Viet Nam

Number of Business Networks: 12
Number of Private Sector Initiatives: 4
Number of Government Services: 5
Labor Force Participation Rate: 


In the nearly 30 years since political and economic reforms, referred to as Doi Moi, were introduced in Viet Nam, the economy has experienced a vast economic transformation. More...

In the nearly 30 years since political and economic reforms, referred to as Doi Moi, were introduced in Viet Nam, the economy has experienced a vast economic transformation. Poverty has diminished greatly, with the percentage of people living below the poverty line decreasing from 60 percent in the 1990s to under10 percent today. The economy’s integration into world markets has significantly increased economic opportunities for Viet Nam’s population. In 2015, economic growth is driven chiefly by exports produced by multinational investors, with traditional exports of garments, furniture, and footwear now supplemented with high-tech and higher-value products. SMEs are also a key sector: they constitute 99 percent of all businesses, employ 77 percent of the workforce, and produce 40 percent of Viet Nam’s GDP.

In this vast community of small enterprises, Viet Nam’s informal sector is extensive. Studies indicate that the informal economy—which ranges from tiny, family-owned enterprises to larger ones that provide goods or services to other informal actors—contributes about 20 percent of national GDP. As such, nearly one-quarter of the economy’s 46 million jobs are “off the books.” Unfortunately, this informality deprives many businesses the ability to grow and do business with other companies and the government. Viet Nam’s Ease of Doing Business ranking, measured by the World Bank Group, highlights the challenges of transitioning out of the “gray” economy and into the formal sector. Although Viet Nam ranked 78 out of 189 economies surveyed in 2014, one of the economy’s less successful areas in this survey is “starting a business.” For many small businesses, the challenge of entering the formal sector through the business registry is daunting because of the number of procedures, the costs, and the obligations that arise, including taxation and other contributions to social safety nets.

Women’s labor force participation rate in Viet Nam is approximately 70 percent, one of the highest in the world. According to a 2014 study on women and employment, earnings, and social protections, about 70 percent to 80 percent of working women can be found in the informal sector, of which about 60 percent is in agriculture and 20 percent the nonagricultural sector. Viet Nam’s Statistics Office estimates that women own 30 percent of formally registered SMEs in the economy.

In Viet Nam, formally established SMEs owned by women reportedly grow at a faster rate than those owned by men. Moreover, 25 percent of leaders and CEOs in Vietnamese enterprises are women. While women are reaching the top ranks in Viet Nam, a “missing middle” for women’s businesses has been observed, in that informal, micro, and small enterprises rarely jump to the next level of growth.

Cultural and structural factors significantly constrain many businesses owned by women from achieving their full economic potential. Gender stereotypes in Viet Nam have a strong influence on women’s business practices. Women’s businesses often prioritize family income, rather than growth and profit. In addition, they often focus in lower-income sectors considered “appropriate” for women, including health, education, or manufacturing. In contrast, men often work in the more lucrative areas of construction, politics, science, or technology. Moreover, women are often expected to consult with their families before making major business decisions and are expected to consider family responsibilities before starting a business.

Access to finance is a particular challenge for women in Viet Nam. While women with established businesses use bank loans, smaller women-run businesses typically seek support from family or friends, or they access informal lending which comes with a high interest rate. A 2014 Goldman Sachs report estimates that, if the credit gap were closed for women’s SMEs in Viet Nam, per capita income could increase by 25-28 percent. Another barrier disproportionately affecting women is limited access to business development and networking opportunities. This relates to other constraints on women’s time, including family obligations that limit their ability to attend after-work events. A 2010 UNIDO and VCCI report found that significantly more women than men perceive domestic responsibilities to be a constraint on their business operation and growth.

Women’s opportunities also vary by region.  When asked about the difficulty of starting a business as a woman, 49 percent of respondents in the North (where the capital of Hanoi is located), 71 percent in the central region, and 51 percent in the South reported it was more difficult. A  2010 USAID report found that labor conditions and employment opportunities vary depending on whether a woman lives in a rural or urban area and the sector in which she is employed, whether it is agriculture, service, or other.

Despite the barriers women face in their business pursuits, the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report ranks Viet Nam fairly high in women’s economic participation and opportunity, 41 out of 142 countries. Within this metric, women’s labor force participation ranks even higher at 21st. Overall, Viet Nam is ranked 76 on the Global Gender Gap index, indicative of low rankings on other indicators including health and survival, literacy rates, and women in ministerial positions.

