Peter Cornish illuminates a new kind of company, Dependable Progress, that takes an initiative to empower women, and provide high-end service with a heart. Photo by Vinh Dao.
Founded in 2012 by Gabriel Meranze Levitt and Nguyen Thao Dan, Dependable Progress (DP) was born from a desire to support women in the community who struggled to support themselves and their families. With a background in NGO work, Gabriel had already spent a number of years working with PACT in Hanoi to improve the lives of poor and marginalised in Vietnam. Shortly after finishing his work with PACT, Gabriel’s partner, Dan, also made the decision to move to Ho Chi Minh City to start a social enterprise.
Unsure at first what route to take, they knew they wanted to create an initiative that empowered women and helped alleviate poverty. They reasoned the best way to achieve this was by providing skills that could be tied to work that is well paid. After a brief consultation period with local NGOs, businesses and expats, they identified a gap in the market for high-end domestic services, and decided to start Dependable Progress.
Together they developed their first training programme with the help of REACH, a local NGO in Hanoi that focused on providing vocational training. REACH’s participation was invaluable as it provided a strong foundation for building up DP, pulling on years of valuable experience as they created their first training systems. REACH also proved an essential part of funding for the first seven trainings.
Despite this support, the initial runs were challenging, and they went through tremendous learning curves. The trainee-group dynamic proved complicated, and the management and content of the training programmes needed further refinement. After the second training, DP put in place a programme that would lead them to the success they possess today.
‘Training’ Done Differently
Dependable Progress starts each training cycle by consulting with a local NGO and additional social organisations in order to identify potential beneficiaries of the process, and for taking part in the training provided. Other sources of referral are also used to identify women aged between 18 and 34 who have not completed university, or vocational training and earn less than 2 million VND per month prior to joining Dependable Progress’ team.
Trainees often have complications in their lives that make formal employment difficult to sustain. After successfully completing an initial interview and home visit, trainees are accepted into the programme which lasts four to five weeks. During the trainings they acquire skills related to cleaning, child care, as well as soft skills taught by DP’s partner, WeLink. They teach English language skills, and cover the minutiae of Dependable Progress’ internal policies.
Women who complete the training with a minimum of 90% attendance and successfully pass three practice sessions are able to graduate and begin work with Dependable Progress collaborators. Since its founding, Dependable Progress has graduated approximately 90 women and maintained an 80% pass rate on all courses, although some graduate and then seek employment elsewhere with their new skills.
Dependable Progress differs from others who provide cleaning services, as they focus on skills that are missing or in need of improvement for each individual, and continue to work with them during and after the initial training to ensure continuous improvements. In addition to skill development, DP offers support to trainees in dealing with personal issues, such as abusive husbands and divorces.
Going A Bit Beyond
The story of Sang is typical. She came to Dependable Progress with a positive attitude, but no skills. She graduated successfully, and went on to build strong relationships with her collaborators. She recently went through a tough divorce from an abusive husband. After a visit to the hospital, Dependable Progress brought her to social workers from E&D, an international NGO that regularly refers beneficiaries to DP. They worked closely with local authorities to ensure Sang was able to retrieve her belongings from her ex-husband’s house. They also assisted with the filing of her divorce documents, and acted to prevent her from further physical harm.
Dependable Progress also called on collaborators to donate household items and help Sang set up her new home independently. The custody battle for her child is ongoing, but at least now she is away from an abusive relationship and able to earn a predictably high monthly salary with DP’s ongoing support.
Dependable Progress has created stability in the lives of women who would otherwise be earning small salaries, and working long hours in potentially unsafe work conditions. From the outset, their goal has been to create a system which would empower women and address issues of poverty by providing skills and a stable work environment.
By achieving this, DP has seen trainees funnel their new economic resources into assisting their children so that they are equipped for a life with better skills than their parents had. Trainees’ children invariably receive better schooling than was possible previously, and trainees are no longer dependent on abusive, or otherwise toxic relationships to provide the money needed for survival. Also, as many DP trainees have special needs children, the salaries these families can now count on every month are essential to empowering children who might otherwise not be able to study in a typical school.
Trainees have a high level of trust in this company, and know that through hard work they are able to earn high salaries and plan for their futures. Looking forward, DP has plans to expand operations and incorporate more trainees into managerial positions as the social enterprise continues to grow.
The first five years of Dependable Progress’ social initiative has not always been smooth sailing, but it has achieved a place in expats’ minds as an option that delivers on promises and is always accountable. They have managed to change the lives of disadvantaged women and their children all through an honest day’s work, and a genuine showing of care.