Information and Communications Technology for Development Working Group - Vietnam

Aug 29, 2008

As I was playing with my ideas on the Program, I came across this Working Group: ICT4DEV.

It's a long story but I'll cut it short, hopefully. While I was managing the 15 May School mailbox, I kept receiving email digests from local NGO network' Mailing Lists. As my interest in community service increased, I started to join several of these and learnt more about the various activities that NGOs and social organizations were doing here. The VUFO - NGO Resource Center is the one who coordinates the networking and resources sharing between those organizations and it is at this center that information keeps flowing in and out and around. As I was thinking of working for some NGO that promotes technology (ok, it's one of my intentions), I found this particular ICT4DEV Working Group very interesting. This is their goal:

The aim of the working group will be to help NGOs enhance their use of ICT to improve the quality of their development work in Vietnam. Through advising, training, sharing resources and inviting special expert guest speakers, the ICT4DEV WG seeks to maximise productivity and communications in the development community in Vietnam by helping NGOs to fully harness the power of ICT in their development activities. [ICT4DEVWG TOR)

I contacted the people of the working group through their mailing list and "pitched" them my idea. It turned out that they were very supportive and at the same time enthusiastic. This WG is very new but it is catching attention :). There have been a lot of entries in their blog and at the moment they are planning on delivering workshops on Open Source and Web 2.0 technologies to local development organizations, which coincidentally is what my program is all about. But it's a bit different, I'm working directly with the children why they are working directly with NGOs and thus cover a much wider range of beneficiaries.

Knowing from one person who used to be the predecessor of Paul Griffiths, the current chairman of the WG, that technology in the NGO world is 10 years behind that of the corporate world and that working with an NGO to promote our Program would be very difficult as it is certainly not favored by such an organization. While this is a bit discouraging for us, we managed to find other ways to do it right. And this simultaneously encourages me to do my utmost for the Program to raise people's awareness of what technology can do for them, individuals and organizations.

While we are working on our own and there're lots of difficulties so be solved, the WG is already firmly established and can work more easily with local organizations. At the end of the day, I believe we are working on the same mission and all efforts will pay off.

If you are interested in how the WG is doing and in the development of technology in the social development field, you can keep yourself update by subscribing to the mailing list at:

If you happen to work for a local NGO and hasn't heard of it, these are the workshops that you may find useful:

Think Big, Dream Wild, and Start Small

Aug 28, 2008

How did our program (or story) start?
We, 20 people from around the world and different backgrounds, met each other in SEALNet Project Vietnam 2008. Our team worked with the 15 May School, a school for disadvantaged children where I had worked for more than 1 year as both a volunteer and a member of staff, to build a sustainable Computing Program, a Competition Day for the kids in the English Program that Project Vietnam 2007 started, and workshops on Service Leadership for students from top-notch highschools in Ho Chi Minh City. I was co-leading a sub-team of six people: Chris, a Redmond Alumni; Matt, a UPenn freshman majoring in Computer Science; Caroline, a recent Stanford graduate majoring in Economics and a would-be Boston Consulting Group employee; Rongkun, a recent graduate from Beijing University who is doing his Master of Evironmental Policy at American University; Nary, a very kind-hearted sophomore from Cambodia's Internation University Pannasastra. All of them are wo nderful and working with them has been the most rewarding experience I've ever had. But on top of that, we've build a long-lasting friendship and even more. As the project moved along, we encountered an increasing number of obstacles and solving them was really an interesting part of the project.

One day, I came across $30,000 grant for projects that bring innovative technologies and internet applications to make positive change in the Asia Pacific region. Since then I began to work on the brainstorming of the project as my teammates were coming back to their normal life and taking charge of new challenges.

But Matt remained with me as it is one of his dreams to work for a non-profit or become an entrepreneur to make positive life. Both of us were really excited about this wonderful opportunity to do what we really love to do.

So, this is how it all started.

