“I realize how greatly diverse the social enterprises in Vietnam are, and how much impact can we make on society by directly working for them,” exclaimed a Social Impact Fellows Program (SIFP) fellow. Launched by Fulbright’s Career Development Unit in 2021, SIFP – a flagship professional experiential learning program, aims to connect community-minded students to industry partners across Vietnam and kickstart their professional career path. In its last two iterations, the program has successfully placed 32 fellows, training dedicated youth to serve their communities.

Materializing Fulbright’s fervent mission to inspire future leaders and creative thinkers to solve real-world problems, Career Development strives to foster opportunities, experiences, connections, and skills to help Fulbright students and graduates find professional and personal fulfillment across diverse areas of study, interest, and career paths. Among many of its ongoing initiatives, the Social Impact Fellows Program (SIFP) was brought to life as a response to a nowadays’ growing subset of Fulbright students’ interest in a meaningful professional opportunity that can contribute back to society.

SIFP is developed based on a three-pillar framework of (i) early access and exposure to social impact practice, (ii) financial support, and (iii) training and professional assistance.

“Broadly, we envision the ‘meaningful disruption’ in the current higher education and employment landscape in Vietnam, demonstrating how an adaptive liberal arts education adequately tackles the most pressing challenges,” shared Mr. Vincent Pham, Manager of Career and Partnership Development at Fulbright University Vietnam. “That explains two-fold advantages of each SIFP’S pillar for both our students and partner organizations. On one hand, we help our students to find rewarding opportunities that contribute to the betterment of society with wraparound support through financial support and training. On the other hand, we support partners by connecting them to students who are keen to learn, eager to grow, and are deeply motivated by the partners’ social values.

Early Access and Exposure to Social Impact Organizations

Fulbright students are encouraged to start exploring exciting career pathways in a diverse range of opportunities and experiences, developing a fuller understanding of different industries of interest, the requisite skills to succeed, and the world around them. Materializing the bridge to a social-oriented occupation, SIFP curates a collection of partner organizations for students to look into. The sooner Fulbright students can familiarize themselves with these employers, the more aware they are of the breadth of opportunities they can pursue upon graduation.

In the last two years of operation, SIFP has collaborated with a number of partner organizations such as Anh Chi Em, Beacon Fund, Fauna & Flora International, HopeBox Vietnam, Journey of the Senses, KOTO, LIN Center, Panl, Patamar Capital, mClinica, Seed Planter, etc. These establishments have empowered many Fulbright students to start immersing in practical projects, acquiring the concrete know-how in Vietnamese and regional contexts.

For me, the most valuable experience at SIFP was to be immersed in a professional work environment of global settings, learn practical theories, and apply them directly to the daily tasks in Vietnam,” shared Tran Thao Nguyen, a student of Class 2024 and SIFP Fellow from 1st cohort, placed at Fauna & Flora International in Hanoi. “I also realize how greatly diverse the social enterprises in Vietnam are, and how much impact can we make on society by directly working for them.”

Financial Support

Compensation is usually among the chief factors of career decision-making. While seeking a professional opportunity, students must balance what makes sense financially and their personal interests, strengths, and values. Since not every opportunity can satisfy both practical and personal needs, it is common for unpaid internships to be a non-starter for many students. Unfortunately, many organizations in the social impact realm, such as non-profits and social enterprises, may not have the ample funding to provide paid opportunities on a regular basis, which can attract fewer talents pursuing a career.

To close the gap on this issue, SIFP ensures there is a stipend from partner organizations, Fulbright, or a combination of both. This allowance creates equitable access to professional opportunities for students regardless of their socioeconomic status. At the same time, it is to reduce the likelihood that a student may not even consider a social impact career from an early phase.

“While I have always been interested in societal benefit organizations – and volunteered with many relevant projects – it seemed difficult to make it a career, given the likely financial burden,” shared Nguyen Thi Thanh, a freshman at Fulbright and currently SIFP Fellow at HopeBox Vietnam. “Thanks to SIFP removing the financial obstacle, I got a launchpad into an inspiring environment full of supportive colleagues and meaningful direct engagement with HopeBox’s beneficiaries.”

Training and Professional Assistance

Another element that makes a professional opportunity desirable is the professional development benefits which are increasingly emphasized by many multinational corporations. On top of offering functional roles, these companies attract and retain the best human resource by providing a robust talent program that is both challenging and supportive.

Despite their effort in developing a sustainable community-minded business model, many organizations may find difficulties in developing a such talent pipeline. This urges SIFP to step in and provide a structured approach and scaffolded support including pre-fellowship training, ongoing mentorship, and post-learning reflections for Fulbright students. These well-tailored training sessions range from data analysis fundamentals to professional communications, followed by regular check-ins where fellows can share their experience with their cohort along with Career Development staff.

Social Impact Fellows Program (SIFP)

By providing training and development sessions, SIFP offers its fellows the chance to embark on a rewarding occupation while still being perfectly on track with their progress in climbing the career ladder. In turn, the partners can reduce their staff onboarding time with ready-to-work talents whose critical thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving approach are among the most striking features.

“SIFP has provided us with the best interns we could ask for. Fulbright students are driven, embracing the liberal arts values – such as being open-minded, thinking out-of-the-box, welcoming differences – and deeply share our mission of creating social impact in gender equality,” complimented Ms. Do Hong Yen – Investment Manager at Beacon Fund, a SIFP’s partner for the past two years.

In total, SIFP has worked with 15 partners and accepted 32 Fellows across the first two iterations of the program. Although a career path in the social-oriented field may deem nebulous, SIFP is determined to make the first touchpoint, connecting an increasing number of young adults to a rewarding occupation and fulfilling life. In turn, these 21st-century strategic changemakers and leaders will go after Vietnam and the region’s toughest societal challenges.