout (n) 施捨物

specialize (v) 專攻;專門從事 XXXXX * specialize in . . . 專精於

tailor (v) 裁製(衣服,衣料等)

Jimmy Pham是越南的社會企業餐廳 KOTO 的創始人。他剛回到越南時,常在路上看到乞討的小孩就發善款,因此被當地小孩視為一個大善人 (benefactor)。因此,當地開始有家長要子女看到他就跟他乞討 (beg for money)。他久久不能忘懷的是,曾經有一個女孩因為拒絕了媽媽要她去乞討的要求,而被母親狠狠地推去撞牆,還有一陣毒打的懲罰 (slammed her head against a wall . . . punished her with a beating)。體認到他這樣的幫助有限,也不是長久之計,他決定開小飯館 (eatery),藉著提供在街頭的年輕人進入服務業 (service industry)的訓練,讓年輕人脫離在街道上討生活的日子 (take young people off the street)。

與Pham當年剛開始的時候不同,越南現有越來越多提供職業訓練的慈善團體 (vocational charities) 。這些團體用傳授「補魚技巧」(自力更生)的方法 (teach-them-how-to-fish approach)來幫助弱勢族群。這些組織不再只是給與施捨 (handout),而是專注於 (specialize in . . .) 能被市場所用的職能教育 (a marketable skill)。

set up (v phr) 建立,創立

alma mater (n) 母校 XXXXX*本字要注意發音

reinvention (n) 再造;再創新

Pham的野心不再只是教授補魚技巧了,他更希望能進一步把社會企業的概念推廣出去,讓更多人開設 (set up)魚店,教授更多人補魚技巧。Pots ‘n Pans是KOTO畢業的校友 (alumni)所開設的餐廳,他們運用了母校 (alma mater)學到的經驗,也回饋部分盈利 (profits)給母校。這嶄新的策略 (strategy)反映出KOTO草創時期開始就一貫不斷的創新精神 (endless reinvention)。

wind down (v phr) 遲緩,鬆懈

wind當動詞與名詞發音不同,須特別注意;本文 wind down是指戰事「和緩、停緩下來」

inaugural (a) 開始的

recruit (n) 新成員

skip out (v phr) 偷溜出去XXXXX *skip out on . . . 從. . . 偷溜走了

enterprise(n) 企業,公司

social enterprise 是「社會企業」,有別於純粹以追求商業利潤為目的的事業體。社會企業把慈善、社會責任、照顧弱勢,環境保育等議題視為企業設立的出發點與核心價值,在創造利潤的同時也肩負這些任務,以這樣的心態經營。

fusion cuisine (n) 無國界料理,(異國)混合料理

catering (n) 餐廳的飲食外燴服務

workshop (n) 專題討論會,研討會

rigorous (a) 嚴格的;嚴厲的

accredit (v) (正式)批准;核准

KOTO這十三年走來並不容易,是一個至今還不斷演變的試錯過程 (a process of trial and error that still is evolving),如今成為越南最有知名度的社會企業之一 (one of the most recognizable social enterprises)。KOTO餐廳提供有越式料理和跨國界的料理 (fusion cuisine),是外國使節來訪越南時 (diplomatic visits)非常受歡迎的一站 (a favorite stopover),而它的外燴料理 (catering) 也常出現在大使館與外交領事集會 (embassy and consular functions)。

alumni (n pl) 校友 *alumnus 單數型,需注意發音

bus tables (v phr) 在餐廳打工,收拾碗盤,洗碗等

diversify (v) 多樣化

philanthropy (n) 慈善行為;慈善事業

Pham在去年被世界經濟論壇 (World Economic Forum)命為 (dubbed)年輕的全球領袖。他現在想的是要如何讓企業多角化經營 (diversifying the enterprise),或是拓展到 (expand into)飯店事業,又或是在別的國家設立分店。他希望人們來餐廳不只是為了慈善 (philanthropy),更是為了餐廳的品質而來,但他也強調這一直會是一個「有良心的事業」(business with heart)。

Check your vocabulary!

Fill in the blanks with a one from the list above with necessary changes. After you finish, select the text below to reveal the hidden answers.

1. A vocational school is one that teaches skills that are necessary for particular jobs.

2. Drill sergeants have eight weeks to turn fresh recruits into soldiers.

3. He is the CEO of a multimillion-dollar. enterprise.

4. The discovery of distillation is usually accredited to the Arabs of the 11th century.

5. An inaugural event is the first in a planned series of similar events.

6. They want to set up their own import-export business.

7. The word “alumni” is referring to the former male and female students of a school, college or university.

8. Hospitals were built as a result of private philanthropy and government intervention.


Source: http://www.voanews.com/content/turning-philanthropy-into-business-in-vietnam/1530684.html

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