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Vietnam, 25 Years On

May, 2016, marked the 25th year since my first visit to Vietnam, when/where I was invited to speak on the “radical” concepts of markets and marketing, which were integral to Doi Moi (renovation) and are fundamental to Vietnam’s future socioeconomic well-being. A good portion of my career has been dedicated to scholarly assessment of Vietnam’s rebirth and ongoing development. The depth and breadth of change in Vietnam, in American-Vietnamese relations and, no-doubt, in me is hard to fathom and impossible to articulate in a single blog. But given the occasion, I share some reflections — very, very briefly — from this trip, which again afforded me the opportunity to engage friends, colleagues, government leaders, businesspersons, NGOs and students on issues pertaining to markets, marketing and public policy.

Vietnam, nearly 100 million people strong, now explodes with entrepreneurial activity, FDI, a construction boom, enthusiastic consumption and global engagement. Market-based commerce and brand proliferation are everywhere, except for possibly the most remote recesses of the country. Vietnamese people – literate, ambitious, industrious, optimistic, technologically savvy and globally connected — are sprinting toward the future. The country already has blown past the World Banks’ predictors for its stages of development. In the process, Vietnam has become an increasingly important strategic partner for the US, as President Obama made clear.

The yin to the yang of the preceding good news includes challenges that come with rapid economic development, some unique legacies, and more visible leadership and participation in global affairs. For example, in Ho Chi Minh City, I had the pleasure to work with Fulbright friends and colleagues at the Economics University to explore ways to affect more sustainable business practices and to globalize doctoral education, respectively. In Quang Binh, a promising tourist destination, we met with officials to explore best practices for tourism development and pollution prevention and control. A macromarketing appraisal of Quang Tri provided opportunities to discuss regional growth and integration, to study safe removal of unexploded ordnance, and ways to develop cultural, historical and religious tourism.

That first visit to Vietnam, 25 years ago, led me to conclude market reforms and good governance coupled with the country’s human resources and physical assets ensured Vietnam was destined to prosper. Indicators from multilateral agencies have borne-out that assessment. Moving forward, Vietnam’s many successes and expanding influence beget broader responsibilities. Corruption remains a challenge, as acknowledged widely throughout the country. More sustainable business practices from Ha Long to Cuu Long are imperative, if Vietnam is to preserve its natural and cultural treasures and the well-being of its people. Centuries-old antipathies with China still simmer, and risk boiling-over in the East Sea (Vietnamese are loath to say “South China Sea”), where territorial claims conflict. But from challenges spring opportunities, and I remain optimistic that Vietnam, now in partnership with its American friends – including Loyola University Chicago and potentially the Quinlan School of Business – will seize those opportunities to ensure a bright future.

So again, Vietnam, Happy Silver Anniversary; here’s to many more years of constructive engagement, peace and sustainable prosperity.

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