(Missoula, MT March 10, 2015) – ALPS CFO, Sara Smith, recently embarked on a two week trip in Vietnam as part of an international business exchange program in conjunction with the Mansfield Center of the University of Montana. In fall 2014 ALPS hosted Ms. Tran Thanh Thao, the Director of the Bancassurance Division of BaoViet. Ms. Thao is now Sara’s host during her travels in Vietnam.

Sara so far has posted three insightful entries to the Mansfield Fellows blog and expects to post several more before returning to ALPS headquarters in Missoula. So far she has noted the great difference between the legal practices in Vietnam as opposed to our own system in the US.

“There is a rigorous (law) schooling and exam in Vietnam, much like the states, but the culture is so different. People in Vietnam tend not to sue each other, much less their lawyers. It is very expensive to hire a lawyer. Much of the legal battles occur with foreign companies. Thus, the need for any lawyer’s malpractice insurance is very low and there are very few, if any losses.”

Sara has also had an opportunity to meet with the Thanh Hoa Fund for Poor Women, a micro-finance lender started in 1998.

“The group has grown to more than 90 employees managing over 14,000 different loans. This week marks a monumental achievement for the organization as it being recognized formally as a credit institution. This will require higher compliance and a bit more regulations, but the organization will be able to expand its capacity and ability to loan to other clients.”

Sara does volunteer work for the Montana Community Development Corporation and while different from the Thanh Hoa Fund for Poor Women, she does note some similarities to mission and structure of the organizations.

“Both seek to achieve economic empowerment to better the community and provide opportunities and jobs for the borrowers.”

Regarding the Fund for Poor Women, Sara says the group seeks to “elevate the position of women in particular by providing a loan for approximately $350 USD. The borrowers repay the loan at an interest rate of less than 1%. The borrowers must take a class in order to receive the funds that teaches them how to manage the money.”

Over this past weekend Sara traveled to the village of Mai Chau with the Hanoikids Voluntary English Club. She writes that the kids all learn and speak English as service as ambassadors to Hanoi.

“A tourist can book a tour with a member of Hanoikids and get a first rate tour around the cultural sites. They build and foster relationships and build cultural awareness. My interpreter, Tu, during my travels is a member of Hanoikids as well as a student studying International Economics. Her enthusiasm for her country is contagious.”

Stay tuned to the Mansfield Center blog for more posts from the field from Sara during her Vietnam trip.