Yen’s story

Yen took part in all three of our flagship programmes through our WEAVE initiative. She gained new knowledge and support to strengthen her business and set her on her way to achieving huge ambitions.

Programme

WEAVE

Date

2020-2021

Location

Hanoi, Vietnam

When we have a strong force of women entrepreneurs, we not only see a strong economy, but also happy, well-off families.

Yen Do, founder of GPO, and WEAVE alumna

Yen Do is an entrepreneur based in Hanoi, Vietnam. She founded her business GPO in 2012, an innovative HR services provider with aspirations to work across ASEAN. She is one of 12,000 women entrepreneurs in Vietnam and Indonesia trained through our WEAVE project with USAID, Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™, Kinara Indonesia and WISE Vietnam. Our programmes supported her to plan through the pandemic and resulting market fluctuations…

Hi, I’m Yen Do, and I’m the CEO of GPO, a company based in Hanoi that provides full HR service packages to businesses, and vocational orientation services to students and workers. I’m also currently a PhD student at the Doctor of Philosophy on Management programme at the University of Marseille, France.

I’ve had more than 20 years of experience working in senior management positions at big corporations and multinational organizations and companies. After finishing the MBA at the University of Hawaii more than 10 years ago, my biggest desire back then was to become a good CEO and be able to apply all the knowledge I gained from the MBA programme. That’s what motivated me to start my own business – so 10 years ago I founded GPO.

I had plenty of background and training in professional HR from places I’d worked like LG and Notel. During this time, I had found that it was only big corporations that could use high-end services like headhunting, outsourcing and advance training programmes. It left me wondering – how come smaller Vietnamese businesses didn’t have professional programmes like that? If we want our businesses to grow, the people in the businesses also need to grow. And if we want our human resources to be as good and effective as people in other countries, at least others in our region, we need to develop and train our staff.

So that’s how GPO got started. I packaged my knowledge into services that meet the needs of the customers in Vietnam in different situations and customized them into suitable services for Vietnamese businesses.

Unfortunately, start-ups face a lot of challenges. Capital is always an issue, as is the market issue – especially in situations where the market and consumers’ trends are changing continuously. The biggest challenge of the business owner is to be sensitive and quick in order to be able to understand the market; to understand the customer’s needs and adapt your products accordingly.

Like many other women entrepreneurs, I have faced many challenges while managing my business. Some are pretty common with all entrepreneurs: a rapidly changing market forces us to change, and we always have to find new things to make sure we meet to needs of the customers. It’s also a terribly competitive market – nowadays everyone’s running a startup!

Currently, according to the latest report of General Statistic Office, there are 815,000 businesses in Vietnam. By late summer 2021, about 100,000 businesses had left the market due to COVID-19 – more than 10%. Moreover, job opportunities from other countries and FDI resources were much scarcer, so overall recruitment was incredibly decreased which impacted GPO. Meanwhile, we also had to face lots of competition with other recruiters, other services. Or other companies who started doing freelance work and they became direct competitors to GPO.

The other big challenge would be finance. Every business needs to ensure stable capital resources; big businesses need a lot of money, but small businesses do too! Especially during COVID-19, we’ve had to review and consider every expense in order to overcome this difficult time and be ready for the coming future of development.

Men can focus 100% of their time, effort and strength on their business; women have to divide ours in half. This resource allocation is such a big barrier for women to starting up their own businesses.

I think women face a comparable amount of business challenges to men. Women make up 50% of the world and are capable of creating just as much wealth as men. Women entrepreneurs, however, are under twice the pressure in comparison to male counterparts – especially in low and middle income countries. We not only have to think of how to develop our business but also to ensure the happiness of our family. Men can focus 100% of their time, effort and strength on their business; women have to divide ours in half. This resource allocation is such a big barrier for women to starting up their own businesses. Because of this, women sometimes have to sacrifice a lot of our personal time, hobbies and family time. Coupled with having to take on so much responsibility and pressure, this can make us feel very lonely and exhausted.

Fortunately, there are apps like HerVenture. I’m very lucky to have been using HerVenture for quite a long time now – about two or three years. I find the modules and lessons to be very intelligently and logically designed, with all the lesson plans developed in a very simple way that’s easy for every woman to understand.

The app gives you examples of start-up businesses, like a flower shop or a coffee shop… It’s really easy to visualize. All the modules are organised very suitably and logically so you can find the exact lesson you need if you want to revisit some content. The colors, the designs – everything’s very beautiful and eye-catching, and very easy to use. It’s great that HerVenture’s content is often updated too. Every year, I get messages telling me that there are new or updated modules and lessons were updated, so I go through them again, even though I have studied them before.

One more thing I like about HerVenture is that it allows you to start and pause learning anywhere, anytime if you’re are busy. The app marks where you’ve stopped and when you come back to it, you can just pick it up again from there without having to go back through the entire session. It’s so convenient! I truly think HerVenture application is really useful.

So, as an existing HerVenture user, I got an email about a new Cherie Blair Foundation for Women programme coming to Vietnam – Road to Growth. At that time, I was planning to access more capital and look for investors, but I was really confused and didn’t really know where to start. Road to Growth sounded really interesting and exactly what I was looking for, so I decided to apply and I got accepted.

I definitely found what I needed in the programme! Road to Growth takes place online over seven weeks. Its training is essential and the lessons are basic elements for every business. However, there’s so much information – five or six lessons a week, plus homework – so it’s quite an intensive programme. You definitely have to be committed and make the time for it. The challenge of Road to Growth is making sure you’re persistent and focused. To be honest though, for me Road to Growth truly got to the point. It was exactly what I needed, and I truly loved it.