Where is the program standing right now?
After days of thought and discussion, we have come to the following final ideas:

Firstly, our program's focal point is personal development. It means we concentrate on the skills that the children can acquire after they "graduate" from our program and empower them to feel special about themselves. Kids deserve the right to feel special about themselves :)

We will use Linux, or to be more specific, Edubuntu, as the platform. I was constantly seeking answers as to why Linux is better than Windows and here are some brief ones:
- It's free, and it works :)
- Children have the opportunity to explore something different from Windows.
- Even if children have to use Windows when go to work, the learning curve will be much shorter, as mastering Linux gives them a much more advanced level of computer usage.
- Eventually Linux will take over the corporate world (it seems have been doing that), and having mastered this particular OS will be an advantage for them to get a good job.
- It teaches them the sense of freedom.
- Edubuntu has a lot of educational applications that no other OS has to offer at this stage.
- It's all about humanity (I hate Microsoft, sorry Bill!)
The entire curriculum will be web-basde, with applications ranging from Google search, IM, Google Docs, etc. All of these will provide kids with skills that they need for a better future. Even though the focus is about personal development, children can still work well in a coporate environment: they know how to use a computer, do word processing, send emails, communicate online, share and collaborate, do research and look for information and they can blog too.

What needs to be done now?
Initially we wanted to work with a local NGO to get the grant. But it turned out NGOs are not really in favor of technology and thus we decided to do it ourselves.

We will build a website for our program, from which we can promote our ideas and raise funds for our projects.

For a project to be implemented, we need to find a specific school or location that serves the needs of disadvantaged children. So this is where we Start Small :)

Dream wild and think big?

Everyone I've talked to think this program is very scalable and can be applied everywhere in the world. So that's why we've changed it from Project to Program, which basically means we have a program with different projects at different locations.

So, our dream is to make this as big as possible and cover as many locations as possible.

The realistic questions is HOW? Well, we will implement the pilot project first, either by:

- Identifying ourselves as a Student Group at UPenn and promote the project, then come partner with SEALNet to bring the program to South East Asian countries. SEALNet has the available resources to make that happen, and as it is Stanford-based, many of the members have expressed their interest in bring modern technology to SEA.

- Identifying ourselves as a Computing Project under SEALNet and work directly with them. Each year when SEALNet comes to SEA to carry out a project, our program can be added as a bonus. Since we've already had the model, implementation can be easier.

Even if this sounds Big and Wild, it is indeed very practicable. But first, we need to solve the puzzles :)

The power of imagination

Aug 27, 2008

For all my life, I've been trying not to be imaginative. I know being imaginative is good in certain aspects but being constantly day-dreaming is a little bit uncomfortable.

I still remembered how I often got scared to death when I almost crashed into someone on the road as I wasn't really "there".

I must say it affects many areas of my personal life and is one of the reasons why I am so absent-minded.

Until recently I've come to realized that this is, contrary to previous belief, an advantage. As long as I maintain the level of being far-fetched, my imagined world will allow me to go as far as I want to since it's the only clue I have about the future.

I would say I am led more by instinct and gut feelings than rationality and planning. But these days I'm planning more than ever before. Though these two things : imagination and planning, go hand in hand with each other.

Will write more about this if I have more time :)

Update1: I'm keeping a notebook to tackle my absent-mindedness by taking notes of important things that I may forget a few seconds later. Also, I'm trying to get the most our of my miraculous imagination by doing the same thing :) To be more exact, I'm letting my imagination flow and lead my life.

Update 2:
I'm thinking of writing to Mark ShuttleWorth, the founder of Canonical Ltd, the commercial power behind Ubuntu, to tell him about our Program. This is one highly qualified example of my imagination. But I write it here to remind me that I WILL write him a letter at one stage.

I will also write to the people at ISIF.ASIA because I think they should know how we got inspired from their Grant

I'm also imagining a community built around our Program. What should it look like?

As of Aug 28, 08

Tips of the iceberg

Update: As you can see, the blog has just been updated to a new theme, which looks brighter and more Ajax-like :). Hope it won't break anytime soon.

We've gotten our hands dirty. Just let me brief you what's been going on so far.

- The focal point of our computing program is "Personal Development". In essence, we help children develop a variety skills ranging for work to life ones. Even though it's a development approach, children know how to use a computer, surf the net, send emails, do word processing, share, collaborate, and so on so forth.

- With Edubuntu as a platform, the entire program will be web-based.

- We will build a website for our Program.

