social enterprise

Urban Care is recruiting an editor/English proofer



Urban Care produces on a regular basis a fair mass of documents in English. We would need to hire an editor/English proofer to revise and correct those.

Although we would prefer to recruit someone established in Hanoi, persons living overseas may apply.

Some criteria for the position:

  • Native English speaker;
  • Familiar to the aid sector and its jargon;
  • availability and reactivity.

This is not a full-time position. We will recruit this person with a consultant contract, with payment made either on a task or a monthly basis.

Please send us a resume and an indication of your rate by the 15th of October 2012 to:



Getting real: introducing Blue Dragon

Urban Care Active got real. Since last July, we have started a long-term collaboration with Blue Dragon.

About Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon is an Australian NGO working exclusively in Vietnam. It is based in Hanoi, and has been in operation since 2003. It works with street-kids, trafficked children, and disabled youth. It offers inclusive education programs, long-term shelter solutions, and anti-trafficking activities with the active support of the Vietnamese police forces. They are active in Hanoi, Hue, Bac Ninh, and now in Dien Bien.

I sort of love this NGO. They work at the grassroots level, for real, and engage in direct implementation, a bit old-school yes, but so concrete. Its founder, Michael Brosowski, is a strong leader with a long-term vision, and a practical sense of realities.

Blue Dragon is funded through multiple channels, direct individual donations, corporate support, and international donors. It had a stupendous growth over the last 5 years and is now considering options to sustain its action and structure in this new decade.

How we chose Blue Dragon

I’ve known about this NGO for a while now. My first encounter with them took place about 4 years ago, when I was working with Médecins du Monde. We had a program dedicated at kids at risk of getting infected by HIV. At that time, I met an operational manager of theirs, and introduced our activities. We offered a collaboration and possible funding. And they turned down our proposition, because it was not clearly a part of their strategy and felt they didn’t have the means to give us the level of action we were expecting at that time. MdM was a very strong public health operator in Vietnam, and they knew they had too little expertise in that domain to be a fair partner. In short, they said no, because of their work ethic, despite funding opportunities. I was so impressed. If you had any experience with NGOs, you would admit there are just so many “paper”-CBOs and grassroots NGOs chasing funds with a strategy limited to “getting money”, regardless of the line of work. Clearly, Blue Dragon was not one of those.

Later, after Urban Care was created, I continued keeping an eye on this NGO, and others in the city. The plan was at some point to give long-term support to an NGO meeting the following criteria:

▪   Most of the operations have to be carried out in urban settings;

▪   Programs have to be dealing with youth OR the elderly;

▪   Programs have to touch on health, education or nutrition;

▪   The NGO has to have a good reputation in our professional community;

▪   The NGO recognizes a need in terms of technical assistance;

▪   The NGO has to be in a growing phase OR has strong potential;

▪   The NGO operates in South-East Asia.

Well, as a matter of fact, Blue Dragon meets all those criteria, and after we finalized our investigation, we contacted them and offered some help, which was accepted on the spot. They have great programs, steady funding, yet not enough resources to build and maintain a solid information system. So we’ll take on a role in that story.

What we are doing with Blue Dragon

We started 2 months ago by offering a long-term support of at least 2 years. We are going to build for them an advanced M&E system, including information systems, electronic reporting mechanisms, live costing functions, and a web-based knowledge management solution. The first phase of that process has been the initial assessment of their M&E system, a 2-month long task. We will then discuss with their team what to start with, and how to start it.

We want to do that slowly as we want it to be organic, so, well-adapted to their needs and constraints, practical, real, and accepted. Hence the long-term perspective.

More news on that process in the coming months.

In the meantime, if you are interested in Blue Dragon, you can visit their website. If you want to donate, just go there. They even have tax-deductible mechanisms. They are pretty good.


Introducing Urban Care Active

We have started the social part of our work. This is great news. We are pretty proud of it, and we hope that through this first baby step, we will do our share in building and renovating our broken social system.

We are many.

