Meet the MY JOB Narrators: Nga, Life-Vest School-Backpack Manufacturer, Hanoi, Vietnam

The top number we heard was “nineteen children die at once” because of the floods. But after my son and I invented this product, we didn’t see any more news stories about children dying in floods.

–Chapter 4: Nga, life-vest backpack manufacturer, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

 

Dinh Nga is a traditional Eastern-medicine physician who left her 22-year career as a teacher to launch a factory making flotation-device backpacks to save schoolchildren from dying in Vietnam’s annual monsoon flash floods. She is a new friend to me through my old friend Erik Schultz. Erik and his wife Linn Kincannon cofounded a very unusual nonprofit called Thriive (yes, with two iis) that funds capital equipment to small businesses to support jobs.–But, instead of repaying the investment loans, their small businesses—of which Nga’s backpack factory is one, businesses must track goods and services that they “pay forward” to their own community. When I was planning a trip to Vietnam to find a dynamic narrator for MY JOB, I called Erik, who connected me with his country director, who translated our interview and shared the tea and pho noodle dish that Nga insisted on serving us. She gave up a half-day’s work to share her story of personal heartbreak to corporate breakthrough. Nga, who’s in Chapter 4, also has some insightful comments about American politics and the search for love.

 

Excerpt from Chapter 4, in Nga’s Own Voice

We produce about 6,000 items per month. The revenue last year was 12 million Vietnam Dong [$538USD], and the profit is about 6 to 7 percent of the total revenue. I don’t know how much I pay myself. [Laughs.] 

I have 60 employees in marketing, sales, and production. We all share the work when we are busy. Getting rich is not the biggest goal in my life, but I realize that around me, so many people have a lack of opportunity and are in more difficult backgrounds. So I think I can do something for them. 

You could say that I’m not rich yet, but what is rich is understood differently for different people. For me, some people are rich in money. Some people are rich in relationships and friendships. Some people are rich in social values. For me, it’s creating more social impacts and more social values is to be a rich person.

It’s like Bill Gates, where he earned a lot of money, but he didn’t give that money to his children; rather, he’s giving back to the community and helping people. The same with me, getting rich, earning money is not the biggest goals of my life, but I can realize that around me so many people have a lack of opportunity and in more difficult backgrounds. So I think I can do something for them. I can help the disadvantaged people. Here in Vietnam, we have the most of the disadvantaged people, and like women in violence, I want to see end of violence.

I rarely watch TV, but I enjoy reading books. I do not like novels or fiction; I prefer the truth. For example, I like reading about Steve Jobs and Hillary Clinton. I like Steve Jobs because I spend all my energy for work. Hillary, she’s very strong, like me.

It’s like her [Clinton’s] husband and my husband, maybe they have the wrong relationship, or as women we endure things like that, but I learn from her that I need to be strong. I try to keep the business because I have workers. I have people who rely on me. I have to push my personal life down and be strong.

It’s like this Vietnamese poem that I love. It goes like this: So please live the new day when it comes, even if you are very tired of life. My life, our life, may we just be happy with it, although we lack the shoulder of someone to lean on. So that means the man or somebody you rely on. So she share that even if we don’t have the shoulder of a person you can rely on, but it’s our life. We enjoy it, and we find other joy or happiness of our life.

 

 

 

Check out Nga’s chapter in MY JOB: Real People at Work Around the World, available both on Kindle and on paper. And, stay tuned to meet the next narrator, a headhunter from Florida, in Chapter 5 . . .

Photographs and video courtesy of Thriive, Third Creek Foundation, and Alibaba.

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