Tram Nguyen-Stevenin was born and raised in Vietnam. She graduated from ESSEC MBA with a focus in Marketing & Sales, and has 13 years of international management experience acquired in both the association sector and private sector. She effectively managed Sales & Marketing for the largest European and American multinationals operating in Telecommunications and e-commerce & Online Financial Services. For over 2 years, she has been the Executive Director of a Business Organization (European Chamber of Commerce) in the developing and exciting country of Vietnam. She accepted this appointment which is somehow different in her corporate career path as a key opportunity to promote and facilitate trade and investment activities between the EU, her welcome mainland, and Vietnam, her born country. After her term at EuroCham, she is now back to the business world as the Marketing & PR Director at K+, the first media joint-venture ever in Vietnam between the Canal Plus group (Vivendi) and the national broadcaster Vietnamese Television VTV.
MDI is a SME specialized in equitable trade of agricultural products, including coffee, green tea, jasmine tea, snow mountain tea and cashews grown in eight provinces across Vietnam. MDI works in partnership with groups of smallholder farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups in poorer and remote areas of Vietnam.
To download the MDI Betterday case study from the GIM database, please click here.
What is MDI’s basic value proposition and what makes its financial model sustainable?
MDI works in partnership with groups of smallholder farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups in poorer and remote areas of Vietnam. The company is committed to the development of the rural sector in Vietnam and believes that the best way to accomplish sustainable development is by doing business in a fair and ethical way with people in the sector: by engaging producers as trading partners, MDI can improve their livelihoods, increase their incomes and assist them in linking with markets on terms that are beneficial for them.
With their motto “Development through pro-poor business” MDI has a “double bottom line” meaning that in addition to being a “for-profit” their success is also measured by the social impact that they can achieve.
What are the main challenges for scaling up the business?
- Physical Infrastructure: in order to grow and reach to new farmer groups, MDI needs to invest and recruit local staff in the mountains to collect and check the quality of the crops.
Besides, in terms of organization, as a small structure with limited human resources, the company has to undertake many tasks, from providing support to farmer groups right through to marketing their products internationally. Furthermore, MDI does not have a big budget for marketing and advertising their brand.
What has the involvement of MDI done for ethnic minorities in the country?
MDI works with farmer groups to help improve quality of production, achieve Fairtrade certification and organic certification. MDI is currently working with around 1000 farmers, representing total household size about 4500-5500 people. All of the farmers they work with live below the international poverty line of US$1 day; most are ethnic minority people; and many live in remote mountainous regions.
Because MDI only started recently, the impact on income is still quite modest. However, the tea farmers were able to double their income from tea this year – tea is about 1/3 of their overall “income” but represents almost all of their cash income.
It can also be noted that the farmers feel more pride in their products and are excited to see that their tea and cashew is being sold in the international market but still retaining the identity of the producer groups.
“We are proud to know that our products are sold in many foreign countries and…I cannot believe that my picture is in fact appearing on tea boxes to many people!” explains a young Mong lady.
For MDI, what were the main benefits of the fair trade certification?
The FAIRTRADE Certification Mark is a registered trademark of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). It certifies that products meet the social, economic and environmental standards set by Fairtrade. The Mark certifies products not companies. It does not cover the companies or organizations selling the products.
For producers Fairtrade uniquely offers four major benefits
- Stable Prices
- A Fairtrade Premium
- Empowerment of farmers and workers
What would you say was critical about the actor ecosystem that enabled this business to be successful?
Oxfam Hong Kong has played a critical role in providing contacts, linkages and assistance on international markets to MDI.
Oxfam International is a confederation of 14 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam International works directly with communities and seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.
Oxfam Hong Kong helped MDI with the launch of Betterday Fairtrade products into Vietnamese supermarkets in December 2007 and also introduced their products in Hong Kong. In 2008, Oxfam subsidized MDI paying 50% of their trip to exhibit their Fairtrade products at the Hong Kong Food Expo. Oxfam also supported a trip to meet tea farmers in Nghe An, Central Vietnam, where Oxfam has been working for over a decade.