The social enterprises movement is wide, growing and complex. There are so many of us, cooperatives, non-profits, mutuals, private business working for the society. Urban Care is just a droplet in that ocean. And we want to be a significant droplet. As we want to work with the financial means and the human power we generate, we have to accept that it will be slow, yet steady.

After 2 years of work, our company is now generating just enough profit to allow us to allocate a part of our resources supporting others. Our big plan remains to set up low-cost, high-quality family care clinics. It will probably take an extra 2 years before we accumulate the necessary capital to start it up. We need 200,000 USD. So, we have decided not to wait. Hence, the social work of Urban Care, under the label Urban Care Active, is starting now. We have identified a first NGO that we will support. We will let you know more about this excellent organization in a few days. As well, we will soon have a dedicated section to this work, under . Stay tuned.

You can’t imagine how happy we are getting real, at last. Setting up a social enterprise is a long-term job. And now, we can start harvesting.

Working in Vietnam 101, a crash course for foreigners, Part 1

It’s been over 5 years I have been working in Vietnam. And what I can tell is that it is not an easy fit, at least at the beginning, and especially for Westerners. I saw so many people from Europe or the USA coming over to find opportunities, develop new things or join already existing organizations and businesses. And I can guarantee you that quite a few of those would have crashed their dreams on what I would call the smiley-yesy-barrier.

In Vietnam, people smile. They do smile. Pretty much all the time as compared to the West. I would eventually go back about twice a year to France (we have a kid, and she has grand-parents), where I would got hit in the face whenever I would try to smile at people for no good reason (meaning outside a customer relationship involving money transfer). One can tell the difference…

In Vietnam, people say yes. They do say yes all the time. “No” is pretty much a forbidden word. For this reason, foreigners would tend to believe that Vietnamese are downright hypocritical, spending their time lying to their face. This is just so wrong. But it takes a bit of a pain to realize it and to understand that they are a few degrees of yeses in normal social interactions. And it matters a great deal on the workplace.

So why do we have that? Because in Vietnam, preserving your social relationship with your family and network is fundamental. Saying no might alter that future. Looking grim might hamper future opportunities. This is why if you would ask to a pineapple street-seller if she could code for you an online C++ video game retracing the life and tale of King Arthur, she might just say yes, and would smile back very hard at you. And there kicks in the nuance of the yesses you would hear across your journey in Vietnam. And to get those right, you would need patience, multiple failures, a good ear, and to pay a great deal of attention to body language:

  1. The it-will-happen-as-planned-and-in-time-no-problem-it’s-all-good yes: this is what most of us would call… yes. Although it is always a bit of a bet, you can be pretty sure that unless a tropical thunder would just happen just right in your office this very minute, things would be delivered as expected, and on time. In that case the person you’re dealing with would look at you for good, and would establish eye-contact. Yet, you would always need to understand that this person might be subject to uncertainties if his or her yes includes yeses  from other teams members, members from the administration or partners. This is why divination is such a respected art in this country;
  2. The yes-I-guarantee-everything-and-I-make-it-a-matter-of-life-and-death-but…: your counterpart clearly sees that his/her action would necessitate interactions with other persons he/she trusts, BUT that those persons would be confronted to less dependable human beings OR that clearly dark clouds are gathering in your open space, and frankly… How could you get this one right? Well, when this person would give you this yes, you would feel in her eyes and body a sudden mobilization of mental energy as if you were asking him or her to swim across an acid lake to fetch that one medicinal plant that would save the life of a child. She or he will do it for sure, but at a great personal expense.
  3. The yes-I-hear-you-but-I-am-not-so-sure-on-how-to-do-it: here your counterpart definitely wants to please you, because, let’s be honest, you would find plenty of good willing persons in Vietnam. Yet, may be you are asking to a street-based pineapple seller to code a database in Ajax, and that could be a tiny bit of a problem… and REMEMBER? People just don’t want to say no to you. So, it is important to bear in mind that when you ask something to someone, you would make sure that it is feasible and realistic. Otherwise, you might spend a lot of time on that street in Hanoi waiting for your pineapple seller to take out her laptop and start coding your system. How you would spot you are asking something impossible and that you’re making your interlocutor uncomfortable? Well, look at body language: the person would not establish eye contact, might look away or at her/his feet when saying yes, and might be agitated with some minors pre-seizure tremors, and/or look at her/his cellphone wondering who to call to get some help to get ride of this crazy foreigner.
  4. The yes-sure-next-week-or-after-Tet yes: this one is the nastiest one. It will have you waiting for months to have that one thing done and delivered. This one is really easy to recognize. Yet, most people believe in it because when they hear next week, they quite candidly and stupidly hear “next week”, whereas it is a very strict and accepted social code for “well mate, you’re asking for a work that would involve to build consensus among 18 persons from 3 partners and 2 administrations plus a lawyer, you are pretty much screwed if you take it this way, I know you’re a foreigner and don’t get a thing on how to get things done here, so let’s be honest for a second, I’ll try, but let’s face it, you’re just asking me to climb the Everest in pink flip-flops…feasible… yeah… yet might need some preparation”. Or you’re just simply asking someone to do something 2 weeks before or 4 weeks after Tet. Shame on you. How to spot this one? Well it’s pretty plain, just listen.
  5. The yes-but-you-know… yes: if persons are  just kind enough  to use this one with you,  know that you are an inch near to getting a real no. Leave it there and try to figure out where you screwed up and go back to it later. Very important one this one. It’s actually the sort of yes that transformed a one-month registration to a 7-month procedure for the registration of our company.
  6. No: you are dead. This is the one thing you never want to hear. If you feel you’re getting there, then leave a way out to your partner, interlocutor, boss, employee, and throw a clever “may be next week?“. And you’ll see that next time you interact with that person, this one would have thought about your problem and might suggest an appropriate solution. You remember? Preserve the future. The Vietnamese way is way smarter that you would have thought. Use it for yourself, you’ll see, after a while it becomes addictive and fantastic. You’ll be able to next-week away most of your problems and would have time to figure them out. Clever stuff.

That’s it for this one. Oh yes, just one thing, it me took 10 months to figure out the basics… I’m pretty slow.

Next post on the topic: How I’ve got yelled at by a 55-year old health official my first year of stay in Vietnam, and how she completely saved my job. A fair lesson on management in Vietnam and interaction with partners.

Piloting a social enterprise

Our company is developing well. We are now 7 team members, of which 4 full-time. We have created new services, our customer-base is rapidly expanding, and most of our clients are coming back for 2nd and 3rd contracts.

Our financial health is pretty good too, we have low costs, a fair margin, and we will soon be able to plan for the second phase, our social project, the purpose of our company.

I don’t know about you, if you are yourself a social entrepreneur, or a friend of the cause, but piloting a social enterprise is not a simple fit. You need to be business-wise, while keeping in sight your final objective. You must be obsessed with making money and turning a profit, while keeping a cold head not to get carried away by success and loosing purpose. But I have to admit, this is the most exciting thing I have ever done in my professional life. Try it, you’ll see.

Seeing a plan becoming real, looking back and remembering what Urban Care was 2 years ago, a logo and a registered domain, and now this team working together, happy clients, and soon a sufficient level of finance to move to the social phase of our project…. I am telling you, this is really encouraging. And not only because here in Hanoi, from where I am writing, the sun finally arrived after being 10 weeks on vacation, or because I could give myself my first salary last month. It is not about that.

It is about building and a sense of purpose.

Some late news

Well! it’s been a while I didn’t post anything here… the reason? A fairly good one. We have just been a bit too busy those last months to just spend a little time on our blog section.