However, we are still facing the following problems:

- It's hard for us to define ourselves. Should we call us a TEAM? Or something like that? We are not a registered organization :(

- What's the best way to receive financial contributions? We need to check with the banks.

- And above all, we haven't found a school to launch our pilot project.

Despite these problems, I'm working with an amazing team. So far so good, I guess :) We are being watched closely. Follow me on Twitter:


Aug 24, 2008


This is just to let you know that I've come back to life after days of boredom and missing passion.

Also, Our project is officially put into actions :) It's gonna be exciting! our official forum

Aug 21, 2008

Hi, this is great news. The guys from K46 (my juniors) have just set up a forum for the whole school. Even though the united Foreign Trade University has had a forum for awhile, I never got to like it since most of the activities are FTU1-centered. This is a feeling shared by many of my fellows.

Been playing around and posting several messages in the forum and to be honest, I really like it. The K46 folks have done a great job setting up such a forum and on top of that, a highly capable and enthusiastic administrative board.

Since it's still quite new, and an official marketing campaign hasn't started yet, not a lot of people in FTU HCMC know about the existence of such forum. However, it has gathered some success. Its Alexa has constantly gone up (to be honest, I dislike Alexa, Google PageRank is much better). Its membership has almost reached 1000 in 2 months.

The category is very diverse. Besides academic areas, relaxation and chitchatting are also covered. Thanks to its fame for gathering some of the finest girls in the city, many others are paying visits to the forum, hehe. Ok, I'm stating to sound boring.

If you know Vietnamese, and want to join the forum, just go to

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Asia in a faltering world

Take a look at the interesting table on the right. What you see is the total amount of money written down in 2007 from some of the largest investment banks and commercial banks in the world. Certainly the bottom line is still growing but it tells one story: the financial world is collapsing. Want an example? Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers is coming up next. Freddie Mac is following suit.

This is bad news,...ahem, not really. As Western banks are falling, Asian banks are looking to spend its money. Temasek has injected some of its US$131bn (latest market value) into Merrill Lynch and Barclays. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority's poured around US$7.5b to rescue Citigroup from the ever groomy outlook. The story behind this pretty simple. As the world is faltering, Asia is playing a more active role in the financial market and in fact, it is benefiting from its wise investments.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, already the biggest bank in the world in terms of market capitalization thanks to Citigroup 's voluntary retreat from its previous first spot, is expected to announce "the biggest profit of any bank in the world" [Financial Times] soon. It is yet another simple story: as the world is slowing down, Asia is cathing up FAST!.

Where is Vietnam? Or more specifically, what are our banks and the State Capital Investment Corporation doing? Yet another simple answer: they are struggling with the vibration of the financial crisis and at the same time the recession caused by internal economic issues rather than external ones. Inflation caused by overheating has prompted the central bank to suck money from the market and thus made the VN-INDEX the second most terrible performers in the world behind China's stock market. The SCIC , Vietnam's first sovereign wealth fund, has been working on taking control over state companies. If you look at how slow Vietnam is responding to the global crisis and globalization, SCIC is as slow as that.

It may take many years to come until a major investment from Vietnam to arrive at the US's shore or any Western countries'. Perhaps at another downturn of the world's business cycle :)

Doing the right thing with technology

Aug 9, 2008

"Sometimes doing the wrong thing with technology is better than doing nothing," says research associate at the South African-based Shuttleworth Foundation, Steve Song. And, he suggests, when it comes to technology, the unexpected should be encouraged to happen.

Another first off, I'm by no means a technologist (After writing the whole post, I find it quite irrelevant, but I'll just keep it here for your reference ^ ^)

But for the past month, I've been working with several friends from SEALNet on a project proposal that basically brings technology to education. There have been a lot of discussions going on, either between us, or between me and myself.

Until I sent our the ideas to different people around the world and from within Vietnam, I hadn't been entirely convinced by our own ideas.

For now, the direction has been set and it's just a matter of time before the project gets up and running.

So what do I get out if all of this thinking, doing research, and planning?

