Exclusive Interview: Shu Tan, Sapa O’Chau
Founded in 2004, the World Responsible Tourism Awards allow people the chance to celebrate the heroes and share the stories of the most exciting and enduring responsible tourism experiences in the world.
Sapa O’Chau just won the Silver Award for “Best for poverty reduction and inclusion”.
Best for poverty reduction and inclusion is awarded to a tourism organisation with a creative and long-term approach to reducing poverty in local communities and including local and marginalised people in their activities. It is one of the longest standing categories of the World Responsible Tourism Awards. The judges wanted a tourism organisation that could prove significant reduction of poverty in a local community, inclusion of local and marginalised people, and a long-term sustainable vision for continuing their work, and providing a working example for others tourism providers around the world.
The main function of Sapa O’Chau is to support 40 ethnic minority high school students’ education in Sapa Town. This includes providing accommodation and meals at their boarding facility; supplementary lessons by their volunteers mainly focusing on English; supplementary maths and Vietnamese literature lessons by qualified local teachers. Sapa O’Chau provides support for students who graduate from high school to continue vocational training or college education. This increases the chance of employability for their students. Sapa O’Chau also creates jobs for ethnic minorities with its social enterprise. The social enterprise comprises of a trekking business, a handicraft business and a cafe business. These businesses provide financial support for the 40 ethnic minority high school students. Sapa O’Chau employs 44 ethnic minority people out of 48 employees (as of end 2015). 28 work as trekking guides. Sapa O’Chau collaborates with 15 homestays by bringing their trekking guests to them.
We interviewed Shu Tan, Founder and Director of Sapa O’Chau to tell us more.
Sapa O’Chau recently won a World Responsible Tourism Award. In 140 characters (a tweet) or less – why do you think you won such an important award?
Sapa O’Chau measures how it impacts the community by empowering the local community with jobs and education.
What was the driver for creating Sapa O’Chau specifically – what gap does it fill?
Sapa O’Chau is fully ethnic minority owned and run for the improvement of the ethnic minority communities. Thus it has full commitment to local ethnic minority community issues. We strive to provide opportunities for ethnic minority families to lift themselves out of the poverty cycle. Policies for community engagement are embedded across the organisation. Our trekking guides, office staff, cafe staff, handicraft staff, management staff and students are our ambassadors of empowerment. They are our living proof of how their lives and their families’ lives improve in standard of living. Our handicraft department also source materials from local supply chains so that they will continue the art of making them.
We engage the community by encouraging high school youth to continue education. Our boarding facility supports 35 high school students yearly. We also provide scholarships to support 10 ethnic minority youth tertiary education. Sapa O’Chau is pleased to announce that all 21 of our grade 12 students 2015/2016 graduated successfully. Our Founder and Director Ms Shu Tan also graduated grade 12. 14 managed to get into university/college. 12 are also being supported by our scholarships in addition to the 10 we support from last year.
This year we will increase our student intake to 40 students. We plan to take in students in batches after carefully interviewing the teachers about their family condition and capability to study. Sapa O’Chau rented a residential building opposite our main boarding facility. The rental is about USD400 per month. In the months of August to October, Sapa O’Chau partners with Ministry of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) to provide accommodation and classroom facility support for 26 youth to be trained as tour guides. The tour guide students pay for their own food expenses that Sapa O’Chau cooks for them. MOLISA provide the trainers for the theory of tourism studies. After their completion of the theory segment, the students have to fulfil a three week practicum and exam by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MOCST) to obtain their local tour guide license. The students have to sponsor their own practicum and exam which costs 1.5 million dong per student.. All 26 students successfully completed the MOLISA training. 24 students received their local tour guide license, 1 failed and the other did not take up the practicum.
Our social enterprise business provides sustainable careers for 48 ethnic minority staff out of 52 staff. We maintain a sense of place and cultural heritage by preserving our unique cultural identity and ensuring that tourism activities do not disrupt the lives of communities or dirty the environment. Each trekking group is kept small, 6 people.
Evidence of significant investment in creating and maintaining community projects Sapa O’Chau started the cooperative in 2011. It invested in building the first Black Hmong homestay in Lao Chai Village, Sapa. In 2013, Sapa O’Chau obtained its international tour operator license having earned the deposit USD12,000 required for it. It is the first ethnic minority owned tour operator in Vietnam. http://hanoigrapevine.com/2013/08/sapa-ochau-vietnams-first-minority-owned-tour-operator/
We insisted on setting up a handicraft department although the market is already flooded with handicraft products. The rationale is that these handicrafts out in the market are not authentic handmade ones or are second hand goods. We hope that by setting up a handicraft business to sell quality handicrafts, we can preserve the art of making them. The craftwomen will continue to make the handicrafts as they see value in them. They will also pass on the art to the next generation. We hope to set an example to street touts who are increasingly using their young children to sell on the streets that what they are doing is not sustainable.
Who is Sapa O’Chau primarily for?
