USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker’s Remarks at the 2nd Vietnam Engineering Education Conference

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker Speaks at the 2nd Vietnam Engineering Education Conference
USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker speaks at the 2nd Vietnam Engineering Education Conference
Photo: USAID/Vietnam
HO CHI MINH CITY, March 26, 2014 -- Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss in broad terms what has proven so successful with the specific example of HEEAP. USAID considers itself a core partner in HEEAP, but we celebrate the fact that the partnership does not depend on us. It has become self-sustaining, as growth on the Vietnamese side and last year's additions of major private partners such as Pearson and National Instruments have shown.
This morning's topic is building innovation ecosystems through public-private partnerships. There's a topic loaded with catchy and potentially slippery concepts. But in a sense, it distills much of what USAID is trying to do with all of its programs in Vietnam, whether in engineering or in health research, energy and climate climate sciences, or green growth. One moment I could be talking to a beverages company about its interests in collaboration on approaches to sustaining a clean water supply, and the next I could be discussing mobile money platforms with an communications firm interested in novel ways of supporting rural women entrepreneurs. In fact, I have had both of those conversations.
USAID has many ways to enter into public private partnerships, and usually we are looking to encourage innovation. They are described on our web site, and can involve other governments, companies of almost any nationality, NGOs and universities. We have more than 680 PPPs worldwide involving over 1,700 partners. Usually they are demand driven - I can think of no useful example in which we have had to make the case for the partnership. PPPs typically are successful when partners collaborate to define a problem and work together to find a solution to that problem. Doesn't that sound like the characterization of engineers we heard yesterday morning? For us and I think for other governments, PPPs should not be about absorbing donations or alleviating responsibilities. We can directly work with a company to think through PPP options. There is no requirement for an intermediary, because USAID can openly discuss options with the private sector.
HEEAP and SWEEP are successful examples. You have heard a lot and many of you directly participate in HEEAP. So allow me to describe the Social Work Education Enhancement Program. In that program we partner with San Hose State University of California and the famous company Cisco to help develop social work education in Vietnam. A professional social workforce is critical to Vietnam and to the success of USAID programs in the healthcare and disabilities sectors. You've also heard in one group yesterday about our new partnership with Harvard, known as the Lower Meking Public Policy Institute. It will be an important contributor to government-private sector dialogue on important issues in the Mekong delta region. I hope it inspires some home-grown PPPs.
I would like to take a few minutes to discuss some relevant elements of what we might describe as the innovation ecosystem in Vietnam, because as I said, PPPs are strong on solving problems. Dr Mai Ha's nice summary of innovation earlier this morning allows me to move past exploring that concept. You need to define your frame of reference - the ecosystem - and identify its strengths and weaknesses. Vietnam's strengths include a high cultural valuation of education and enthusiasm at universities to innovate. So Dr Colglazier's point about culture could work in Vietnam's favor. The potential here is so great it is tangible. But the ecosystem is confronted by what you might call broader constraints. Consider that according to UN development indices used worldwide, Vietnam ranks 127/182 on human development and132/187 on education, and on another index ranks 140/177 on economic freedom. These are broad measures of the vulnerabilities and flaws within the innovation ecosystem and feeding into it, or in our case the actors and their interactions in engineering education and innovation.
More specifically, we heard yesterday that the vocational education sector is particularly weak, and that in primary and secondary school there is insufficient encouragement of interaction, teamwork and creative thinking. We heard that educational institutions and professors have insufficient autonomy, and of the short-sighted decision to remove foreign language requirements in education. We know that the lack of respect for and enforcement of intellectual property rights cripples the incentives for scientific and technological innovation in Vietnam. And we heard repeatedly of society's failure to encourage and develop girls, women and ethnic minorities in STEM disciplines. You will note that these constraints fall within what Dr Colglazier called the four pillars of a knowledge-based society. An honest assessment of the challenges need not make us pessimistic. I am optimistic. These are problems that can be addressed by a variety of solid PPP approaches involving government, employers and educational institutions. I was moved by Noel Kinder's description yesterday of Nike's plans to move its manufacturing - and I grossly simplify here - from handheld toothbrushes to machines. Will Vietnam be a place where Nike can successfully transform many of its 234,000 jobs into ones that will demand significant technical skills? The stakes are very high even in this one example, and you would be reasonable to be worried. Working together actively on technical and vocational education, and with government reform and investment as part of such partnership, the community could transform change into a golden opportunity. Vietnam can do this!