In recent years, the Vietnamese government has increased efforts to improve the business environment for female entrepreneurs, including through implementing the Law on Gender Equity, the Law on Investment, the Law on Enterprises, and regulations supporting female entrepreneurs. These reforms aim to foster a more supportive environment for all entrepreneurs and to level the playing field for men and women. 

According to a 2007 IFC report, one of the most significant barriers female entrepreneurs face in Viet Nam is limited opportunity for networking. Women report that men have more resources and more time to build such networks. Business associations for women are an important way for female entrepreneurs to bypass “old boy networks” and create their own business connections. Networks such as the Viet Nam Women Entrepreneurs Council and the Viet Nam Women’s Union provide these types of opportunities. As noted in a 2010 USAID report, there is a positive trend in Viet Nam of new women’s business associations, including the Ha Noi Network of Entrepreneurial Women and the Saigon Women Entrepreneurs Club, launched by women who met through other organizations and took steps to formalize networking appropriate for them. Because family obligations constrain women’s time more than men’s, women are less free to participate in these networks.

A number of associations provide sector-specific networking and business support opportunities for men and women. A list can be viewed here and includes associations such as the Vietnam Tea Association, Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, Vietnam E-Commerce Association, Vietnam Software Association, and Vietnam Textile and Clothing Association. Viet Nam also offers established business professionals opportunities for networking such as the CEOs Club and the Ho Chi Minh Chief Executive Officer Club. 

Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Networks that support women’s access to markets: 

VCCI represents the business community and is one of the economy’s largest trade promotion agencies. The chamber has branches across Viet Nam including the VCCI Ho Chi Minh City Branch, which has over 3,000 members. VCCI’s Business Forum is an advocate for businesses in...more

Founded in 1961 and based in Ha Noi, the VCA promotes the development of cooperatives and the cooperative economy, supports policy formulation around the cooperative sector, and represents the rights of members. Specific activities include vocational training and...more

Established in 2001, the Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs Council is under VCCI. Council members include entrepreneurs and representatives of women-owned or operated businesses, business organizations, and clubs from across Viet Nam. The Council’s staff work in Ho Chi Minh...more

This association, based in Ha Noi, was founded in 2005 to represent the interests of small and medium businesses. It is now...more

Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

Based in Can Tho, the fourth largest city in Viet Nam and the largest in the Mekong Delta, the CBA is a nonprofit, multisectoral organization founded in 2005. All operating costs are...more

Formed in 2000, this club was established to promote linkages between Da Nang’s 7,000 SMEs, many of which are run by women. Da Nang is a major port city in Vietnam with a population of 1,100,000. The mission of the club is to improve members’ skills and knowledge; create...more

YBA was the first association for young people in Viet Nam with the mission to support business skill development of and contribute to Viet Nam’s economic development, in particular by...more

Recently formed, the Saigon Women Entrepreneurs Club was started by women who met through other organizations and were seeking a different type of networking experience. The club has a newsletter and works with the Women Entrepreneurship Council and the Ho Chi Minh Trade...more

Launched in October 2014, VAWE aims to support business women’s roles and capacity in Viet Nam and to provide a forum for networking, experience sharing, learning. The association will also serve as a bridge between the government and business women. In its first term (...more

Founded in 1993, VYEA is a nonprofit professional and social association for young business people in Viet Nam. The VYEA has 9,000 members and 66...more

Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

Launched in 2014, HNEW supports leadership development, improves women’s role in the economy, and provides forums for business sharing and skills development. As a new...more

Networks that support women and innovation and technology: 

Founded in 2002 and based in Ha Noi, VARISME represents businesses in rural Viet Nam. Its purpose is to improve business practices and protect the rights of businesses, entrepreneurs, workers, artisans, agriculture workers, and village enterprises. The association has...more

Viet Nam’s private sector has increased in size and influence since the mid-1980s when market economy policies (Doi Moi) came into effect. According to a 2010 USAID report, specific policies in Viet Nam’s legal framework are supportive of female entrepreneurs but the private sector has not put policy into practice. Most support for entrepreneurs is in the context of general programs and only limited technical support is available. Support services often don’t appeal to business women, which is why many business associations often splinter off. Another constraint is that limited sex-disaggregated data are available to define specific needs. NGOs focused on economic development are largely not conducting outreach throughout Viet Nam and often focus on fighting poverty rather than supporting entrepreneurship and business development. Private sector support for entrepreneurs’ technological innovation, e-marketing, and Internet presence is often available in neighboring economies but is notably lacking in Viet Nam.

