DAI’s Dan Rathbun Finds Inspiration in Vietnam’s Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

November 29, 2012

For nearly four years, DAI’s Dan Rathbun, a team leader in Vietnam, has donated his time and resources to local chapters of an international organization that promotes student entrepreneurship. This year, DAI is happy to contribute $5,000 to support his efforts.

The funding comes from DAI’s community engagement program, which supports youth-focused initiatives in countries where we work.

Chief of Party for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded trade project called STAR Plus, Dan has volunteered with the group, Enactus, since 2008. Formerly known as Students In Free Enterprise, Enactus is a nonprofit that works with leaders in business and higher education to inspire university students to make a difference in their communities while developing the skills they need to become business leaders. Students form teams on their campuses and apply business concepts to develop projects that improve the quality of life for people in need.

Dan first learned about Enactus when STAR was approached by a group of National Economics University students seeking financial support for their newly formed chapter in Hanoi. “We were impressed by the students, but we did not have money to support their activity,” he said. “But we agreed to help them with fundraising ideas, introductions to the business community, and advice.”

Dan was hooked. “The more deeply we got involved with the NEU team, the more we enjoyed it,” he said. “They were so enthusiastic and full of energy that it was impossible to say no.”

And he managed to get others involved over the years. “Our involvement with Enactus introduced us to other student organizations and faculty, so we were soon providing evening programs on soft skills, such as networking, job search skills, and Edward DeBono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats System,’” he said. “We convinced some of our short-term technical experts, including faculty from the University of Montana, to join us for after-hours programs.”

By 2009 Dan and a colleague, Andrew Stephens, were coaching the NEU team. After just nine months, the team went to the national competition in Ho Chi Minh City—and won. The following year, the team won again at nationals and went on to represent Vietnam at the international event in Los Angeles, California. “Most of the kids had never been outside Hanoi, so going to California was a huge event for them,” Dan said. “Several were from impoverished backgrounds and had never dreamed they could go so far. They beat Puerto Rico and Ukraine, but they were knocked out by China in the third round.”

By 2012, Dan and Andrew were coaching five Vietnamese teams in their dwindling spare time. “One of our teams, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Hanoi, won the national championship and represented Vietnam in Washington, D.C., at the World Cup.” Another one of his teams was first runnerup.

Today, 25 Vietnamese universities have Enactus chapters. Most do not have advisors from the private sector so Dan is working to spread the word and engage more mentors. He recently hosted an event that helped 300 students network with businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and others.

“Organizations like Enactus enable their members to develop the skills and confidence they will need in life if Vietnam is to be a successful member of the international economic community,” Dan said. “The skills and experiences they acquire through Enactus and the networks they develop will serve them and their country very well for generations to come.”

Dan says he remains committed to his volunteer work because it balances out life on the project and speaks to his passion for helping others realize their dreams. “The USAID work I do, while very fulfilling, tends to focus on the macro level,” he said. “While is it very satisfying to see that one’s efforts have resulted in a better legal infrastructure or an improved macroeconomic policy, there is nothing like watching individuals grow. It is gratifying to see how they have started families, launched careers, started new businesses, and are giving back to their communities.”

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