I would like to propose some guiding principles for PPPs looking to address the problems by encouraging innovation. They are captured by the following words: relevancy, dialogue, diversity and flexibility.
First, relevancy is paramount in different dimensions. As made clear by our discussions here and among development partners in the last nine months focused on vocational education, education and research must be relevant. They must be relevant to employers' needs and to Vietnam's requirements for development. This has been explored in considerable detail in what is known as the Vietnam Development Partnership Forum, and I hope 2014 can be the year if relevancy for Vietnam's vocational schools in particular. Vietnam needs this as it prepares for ASEAN labor market goals in 2015.
Second, dialogue must be improved through more numerous, broader and deeper communications among the actors in this ecosystem. In the context of economic governance, USAID's provincial competitiveness index has shown that government must be talking to the private sector. And we know that's true too of universities. Dialogue ensures relevancy and facilitates changes in environment necessary for innovation. Dialogue also is critical among educational institutions, something we are acutely sensitive to with respect to HEEAP and our hopes that it can benefit non-participating partners. Dialogue across borders requires language skills, particularly English, and we hope that Vietnam re-establishes foreign language requirements to ensure that communication in English - essential component of innovation in a globalized economy - increases instead of decreases. Vietnam will lose the competitiveness race if companies like Intel are forced themselves to contemplate a "massive upgrade" in their employees' English skills.
Third, diversity is essential. Diversity as measured by gender balance, increased involvement of ethnic minorities, and as facilitated by models of collaboration that encourage teamwork utilizing the skills and ideas of all participants. An increasing body of evidence shows that simply by diversifying student groups and business teams, you enhance governance, performance and productivity. Those are ingredients and measures of innovation. Diversity enriches dialogue.
Finally, Vietnam's dynamic environment and energetic youth require flexibility. Our ecosystem must allow for learning and iterative approaches. HEEAP has proven itself very flexible and adaptable. The partnership evolves and grows, monitors and evaluates, and seems government responses that are equally open and flexible. USAID, at least, strives to keep up. Flexibility helps ensure continuing relevancy.
There is no one model for successful PPPs in general or in support of innovation in engineering education in particular. But many of Vietnam's challenges and the principles I've described at least begin to be addressed by the very effort to form alliances of government, business and educational institutions. We can make a contribution just by trying, and USAID is enthusiastic about trying.
Vietnam aspires to be an industrialized country by 2020 with a vigorous knowledge-based employment sector. This will only happen with support from PPPs, among other factors, and the jobs will not be produced by the Intels and Nikes, as important as they are. Small homegrown enterprises are the primary source of new jobs in most countries, and we need to foster them and include them in our dialogue. Mr Thanh of US-ASEAN Business Council didn't mention it yesterday, but USAID and US-ABC recently formed a alliance to foster SME development. That work should ensure that engineering innovation is driven by SMEs. Mr Thanh joked that he isn't an engineer. I say we are all engineers, looking for ways to collaborate on identifying problems and developing innovative solutions.
USAID is excited to partner. Our goal remains partnerships like HEEAP that offer strong potential of being self-sustaining. HEEAP is more certain to be a long-term success with the involvement of more private sector partners, particularly Vietnamese ones. I congratulate ASU and HEEAP's core members in their success so far in building a fantastic team. Thank you for you efforts and for the honor of working with you in support Vietnam's development and better U.S.-Vietnam relations. And thank you to those organizations that made this conference so stimulating for another year. 
Issuing Country 

Last updated: December 30, 2015

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