As well as general business management, Road to Growth focuses a lot on financial management, how to read and how to understand a finance report, financial analysis, different ways to procure capital resources, and how to develop a proposal to call for capital investment.

Seeking investment is a long process. I finished the programme in June 2021, during the second peak of the pandemic, which was a difficult time to successfully find investments and it wasn’t great for my business valuation. So now I’m in the process of preparing my proposal so that when the market is pumping back up, I can increase my business valuation and find suitable investors who care about my service.

After Road to Growth, I progressed into the Foundation’s third programme: Mentoring Women in Business. I was extremely nervous at first! I, myself, am also a professor, a trainer, a business consultant and a career coach. I’ve had thousands of hours of coaching with my clients directly, and I’ve had a lot of experience in being coached, but I was really interested in the Foundation’s Mentoring programme because it seemed really detailed. I sent my profile over and felt assured that I’d be matched with a perfectly suitable mentor – and I truly was!

I met my mentor. She’s from Malaysia and she’s about 10 years older than me. She also shared her profile with me which gave me lots of confidence in having her as a mentor. During the whole process of working together, I was really fond of her – she is truly a good listener. She’s had a lot of international experience and she is especially good at asking questions; by asking the right questions at the right time that really made me think, she helped me brainstorm to solve my problems from different angles and find new solutions. I really feel that she’s not just a mentor, but she’s truly my companion, walking by my side on this journey.

When Vietnam was about to face our fourth COVID-19 outbreak, after we’d already been through so many difficulties, business owners – especially women entrepreneurs like me – had a lot of challenges. Talking to my mentor helped though. Together we looked at the big picture; she shared what the situation was like in Malaysia and helped me gain an overview of the reality that we will have to face. That meant I could make a better, realistic plan for the next step to manage my business in the coming journey.

To be honest, I think the impact mentoring has had on me is really great. And of course, that will in turn benefit my business. I’ve already made some changes to the way I run GPO, and I believe this will help it to grow and to develop sustainably, which is one of our long-term goals.

Because of COVID-19, GPO’s service has been affected pretty badly. I can’t hire more staff at this moment, we had to work from home and online, and most of the educational services and vocational orientation and training we provide had to be postponed. All of the businesses we work with have been badly affected too and a lot of them had to cancel our services like training and recruitment as a result. But thanks to the Foundation’s programmes, I’ve found a way to optimize my business management, to develop a suitable marketing plan for our services and, most importantly, I’m reviewing all our services to find out the most suitable ones for us to work on during this difficult time, to overcome this challenging phase and move on to the next phase.

Once we’re successful, it’s not just ourselves who reap that success but it means we can also bring bigger value to society.

Participating in the Foundation’s three programmes has made me feel confident, and like all of the difficulties in the market are challenges that every business owner has to overcome. And with all the knowledge that these programmes have equipped me with, I feel very assured that I have what I need to do this. With the right tools and with the right thinking, we’re able to find the most suitable solution in every situation to help our businesses overcome all challenges.

I think everyone wants to be successful – especially business owners, of course, we always want that. Once we’re successful, it’s not just ourselves who reap that success but it means we can also bring bigger value to society. If my company, GPO, is successful, we’ll be able to connect many brilliant people and brilliant businesses. We serve both sides: we bring good job opportunities to employees, and we provide the full package of services to businesses, to hire and train incredible staff, and really boost the quality of their human resources.

In terms of GPO’s mission and vision, I really want to expand our services to the whole ASEAN region, and to see a Vietnamese brand take its place in the international market. At the time that the ASEAN Economic Community was launched on 1 January 2016, the market represented more than 600 million people, but there hasn’t yet been much Vietnamese integration in my opinion. I hope that GPO can take up this opportunity and create more jobs for Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam, in the ASEAN market and in other countries beyond.

Supporting women entrepreneurs is a must – it’s only right, and it’s so worthwhile. We are proven to be just as good as men entrepreneurs in developing businesses into significant businesses. And when we have a strong force of women entrepreneurs, we not only see a strong economy, but also happy, well-off families, which are such a key component to a prosperous society, a robust economy and a developed country.

I truly want to try my best to make GPO a successful business in order to create more job opportunities for society. I love iconic women entrepreneurs and leaders like Indra Nooyi, Sheryl Sandberg and Angela Merkel. These are some of the world’s most powerful and inspiring women. In Vietnam, we have VietJet Air CEO Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, Vinamilk CEO Mai Kieu Lien, and TH Group Founder Thai Huong. Those names are huge inspirations for our women entrepreneurs and, honestly, I would like to be an inspiration too!

In Vietnam, small and medium businesses make up a huge 95% of all businesses. If each of these businesses can create stable jobs, that would mean so many opportunities for our society. And if 50% of these 700,000 businesses are run by women entrepreneurs, then you can see how big an impact we can create.

Starting up a business is always difficult, and sometimes lonely. It hard to share this with our friends or even our husbands. But if you are hardworking, willing to study and gain knowledge, and committed to the journey you have chosen, then I believe one day, not so far away, you will reach your goal. I wish all women entrepreneurs success!

Made possible by...

WEAVE was delivered collaboratively by the Foundation, Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™, and local, in-country implementing partners Kinara (Indonesia) and WISE (Vietnam). The contract was awarded by the ASEAN-USAID Inclusive Growth in ASEAN through Innovation, Trade, and E-Commerce (ASEAN-USAID IGNITE) program, a USAID-funded activity.