In 2019, in a speech about young leaders who have inspired him, former US President Obama mentioned many prominent names who have created changes, even if they are small, yet, having significant impacts. Among those names, a representative of Vietnam represents the “climate hero,” Hoang Thi Minh Hong.

Former US President Obama is probably one of the few American presidents who are admired worldwide and an inspiration to many generations of Americans and the world. However, he mentioned Hoang Thi Minh Hong as an inspiration to himself, a typical representative of those who have decided to help “create a better future” in the way they want to see this world.

So what makes a small Vietnamese woman like Hong become such a strong inspiration?

The first Vietnamese to set foot in Antarctica

The first trip to Antarctica in 1997 was one of the most important milestones in Ms. Hong’s career of “creating a greener and cleaner world.” She shared that: “Being in Antarctica for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the majestic beauty of nature there. However, I was shocked immediately to learn that this continent is melting. Despite being the most primitive place on Earth and isolated from human civilization, Antarctica  is being destroyed by man.”

That fateful trip became a strong motivation for Ms. Hong to act more for the environment, helping her carry out many small and large projects to propagate urgent issues about climate change, protecting wildlife, etc., to many communities in the country and the world. The trip changed her perception and thinking about the environment and the responsibility of each person.

The “leader” of initiatives that contribute to a greener and cleaner world

Ms. Hong said that the time “rolling around” with different jobs and activities gave her a lot of valuable lessons and experiences about what she and many others could do to protect the environment. Thanks to her time being in charge of the environmental protection aspect for a PR company in the 2000s, Ms. Hong had an opportunity to meet the first class of talented and passionate young volunteers ready to travel to South Africa to learn more about wildlife. In Africa, Ms. Hong and her friends carried out a few small projects on environmental communication, including collecting 10,000 signatures from Vietnamese people to submit to The World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 held in South Africa that she was invited to attend. “Back then, collecting signatures was not online like nowadays. The volunteers had to go to every university, every neighborhood to propagate and encourage people.” That said, environmental activities are not easy at all! However, Ms. Hong and other young people continued and were initially able to see specific results.

After working at WWF, Ms. Hong boldly proposed to bring Earth Hour, which is WWF Australia’s initiative, to Vietnam. At that time (2008), programs on climate change seemed very new and unfamiliar. She hoped that Earth Hour would be a campaign that highlighted the meaningful and important message that everyone could do a small thing (like turning off a light bulb) to reduce the impact on the environment, reduce emissions, and combat climate change.

The success of Earth Hour after that is not much to argue. The program has attracted the attention, support, and participation of 63 provinces and cities and many people from all social classes, becoming a prominent and pervasive activity throughout Vietnam. Every year, Earth Hour is held, contributing to saving hundreds of millions of kWh electricity for the national grid. Above all, the success in changing people’s habits and consciousness in saving energy. 

Keeping moving forward, Ms. Hong and other young people continued to organize a “different” version of Earth Hour in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012: replacing all burning candles with LED candles to reduce emissions. At that time, it was not only about raising awareness and changing mindset but also about proposing solutions.

“We can say that Earth Hour has partly changed the public’s perception of climate change, helping to bring the arid, boring environment and climate issues closer and more receptive to the masses. That’s exactly what I aim for, “- Ms. Hong said.

“Pioneers” are not alone

Through a series of environmental activities with many organizations, Ms. Hong realized that it was time to develop a long-term action plan for Vietnam to set up an environmental NGO to carry out its objectives.

She once shared on her personal Facebook: “If you can’t find yourself a seat at the table, set up another table and invite everyone to sit with you.” To “change the world,” she cannot do it alone but instead needs the cooperation and companionship of many people. There is a saying of former President Obama that she is very fond of: “If we want to ‘change the world,’ we have to build community. To do that, we have to connect with people through stories. Storytelling is the best way to engage people.” That’s how Ms. Hong has “engaged” young people to participate in her projects, building a community of passionate and enthusiastic people to spread meaningful messages about protecting the environment to more people.

And so, CHANGE was born. She often jokingly calls people at CHANGE “dupes.” Ms. Hong often says that she and her staff are “pioneers” to find solutions to environmental and social problems in Vietnam. This path may be challenging, but the young people are still determined to accompany her. They may not have much experience and resources. Still, Ms. Hong and her friends at CHANGE all believe that, as long as we have the proper awareness of environmental issues and are trusted, we can act together towards building the green planet and making changes.

CHANGE in Vietnamese means “su thay doi” (making differences). That is the value that Ms. Hong and the organization she founded pursue. Change is the core of every social development process and humans’ ability to achieve a better life. She realized that only with a change in awareness and action from each individual could environmental problems in Vietnam and the world be solved. 

With creative communication projects, Ms. Hong and CHANGE have received positive responses from the community, initially changing the perception and behavior of the young Vietnamese generation. The plastic reduction movement has helped raise public awareness of these issues and change the habit of using single-use plastic for many people. Projects on wildlife protection also implement many creative approaches by propagating and taking specific actions, such as organizing seminars and encouraging leading businesses, reputable doctors in Eastern and Western medicine, and famous artists to spread the message to specific target audiences.

“All of my efforts would be just a grain of salt in the ocean without the participation of young people at CHANGE and volunteers. I am always optimistic with the contribution of the young generation and the strength of the community.”

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