The private sector could also play a much greater role in supporting women’s access to credit, a key gap for female entrepreneurs as discussed in the introduction. As a result of changing regulations in Viet Nam, private credit institutions are able to provide credit to SMEs. Policies issued by the State Bank of Viet Nam on new forms of credit have allowed lending to comply with international best practices. 

Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

AVPN is a unique funders network headquartered in Singapore that seeks to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital to the social sector across the Asia Pacific region. We promote venture philanthropy in the broader philanthropic and social...more

Established in 2004 under the VUFO-NGO Resource Center, the VMFWG’s vision is to “provide the poor in Viet Nam with support and access to professional, sustainable and socially responsible financial services.” The group also...more

Initiatives that support women’s access to markets: 

InfoDev, a global grant program managed by the World Bank, established MWEC to test a program methodology for supporting “growth-oriented” female entrepreneurs in learning from peers. The program’s theory of change rested on the fact...more

Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

AVPN is a unique funders network headquartered in Singapore that seeks to increase the flow of financial, human and intellectual capital to the social sector across the Asia Pacific region. We promote venture philanthropy in the broader philanthropic and social...more

Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

SIYB clubs were founded in 1998 through a partnership between VCCI and the ILO. In 2003, VCCI took over the clubs which are locally-based and focused on business training.  Trainers have ILO credentials and training is open to the public. Members pay US$50 per year for...more

Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

The legal framework for business development in Viet Nam has been structured without glaring gender-based inequalities, but most laws do not discuss female entrepreneurs or take into consideration issues faced by this group. The framework took shape in 2000 with the passage of the Enterprise Law, which initiated a series of reforms to support the private sector and secure Viet Nam’s admittance to the WTO, which occurred in 2007. Some enterprise laws do take gender into account. These include Decree No. 90 in 2001, which notes that there should be “special importance to support programmes for enterprises that are managed by women.” Further, the Comprehensive Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy states that there is a need to “develop programs to support SMEs that are managed by women,” noting that strategies should help women compete in domestic and international markets and improve access to finance. Similarly, the Gender Equality Law notes that men and women “are equal in setting up a business” and encourages economic measures to support gender equality including preferential treatment for businesses with female employees and provision of credit aid to rural women workers. Resolution II/NQ/TW, passed in 2007, requests that government support small women-owned businesses and create “favourable policies to support women in the development of small and medium businesses.” While these laws appear on books, they have not been put into practice and very few government programs target female entrepreneurs. In addition, there is no focal office or agency for women’s entrepreneurial endeavors and no individual or group who is responsible for these efforts. Still, a number of institutions have been designated to support gender equality in Viet Nam. These include

  • The Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, in particular, its Department of Gender Equality,  which oversees the Law on Gender Equality and CEDAW implementation;
  • The National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam, an inter-sector body advising the Prime Minister;
  • Committees for the Advancement of Women in each ministry and province, which are monitored by MCFAW;
  • The Committee for Social Affairs (National Assembly), which manages state functions on social affairs including gender equality; and
  • The Women Worker Affairs (Department of Viet Nam General Confederation of Labor), which proposes activities for women’s advancement. 

Services that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Services that support women’s access to markets: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Services that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

MOLISA is responsible for state management functions for employment, vocational training, wages and salary, social insurance, occupational safety, “people [who have made a] special contribution to the society” (e.g., veterans), social protection, child care, gender...more

The MOIT implements trade policy and handles international trade negotiations, including representing Viet Nam at the WTO. The ministry is dominated by men with women slowly appearing in the...more

Established in 1930, VWU is a quasi-public organization that protects women’s rights and advocates for gender equality. More than 13 million women are members and VWU’s extensive network exists at four levels: central, provincial and municipal (63 units), district (642...more

Services that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

In 2009, the Agency for SME Development was renamed the Enterprise Development Agency. It is housed under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) and has three primary functions: (1)...more

NCFAW is an inter-sectoral body that counsels Viet Nam’s Prime Minister on gender equality and women’s empowerment, including economic empowerment. NCFAW also...more

Services that support women and innovation and technology: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.