REI-Vietnam News

New Format Improves Business Team Program

by Lily Lauer |

Image: New Format Improves Business Team Program

Planning for the Fall 2013 Business Team program began in February when Don Colebourn—an entrepreneur and real estate professional who has participated with our business program since 2007—took the initiative to travel to Vietnam to meet with faculty from various universities. Their goal was to determine how the REI-VN business program could be improved.

Tom and Anna

The result of the faculty-led brainstorming sessions was a new format providing a venue in which students could increase their understanding and application of lecture content. Previously, the team concentrated on lecturing, since that seemed like the way to reach the largest number of students in the shortest time. It was efficient. To make the teams’ efforts more effective, however, it was decided that shorter lectures would be followed by small group discussions led by REI-VN team members and university faculty. This gave students opportunities to ask more questions and develop relationship with team leaders. As with any new venture, there were some wrinkles that needed to be ironed out, but overall, the new format “worked out great.”


The new discussion group format is already bearing fruit. Upon their return to the U.S., team members have received “a lot more emails and interactions with students already,” according to Don. Additionally, John Mollison—a consultant for hospitality, restaurant, and food industries— created a new test program in conjunction with faculty members at HANU University. John will be team teaching there with on-site faculty via Skype for a full year. This was John’s first trip to Vietnam with REI-VN, and Vietnamese faculty members are very excited about his inclusion on the team. They have been asking REI-VN to send an expert in tourism and hospitality for years.


The new format will also make it easier to recruit new presenters to the REI-VN Business Team. What sets REI-VN team members apart, and the reason this program has been so successful, is the quality of our volunteer professionals. REI-VN business team members possess real world experience. What they teach is different from theory-based teaching, because it comes from people who are conducting business “in the trenches.” Don knows that it can be a “turn off and daunting” if you ask business people to prepare a three hour lecture, but many business professionals enjoy the opportunity to speak for just 20 minutes and then lead a “give and take” discussion on the topic. This new arrangement will “enable us to recruit a lot more people—it’s easier to prepare [for the program] and more meaningful,” explains Don. Don also predicts that the team’s retention rate will increase, providing even better continuity. Most importantly, the new format will be more meaningful for students.


Vietnamese faculty and students appreciate interacting with the same REI-Vietnam team members year after year. A major motivation for Don’s continual commitment to building people to build a nation is that “all we have to do is touch one life, and it makes a huge difference.” A young man whose life has been impacted by REI-VN, and specifically by Don, invited the fall business team to tour his business. Duc is a former student whom Don met seven years ago. Duc wanted to run his own business, and had the drive and entrepreneurial spirit to make it happen. Don provided him with mentoring, encouragement, and counsel, so that Duc could strategize and stay the course to reach his goal. Don has given Duc a lot of advice over the years, but he “always ask[s] him a question: what’s your dream this year?”


Duc recently bought a newly formed business that sells hibiscus products. ( He started the business with five volunteer employees grossing $200 per week in sales and in just three years increased sales to $5000 per week. He also enlarged his staff to 12 full-time and 10 part-time employees. In a letter written to the business team, Duc thanked them for the valuable and inspiring knowledge they imparted to him during his time as a student at Hanoi University. More than that, he was thankful for the lasting friendships he built with REI lecturers, especially with Don. He “truly treasure[s] the teaching, mentorship and friendship that he gave me.” This time—in answer to Don’s question about his dream for his business—Duc responded that he wanted to ensure that his company could run without him, so he could attend Harvard Business School and earn an MBA. Upon his return to Vietnam, Duc wants to take his business international.


Lassie Colebourn, Don’s artist/entrepreneur wife, was asked to teach a floral arranging class at Tea Talk Café, the brainchild of REI-VN social worker, Michael Ong. Five years ago, Lassie closed her floral and landscaping business to devote more time to her art. ( Her students at Tea Talk loved her and enjoyed her class so much they invited her to come back next year to teach painting techniques. That will have to wait until the year after next because of a conflict: Lassie’s paintings will be featured in a major art show in California at that time.

Lien and PeggyREI-Vietnam’s business teams will continue to develop relationships with faculty, students and business people in Vietnam as well as fine tune the new small group teaching format. We eagerly anticipate a new surge in growth and vitality with our business program, and we are very grateful for the efforts and commitments of our very talented volunteer professionals.

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