Sapa O’Chau focuses on alleviating the conditions of underprivileged ethnic minority communities in Sapa. There are five ethnic minority groups in Sapa: Hmong, Red Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. We do reach out to the underprivileged families of Vietnam’s main Kinh ethnic group if we have enough resources to support but we maintain our focus on a holistic approach to alleviating whole communities in Sapa. Sapa O’Chau sets a sustainable responsible model as an example for the communities to follow.
What difference does Sapa O’Chau want to make?
Sapa O’Chau wants to alleviate the social conditions of communities in Sapa as a whole by empowering them through promoting learning and providing sustainable employment. This aim is embedded in our mission statement.
What are the barriers to making that difference?
The biggest challenge is when our trekking guests are price sensitive. Supporting sustainability is the last thing on their mind when deciding to book their tour with us. Regardless of how much community work we do and how fair our wages are, these groups of people only see our tour prices as overpriced. Many of our trekking guests also have no regard for the cost already spent on arranging their treks when weather turns bad. They would demand a full refund or write bad reviews on tripadvisor.
Social enterprise is a new concept in Vietnam although it existed centuries ago in the UK. The Law of Enterprise was only recently amended in 2014 to accept the term social enterprise. The application process was only approved in late 2015. The country needs time to adjust to this new terminology and understand the hardships of social enterprises instead of treating them like normal businesses. Social enterprises need to alleviate poor social conditions and at the same time manage the business aspect well.
Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?
Accreditation from World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 and World Tourism Tomorrow Awards 2016 help us to overcome these barriers. This helps our guests understand the significance of our social impact to be recognised by reputable global organisations. My personal recognition by Forbes Vietnam’s 30 under 30 list also helps me communicate my dream of a better life for our impoverished ethnic minority communities to the whole of Vietnam. It is an honour to be approached by the Ministry of Labour (MOLISA) to collaborate with the training for new ethnic minority tour guides this year.
Is the tourism sector doing enough to deliver a sustainable travel and tourism?
The tourism industry is profit driven and to provide sustainable responsible travel requires extensive investment in training local people. Tourists have an important part to play too. If tourists recognise and accept the costs involved in tour operators delivering sustainable responsible travel, they would in turn encourage more tour operators to deliver sustainable responsible travel rather than be price competitive only.
How can people find out more about Sapa O’Chau?
Sapa O’Chau is honoured to be listed on Lonely Planet web and print edition. We have detailed information on our website, candid bitesize information on our Facebook page, videos on our youtube page, reviews from our guests on TripAdvisor, blogs about Sapa O’Chau on our Pinterest page, and writeups about Sapa O’Chau on World Tourism for Tomorrow, World Responsible Tourism, Visit.org, LokalTravel and CSIP.
Ocean Awards 2017 Winners Announced
The winners of the second annual Ocean Awards, hosted by Boat International Media, the international authority on super-yachting, in partnership with the Blue Marine Foundation, have been revealed.
From the development of whale drones and virtual chase boats to the banning of shark fishing and absolving the Seychelles’ debt crisis, each finalist was celebrated for their outstanding contribution to the health of the oceans from every corner of the world.
Land Rover BAR, the yacht racing team founded by four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie, leads the list of winners honoured for their passion for improving the oceans, along with Palau’s former UN Ambassador for the Oceans and Seas, the late Stuart Beck. Professor Daniel Pauly and Dr Dirk Zeller – whose monumental study of the world’s fish catches for the Sea Around Us project took the media by storm – are also among those recognised for their efforts in advancing marine conservation through policy initiatives, new innovation and campaigning.
The awards, which are in association with Y.CO, were judged by an esteemed panel chaired by Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation. Also judging the awards were: Sir Charles Dunstone, co-founder and former chairman of Carphone Warehouse and chairman of the TalkTalk Group; Ben Goldsmith, CEO of Menhaden Capital, a new green-focused investment trust; and Charlie Birkett, co-founder and CEO of Y.CO, the challenger brand of the global superyacht industry.
Sacha Bonsor, editor in chief, Boat International Media, said: “Boat International Media is committed to fixing one of the world’s largest solvable problems – the crisis in our oceans. We are delighted to have built a platform of recognition for the outstanding organisations and individuals working towards improving the health of the oceans. Our inspirational nominees and winners are driving awareness and implementing the change that can save our oceans, and they should all be immensely proud.”
Charles Clover, executive director, Blue Marine Foundation, said: “Studies show that although the oceans are now under serious threat, with decisive action their resilience and carbon absorption can be improved and overfishing reversed within 20 years. There are still huge challenges ahead but the work of our winners is promising, motivating and worthy of celebration. This is one area of conservation where we are winning.”
Adrian Grenier, actor and founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, who was also shortlisted for an Ocean award, said: “The biggest threat to our oceans right now is non-action. Our oceans are resilient but only if we take collective steps towards protecting and rebuilding them. We need to protect 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030. Today, we’ve protected just three per cent. We have a long way to go but I’m ready for the challenge and the opportunity to engage a new community of environment leaders.”
Helena Christensen, model and environmentalist, said: “I have huge respect and admiration for the sea. There is hardly anything more magical; its power is infinite and ever-changing. Ocean life depends on a thriving coral reef and we are destroying it.”