Passion. For almost ten years I have always been passionate about technology and all, including things that are not technology-related. I guess that's what keeps me going :)

A sense of direction. Oh my, this is hard. Until recently I hadn't known what to do with my life. It's improved now though. However, since when such a complicated person as myself knows where to head for next, different paths keep coming up, and it's an overwhelming task to choose the next destination. ahhhh

Creativity. Am I kidding? I've been telling myself that I'm entirely not creative at all hahaha. But come to think of it, I'm creating something.

Risk-taking. Oh dear, I'm a crazy risk-taker sometimes (though at other times I'm such a coward hahaha). Most of the time when we want to do something, "What-if questions" keep coming up. But the sentence in italic kept me from asking such questions ^ ^

During the research, I've found several cool stuffs on the web, I guess I should share one of them with you. Here it is:


Extract from the site:

About Us
We are a bunch of guys who love animation and want to share our passion with the world! The problem is that animation requires very specific skills. Animators need to learn Flash or other advanced software before being able to create anything. They also need to know how to draw. That's why we created GoAnimate, a platform that allows people to express themselves through animation without having to learn to draw or install any software.

Seeing is believing, have a look at their "how it works" from their site:

How GoAnimate works

They've really achieved what they set out to do. My admiration extends to those passionate freaks :)) So check it out wont regret it.

Ah, there's some other thing i wish to share with you too. The feedbacks from people that I sent emails to. I guess those are what keep me going too:

The use of open source software and WEB 2.0 technologies for such a project is an excellent idea that would provide the students with a modern outlook.
On a technical level I would be available to help and maintain such project if you require any technical assistance.

This is from the chairman of the ICT For Development Working Group, a newly founded WG at the NGO Resources Center, whose mission is to improve NGO's productivity through the use of ICT applications.

I also agree that learning collaboration and sharing is much more important than learning a particular tool. Also kids can continue using the online office and the document they created even if they don't have a computer. You can also teach them that offline application exist but they are in the generation who actually will not care about offline stuff so they will prefer the online ones.

This is from the chairman's predecessor. This is why I decided to switch the entire program to a web-based curriculum :)

And other encouragements from different people that help shape my vision and direction. Thank you!

Oh, if you still think this is not a long enough post, here's something interesting for you to watch:

Here are the comments from Matt:

If you've a chance, watch Dr Randy Pausch's Last Lecture -- it's long, but you won't regret it a bit. He just died recently, but in the face of death, he taught millions of people how to live. He talks a lot about achieving your dreams..

I guess these words speak for themselves. So if you are wondering what to do with your life, or have one hour of free time, I highly recommend that you watch it, for your own sake, and perhaps for others' too.

Check out Matt's blog also, there's something interesting over there!

Matt's Blog

If you happen to belong to the population who doesn't know who this guy is, he was my teammate in SEALNet Project Vietnam 08, one of the finest seventeen kids (sorry Matt, blame it on your age hahaha) you've ever met. He didn't need to finish grade 12 to go to Uni. Oh well, can't tell you all so check out his blog hehehe :P

That's it!

My neighborhood

First off, they are the least interesting people I want to be with.

The reason is very simple: they are lazy people living with no purpose. Their typical everyday life usually involves sitting idle in front of their house gossiping about all sort of things. I must tell you that I can't bear such kind of positive attitude towward life: living a simple life with no worry ^ ^

More often than not people wish to lead a simple life. But it's hard. And I can tell you that the simple life of people around here leaves much to be desired.

Can you imagine a family with 4 people, all of whom dont go to work? Ah well, you are wondering how they manage to be alive. Simply put, they are selling their land and houses and give themselves the privilege of idleness.

And please excuse me but I am not at the very least interested in speaking to the house next wall :) Who happens to be my house ex-owner. Every single morning their son, who doesn't look like a boy at all - if you know what I mean, keeps playing the same music. While I certainly enjoy some of the songs, repetition kills the joy. What can I say, (s)he enjoying his life.

On the other hand, people here are very peaceful. The whole neighborhood is a good place to live coz and it's generally safe. So to be fair, it's a tradeoff.

My friends are quite surprised to learn that I've moved to the suburb. But I can see a lot of potential hehe. Family is around. Dad's company is less far. His friends keep visiting. He can come home every single day.

And overall, living in your own home is MUCH better than being tenants for the last 14 years.

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