Jill Biden is one of the few women to continue working professionally – she’s an English professor – while her husband served as vice president of the United States. Biden brought along the themes of educational and career opportunities for women on her swing through Asia, which included a stop in Vietnam.
“One of the reasons for our visit today is to lift up women and girls in areas of education and entrepreneurship,” the Second Lady said Monday in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese women are already doing better than most countries in those areas. Vietnam had a female labor force participation rate of 73 percent in 2012, compared with 57 percent in the United States and 64 percent in China, according to the World Bank. The country also outperforms the United States and other developed nations on international tests.
Hanoi and Washington have seen heightened diplomatic activity this month, with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Vietnam just before Vietnam Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong left for the White House. U.S. President Barack Obama could come to Vietnam for the first time this fall.
The two countries are also marking the 20th anniversary of normalized ties. U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said that “during this important, historic year,” Biden’s visit is “really a testimony to the ever-strengthening bilateral relationship between our two nations.”
He spoke Monday night on the patio of the U.S. consul general’s home, where young business leaders gathered to snap photos with the Second Lady.
Biden did not take questions from the press but addressed the crowd briefly.
“Last night we met with students who have disabilities and listened to some of the training that they're going through to get jobs,” she said. “And since you're all entrepreneurs, I hope you will be hiring students with disabilities.”
Osius agreed that this generation of entrepreneurs is “integral” to the Southeast Asian country’s success. He shared with the gathering a Vietnamese proverb: “Con hon cha la nha co phuc,” meaning that when the child surpasses the father, the house is blessed.
One of the businesswomen there, Thi Anh Dao, quoted another Vietnamese saying: “Thien thoi, dia loi, nhan hoa,” which means, “Right time, right place, right person.”
She told VOA luck and timing were key ingredients in the growth of her marketing firm, Emerald Consulting, which was founded in 2009 and has been acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network.
“At that time, what people called digital marketing was quite new here,” Dao said. “We had the opportunity to grow with the market.”
Nguyen Minh-Tuan, who was also clinking wine glasses at the starlit reception, connects business people through the global network Startup Grind. It hosts a database to share information among start-ups, investors, and accelerators, holds annual summits, and trains fledgling entrepreneurs because when investors come to Vietnam, “We don’t want anyone to miss an opportunity.”
“I talk to a lot of them, and most of the founders set out to solve a problem,” Minh-Tuan said. “They’re not just entrepreneurs, they’re not just people seeking fame or money. They really want to contribute back to society.”