Full list of winners: Ocean Awards 2017
Seafarers’ Award: Ben Ainslie Racing, Land Rover BAR
Local Hero Award: Dennis Bryan Bait-it, Project Sharklink
Innovation Award: The Nature Conservancy
Responsible Business Award: Industry Group Agreement to Cod fishery in the northern part of North-East Atlantic
Policy Award: Claire Nouvian, Bloom
Public Education Award: Ian Urbina, The New York Times
Visionary Award: Stuart Beck, UN Ambassador for the Oceans and Seas
Science Award: Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller, Sea Around Us, the University of British Columbia
The Seafarers’ Award, which celebrates an individual or group from the seafaring community that has made the biggest difference over the past year to advance marine conservation, went to Land Rover’s Ben Ainslie Racing partnership. Known as Land Rover BAR, the movement was driven by Dr Susie Tomson and inspired the British America’s Cup sailing team’s sustainability strategy. The team is recognised for its project to bring back native oysters to southern British water and ‘say no to single use plastic’ campaigns while using technology sustainably via ‘virtual chase boat’.
The Local Hero Award was picked up by Dennis Bryan Bait-it of Philippines-based Project Sharklink. A co-founder of Project Sharklink, Bait-it has worked to enhance the benefits of diver tourism to his local community. He was also recognised for bringing together local fishermen tasked with protecting Monad Shoal, the only place in the world where it is possible to dive with thresher sharks, by patrolling waters and reporting illegal shark fishing activity.
The Nature Conservancy created a groundbreaking marine investment model when it brokered a debt swap between the government of the Seychelles and its Paris Club creditors, restructuring the Seychelles’ debt in exchange for a commitment by the 115-island archipelago to invest in marine conservation. This innovation provides a model for other small island developing states and saw the Conservancy awarded the Innovation Award.
The Industry Group Agreement to cod fishery in the northern part of Northeast Atlantic won the Award for Responsible Business. This follows the statement made by industry bodies including fishing unions, fleets, supermarkets and processors not to trawl for cod in the waters around Svalbard and up to the North Pole until evidence showed no harm would be caused. McDonald’s Corporation played a major role in convening industry stakeholders around the question of protecting vulnerable marine habits in the Arctic. Other members of the group include the Norwegian Fishing Vessel Owners Association, Tesco, Young’s Seafood Ltd and Marks & Spencer.
Claire Nouvian was awarded the Policy Award for her work with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, leading to the EU to pass a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling in June 2016. Nouvian founded BLOOM in 2005, waging a campaign to highlight the damage caused by such practices.
Investigative journalist Ian Urbina was selected as the winner of the Public Education Award for his Outlaw Ocean Series, published in the New York Times between July 2015 and February 2016. Urbina travelled across 14 countries and five seas to bring the extent of lawlessness on the oceans into the public eye, encouraging criminal prosecutions and alerting governments to the enormity of the problem. There are now plans for a Netflix film of the series produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Following a visit to Palau to study coral reef preservation in 1976, Stuart Beck became a passionate supporter of the island nation, helping it gain independence, and later becoming its ambassador to the United Nations. Beck, who died last year, was honoured with the Visionary Award for his work in establishing Palau as one of the strongest advocates for marine protection on the world stage. Beck is succeeded in his role by his wife Tulik.
On the 19th January 2016, Nature Communications published a study by Prof. Daniel Pauly and Dr Dirk Zeller, which showed that over the past 60 years the global fish catch had been about 50 per cent greater than official estimates suggested. The study, based on 10 years of collecting data, resulted in substantial media attention and is encouraging many countries to improve their monitoring of fisheries, control and enforcement approaches. Pauly and Zeller were awarded the highly coveted Science Award.
Switch2 Energy Awarded Trio Of International Management Standards
Switch2 Energy, district heating specialist, has received the ISO 14001:2015 environmental and OHSAS 18001: 2007 health and safety accreditations, which have been integrated with the company’s existing ISO 9001:2015 quality management system to mark a triple achievement.
The company was supported through the process by FPA Consulting, and LRQA, which recommended Switch2 for the double certification following a five-day audit process.
Kirsty Lambert, Managing Director, Switch2, said: “We have always had robust management systems and processes, but we now have a fully integrated management system that combines the world’s best environmental, health and safety and quality ISO standards.
“We have undertaken a rigorous business improvement and assurance process with professional support from FPA and LRQA and are very proud to have achieved a trio of ISO accreditations. These standards are at the heart of our strategy and operation, and are crucial in supporting the ongoing growth of our business.”
John Barke, Managing Director, FPA Consulting, said: “Congratulations to Kirsty and the team. They have worked hard to maximize the benefits that ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 can bring, in particular around customer service, satisfaction and managing business risk which is critical to their business resilience.”
Yorkshire-based Switch2 Energy has more than 35 years experience of smart metering and billing for the community energy and district heating sector. The company remotely manages and monitors its smart meters from its UK customer service centre, which offers complete billing and administration services to more than 430 heat networks and 70,000 homes.
Further information: www.switch2.co.uk