The vast majority of Vietnamese are not old enough to remember the Vietnam War.
Today, instead of international conflict, they’re thinking about international integration.
They have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
And the young generation is thinking about how to spread that prosperity to all parts of society. Lien Hoang has this story from Ho Chi Minh City.
This month, when US President Barack Obama comes to Vietnam, some of the groups he’ll be meeting include young leaders and entrepreneurs.
People inside the country want to make sure to highlight this demographic, because it represents much of their hopes for Vietnam.
The young generation is educated, tech savvy and have the luxury of peacetime to pursue their dreams. That’s just the kind of ambition Forbes magazine spotlighted last week with its second annual “30 Under 30” list.
The list highlighted Vietnamese millennials who are making a mark in their fields --
-- Whether that’s sports, music, startup businesses, community activism, or the sciences.
One of these 30 under 30 stars is 28-year-old Arlette Quynh Anh Tran, a curator at San Art. Besides hosting exhibitions, the gallery supports artists through residency and exchange programs.
After Tran spoke at the event, I spent a few minutes talking to her about what makes groups like San Art important.
“Many people think that art is just art but actually the artists are those who with their sensitivity, with their observance, they are very, they are intelligent. They have the talent to transform what they feel is problematic into something that can attract a lot of people.”
Tran says that artists are important because they can discuss controversial issues like poverty, social, justice and war.
About half of Vietnam’s 94 million inhabitants are under 30 years old.
And the World Bank says that Vietnamese overall are more educated than people in other countries with a similar level of income.
Forbes Vietnam chairman Nguyen Bao Hoang called on these young people to use their assets to make a difference.
“Everybody in this room, the youth in this room, you are Vietnam’s golden generation. And what I mean by that is that from now and through the end of your productive working life, until you retire, Vietnam is going to go from a low-income, developing country, to a first-world nation. And it’s going to be on your shoulders and your backs that this happens.”
The event featured people like Luong The Huy, director of the LGBT rights program at the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment; Hoang Minh Nhat, founder of the Minh Nhat bakery chain; and Nguyen Tuan Manh, a piano player.
But the list is not just about the 30 names in it. It’s also about inspiring ordinary people around the same age to do their part.
People like 24-year-old Pham Bao Long, who received a student discount to attend the Forbes summit. Before he had to head back to campus, Long told me it was helpful to hear from those who had experienced some success.
This could encourage more people to invest in the community, or what he called social capital.
“If we have good social capital, then people will love one another and protect one another. No one can take care of us except ourselves,” says Long.
“So when we invest in social capital, we’ll have better relationships. People will care about one another and help society to succeed.”
Long sees himself doing that through his parents’ company, which provides affordable housing and loans at a lower interest than the market rate.
“I wouldn’t dare say that we’re providing aid because this is an enterprise so we still depend on profits. But as a family business we think less about profit and more about society. Our family tries to sell property and land at a price people can afford,” Long says.
Today young Vietnamese will have opportunities their parents could never have imagined.
And the 21st century has brought tools and benefits that young Vietnamese, like art curator, Tran, believe they have to take full advantage of.
Whether it’s game makers, or biologists, or painters, Vietnamese are using technology in all kinds of professions.
And whatever the sector, Tran is happy to see a diverse range of people, putting their skills to use.
“Our generation is very lucky that we grew up from nothing, with no internet or technology. So we experienced the time that we had to struggle to find information,” recalls Tran.
“And then we see the change so that we don’t take these changes for granted. So I think with technology and the urgent feeling of learning, it’s very much of this generation to develop and make change.”