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Empowering Diversity: Inclusion Training in Vietnam's Water Utilities

In a collaboration between the Australian Water Association (AWA), the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewage Association (VWSA), and the National Center for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation (NCERWASS), Ms. Pham Thu Hien, a Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) expert, kicked off an innovative training initiative in Vietnam in January 2024.

The GEDSI training, a key part of the Partnerships for a Resilient and Climate Smart Water Sector Program and the Partnerships for Improved Water Safety & Water Supply Resilience Program, received support from the Australian Government through the Australian Water Partnership. 

Cultivating Understanding 

This training provided an opportunity for Vietnamese water leaders and professionals to delve into diversity and inclusion issues relevant to their roles. The program aimed to equip participants with practical strategies to enhance diversity and inclusion within Vietnam's water sector. 

Participants comprised executive leaders, mid-level management, and technical staff from various Vietnamese urban and rural water utilities, including Phu Tho Water Supply Company, Can Tho Water Supply and Sewerage Company, Hoa Binh Clean Water Company, and An Giang Provincial Centre for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation. Over 100 individuals joined face-to-face training sessions held across two locations in Vietnam. 

Vice Chairman
Photo: Vice Chairman of VWSA Ha Thanh Hang gave the opening speech

The stark reality that only 18% of global water sector personnel are women highlights the urgency of such initiatives. 

Bridging Knowledge Gaps 

During the face-to-face training, delegates gained insights into GEDSI issues within the Vietnamese context and explored international case studies highlighting Australia's efforts in addressing GEDSI challenges within its water utility sector. Ms. Pham Thu Hien shed light on the disproportionate burden of household responsibilities borne by women in Vietnam, emphasising how unpaid care work often limits their career prospects.  

According to VWSA data, in Vietnam, women represent 32% of the total workforce across water sector establishments, with only 7 out of 125 Water Utility Board Directors being women. 

VWSA Group

Committing to Equity 

VWSA Vice President Ha Thanh Hang expressed aspirations for a more inclusive water sector in Vietnam. She highlighted the need for broader dissemination of such training programs and reaffirmed VWSA's commitment to advancing gender equality, diversity and social inclusion within the water and sanitation utility sector: 

“In recent times, the field of clean water supply has achieved many positive results, but gender equality issues including support for disadvantaged groups in society has not yet met as many expectations as possible. We would like to see this training offered to more water utilities in Viet Nam, and are committed to supporting the scale up of gender equality and inclusion capacity development in the water and sanitation utility sector”. –  VWSA Vice President Ha Thanh Hang 

The sentiment was echoed by General Director of Phu Tho Water Supply Company, Doan Thi Kim Quy, underlining the collective determination to foster a more inclusive environment: 

I firmly believe that Gender Equality, Diversity, and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) programs are not just initiatives; they are the very essence of progress in Vietnam's water sector. By embracing GEDSI, we not only ensure equitable access to water resources but also foster innovation, resilience, and sustainable development for all communities, regardless of gender, background, or circumstance. GEDSI isn't just about doing what's right; it's about empowering every individual to contribute their unique talents and perspectives towards a brighter, more inclusive future for Vietnam's water landscape.” – General Director of Phu Tho Water Supply Company Doan Thi Kim Quy 

Photo: GEDSI expert, Ms Pham Thu Hien delivered Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion
(GEDSI) training in Việt Nam in January 2024.

Charting the Path Forward 

The training also featured presentations from Kirsty Jones, International Program Manager at AWA, who showcased examples of GEDSI initiatives from Australia. The session emphasised the many benefits of diversity and inclusion across customers, communities, and organisational innovation, outlined below.  

 Figure 01
Figure 1:  Business reasons for a more diverse and inclusive environment.
Source: Tapping the Power of Inclusion and Diversity in Urban Water 

Melita Grant, Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, also discussed how GEDSI can be integrated into management, staff, and community levels. She highlighted research indicating that having more women on boards and/or in top leadership positions enhances firm performance (with a recommended minimum of 30% diversity). Additionally, studies demonstrate that companies with a higher representation of women in senior leadership roles achieve better results. 

Melita Grant introduced a comprehensive framework for integrating GEDSI considerations at every level of the water sector workforce, drawing from the global initiative Equal Aqua. The framework encompasses recruitment, retention, and promotion strategies aimed at fostering an inclusive environment conducive to professional growth. 

framework to consider inclusion

Continuing the Journey 

The GEDSI training journey continued beyond the face-to-face workshops, with a follow-up session conducted online in April 2024. Participants shared their experiences in implementing workshop insights within their respective organisations, underlining the ongoing commitment to driving positive change. 

Zoom Recording
Photo: Online GEDSI workshop. Participants shared their experiences in implementing workshop insights within their respective organisations, underlining the ongoing commitment to driving positive change.

As Representative of the National Center for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation (NCERWASS), Duong Tu Oanh, remarked, initiatives like these signify a pivotal step towards a more equitable and inclusive water sector in Vietnam. 

Dr. Van Huy Tran, Program Coordinator at AWA, emphasised the collaborative spirit driving such initiatives forward, marking a promising inclusion trajectory for Vietnam's water utilities. 

The GEDSI training program is just one step on a long journey, highlighting the importance collective endeavour towards a more diverse, inclusive, and resilient water sector in Vietnam.