Vietnam’s first social enterprise, KOTO, commemorated the graduation of 95 trainees at a ceremony in Hanoi on June 21, celebrating years of training excellence.
After being postponed for three years due to COVID-19, the 2022 graduation ceremony recognised 95 graduates from Class 34, 35, 36 and HER TURN Class 5.
The event, themed “Resilience”, not only acknowledged the adaptability of KOTO and its people through the pandemic but also demonstrated its origins.
“For the last 23 years, KOTO has always been resilient. We were a disruptor in our approaches to making a difference ahead of our time,” said Jimmy Pham, KOTO Founder and Executive chair.
“From combining business with charity, putting vocational education training to the forefront and making it relevant to instilling values in our trainees, so they understand that once helped help others, just like what KOTO stands for: Know One, Teach One.”
In 1999, Pham, a Vietnamese who grew up in Australia, came back to Vietnam when the plight of street kids struck him. Believing that disadvantaged youth deserve the best opportunity to exit poverty, Pham opened a sandwich shop with a group of street kids in Hanoi, which led to an organisation that has made a mark on the nation like few others.
KOTO has been recognised as an extended campus of Box Hill Institute since 2004. KOTO graduates were awarded a Box Hill Institute Certificate III in Commercial Cookery or Certificate III in Hospitality, an internationally recognised hospitality qualification.
“This special graduation ceremony marks 18 years since our two organisations united with common goals to support learners across Vietnam by providing a path to obtain globally recognised qualifications. With the career ambitions of today’s resilient graduates now boosted with those well-earned qualifications, I am filled with confidence and excitement for what lies ahead for them,” said Laura Macpherson, representative of the President of Box Hill Institute.
This year’s graduation ceremony also celebrated the fifth cohort of HER TURN: Women’s Empowerment Project.
From a pilot programme funded by the Australian government in 2016 as part of their Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative, the project grew into a three-year programme (2018-2021) that further increased access to KOTO training programmes for ethnic minority and disadvantaged young women aged 16 to 25 years from 13 ethnic minority and rural communities.
“The 33 HER TURN graduates are an inspiring group. For young women, particularly ethnic minority women, new skills and confidence are life-changing allowing them more choice, voice and agency in life,” said Mark Tattersall, deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Australia.
Quang Thi Thu Hang, a graduate of Class 35, said: “Two years ago, I was a Thai ethnic girl coming from the northern mountainous province of Dien Bien Phu to an unknown place like Hanoi, entering into a new living and studying environment and considering it family. After two years at KOTO, the changes in each of us are not only about the skills we were trained in or our appearance, but they come from within.
“From thorny individuals who do not know how to express emotions, with fear and negativity, we have gradually come to believe in life. We know how to love someone we have never met before, our self-esteem has improved, and we have a positive mindset.”
The organisation provides over 100 at-risk and disadvantaged youth per year an opportunity to undertake a 24-month holistic hospitality training programme in Vietnam that includes vocational training, English, life skills, computer skills and literacy.
With 100 per cent job placement upon graduation, its over 1,300 graduates now include executive sous chefs, hotel and resort general managers, business owners and university graduates. All are contributing to their families and society.