Guest post by Ngoc Anh Bui, managing director at AVC Edelman.
Words of a Generation: Vietnam is the latest in a series of interviews that capture on film the personal observations and perspectives of people from countries across the wider region. This latest installment features 10 Vietnamese born between 1975 and 1986, known as the “Đổi Mới” generation, on the topics of Love, Work, Explore, Play, Consume, Dream and Connect.
Vietnam is a unique country as more than 60 percent of the population was born after 1975. The grandparents and parents of the “Doi Moi” generation did not know peace, sustaining more than two decades of war against French and American occupation. But in 1975, the war finally ended, and the two halves of Vietnam reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The generation born between 1975 and 1986 is the first generation since French colonialism to have been raised during a time of independence and peace.
These people do not know much about living in war, but instead know the economic, moral and social transformation of a post-war country. Until the mid-1980s, Vietnam suffered from isolation and extreme poverty. Each and every Vietnamese person, from the average citizen to civil servants and the armed forces, experienced a critical shortage of food and basic necessities – unemployment and other social issues became glaring problems.
Once a centrally-planned and subsidized economy, in the 1980s Vietnam began to develop a more market-oriented economy, when the “Đổi Mới” (renovation) economic reforms and “Mở Cửa” (open door) policy were implemented. It was after former President Bill Clinton lifted the U.S. trade embargo in 1994 that multinationals began to pile in. Since then, Vietnam has taken off. In 1998, it joined APEC, followed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007 — just in time for the global financial crisis. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam rose almost fourfold between 2005 and 2008 according to the World Bank to $9.58 billion – but slipped 20 percent during the financial crisis in 2009 to $7.6 billion. The country weathered the storm well, however, reaching an average of 6.5 percent growth per year in the post-WTO period – one of the highest GDP growth rates in Asia.
As a result, there has been a rapid and growing availability of new consumer products, leisure activities and more accessible education opportunities. The same young Vietnamese who once might have stood in line clutching ration coupons for their family’s rice allotment are now living in the world’s second-largest rice exporter. They have gone from rice fields to schools, pushing the country literacy rate to 92.8 percent. This post-war generation is positioned at the cutting edge of deep social and economic changes. They are now in their 30s and 40s, making up for lost time, exploring all the benefits and costs of their country’s new economic and cultural future – all of which was unimaginable in their parents’ time.
In our interviews with the 10 participants of Words of a Generation: Vietnam, we explore diverse perspectives and reveal the changes, challenges, choices and dreams that shaped not only their lives, but the lives of an entire generation. The Vietnam edition is one of a series of Words of a Generation installments – a research and short film project designed to provide a personal window into the lives of people who have lived through and are pushing rapid transformation in society. The series, which began in China with 28 people from China’s ‘70s generation, is expanding over the course of the year to document the personal stories and perspectives of 50 people from change generations in five additional countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and India.
As someone who came from this generation, I myself have seen and experienced so many of these outstanding changes in the past two decades. Growing up, we didn’t have a television or newspapers. I still remember how each evening, all the families in my apartment building gathered in the home of the one family fortunate enough to have a television to watch. Despite living in poor and deprived conditions, the people of Vietnam never stopped holding onto their dreams, their hopes and their optimism for the future. I hope now that by watching these films, our viewers can also share this same sense of optimism.