The company is heading towards its first anniversary (on the 18th of June), and that, on itself, is quite a relief. We made it. The company is operational, and has now enough clients to sustain its operations, recruit, pays all due salaries and taxes, and even start saving some capital for the 2nd phase of our project, the opening of a first low-cost outpatient clinic in Hanoi, sometime late 2012 (although the legal steps for that job might take up to 10 months to get through…). So far, we managed to allocate US$12,000 to our social project, expecting to reach US$15,000 within a quarter, and most likely US$35,000 by the end of this year, and hopefully US$100,000 by the end of 2012.

Most of our revenues came from short- and long-term programs performance, costs and cost-effectiveness analysis, our hallmark. We have been operating mostly in Vietnam and Thailand so far, in the domain of HIV, TB, Primary Health Care, and In-Patients services for displaced populations. We have now some solid perspectives to expand shortly in Cambodia, France, and South-East Africa for both operational and scientific projects in the domain of HIV, TB, Malaria, and Hepatitis C, while maintaining a high level of activity in Vietnam.

As for the institutional side of our development, we are about to engage in a long-term relationship with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute from Basel. And we are currently finalizing the setting up of an International Advisory Board (IAB) staffed with international experts in the domain of business and finance administration, public health, and INGO management. We will let you know shortly on the names and qualifications of those 4 persons who will help us build and review our long-term internal and external strategy.

Finally, we are about to review and update this website including some nice new features, including some details on: our current portfolio, our team, the composition and role of our IAB, and some free country analysis..

And yes, we are working on Constellation at the moment… a few more months of development… and you’ll see that it could really change your way of managing your portfolio of activities..

Cheers and farewell.


PS: I would need to update soon my profile on this website since I am no longer a PhD student… after a few years of hard and painful work, I have successfully defended it.. (that was in March 2011). And really, like so many other friends, I can tell a PhD is just a proof of resistance and endurance.. Not sure it has anything to do with being smart.

The Whys and the Hows how that social enterprise, part 1

Watching a music video recently of Lady Gaga dancing on a table covered with dollars, I was overcome with a feeling that we are on the road to nowhere on this planet.

The economic crisis of 2007 had some people saying that the economic order of the day is over; that the time of making money with money is coming to an end; that it’s only a matter of time before capitalism returns to a natural state of equilibrium, creating and distributing wealth through the “magic wand” of the trickle-down-effect, as in the 1950s.s

I don’t trust magic to solve our problems. That situation needs a push.

It’s now 2010 and the world economic system looks more like former Russian president Boris Yeltsin trying to stand up straight after 9am. The G20 meets every year to lay out itsplan – a plan with frankly no direction nor commitments to regulate this economic order and address the huge inequalities of wealth distribution in both industrialised and emerging economies. with

Looking at the evolution of the GINI indexes during the last 20 years is depressing. Our economic order continues to rely on a huge concentration of wealth and capital in a few hands and the confiscation of profits by those same hands. It is ironic that even in China, the target of industry relocation, salaries are deemed too high now, skyrocketing above US$100a month in some southern factories.

Everlasting public and private debt is not a solution to sustain demand. A new paradigm is needed. Especially for health care, our area of concern.

Yet, most people of my generation, who were in their teens when the Berlin Wall collapsed, might feel in their gut that pure socialism is also not the solution, human somewhat greedy nature being what it is for the time being.

This is where the idea of social capitalism kicks in. What does that mean for us?
Well, Simply put, social capitalism means that private is for public good. Private investment to kick-start a process, benefiting from private management and risk ownership, controlled salaries within the structure, a maximum revenue-spread across the team, and employee ownership of the capital. That means as well not boosting unnecessary demands to inflate profits, a cornerstone in health care where the asymmetry between provider and patient is so huge, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Social capitalism means building a sustainable model of intervention and redistributing a maximum of a controlled profit to the staff ; decreasing costs for the patients to make good-quality care accessible to everyone in keeping with the local laws and regulations.

Urban Care is undertaking its work with such a model in mind. Much more to come about that in the next posts. In the meantime some links you might want to check out:

GINI index
Lady Gaga
Social Enterprise
Our friend Boris having a difficult time

And an interesting link to Asset-based community development, that could nurture some more posts