Dr Gledhill is a visionary philanthropist who is revolutionising the role individuals can play in tackling global challenges like poverty.

The brocade group in Sung Village.

Five years ago, Dr Gledhill, a retired computer scientist and academic, had an idea while on a trip to Vietnam. This idea has since helped thousands of people out of poverty, created an award-winning model for social enterprise, and inspired transformative investment from governments, corporates and other philanthropists.

The drive to make a difference

In 2014, Dr Gledhill visited Vietnam’s north-west Hoa Binh province – a remote, mountainous area with a high proportion of ethnic minority groups. Hoa Binh’s population is almost entirely dependent on agriculture and around 50 per cent of people are illiterate.

Dr Gledhill learned that several communities had been displaced from the fertile lowlands of Hoa Binh to make way for a hydro-electric dam. Their traditional farming practices were ill-suited to the more rugged upland terrain and many now struggled to meet their daily needs.

However, Hoa Binh offers some of the most magnificent scenery in Vietnam. From the lush rice paddies to the stunning limestone karsts, Dr Gledhill, a keen hiker, was impressed by the region’s natural beauty. On that trip, the seed of an idea was planted.

Leading with passion

Guided by Action on Poverty (AOP), Dr Gledhill built on his own experiences with eco-tourism to develop a model for community-based tourism (CBT). This is an ethical and sustainable model for tourism, owned and managed by local communities themselves.

Supported by Dr Gledhill, AOP helped three villages in Hoa Binh trial the CBT model. The project offered low-interest loans to help local families start businesses, such as homestays and kayak rental services. The project also offered training in hospitality, English and food preparation, and supported the development of local art and performance groups showcasing traditional music and dance.

Dr Gledhill went far beyond most philanthropists’ involvement with an NGO. Along with contributing multi-year grants to the project, he took a self-funded study trip through the region, provided feedback on the design of the CBT model and participated in crucial meetings with Vietnamese authorities.

Dr Gledhill (second from left).

In 2015, Dr Gledhill joined AOP for a trial trek between the three participating villages, providing many businesses with their first paying customers.

“You do not have to be a large corporate or state to support,” says Dr Gledhill, “simply someone who wants to help.”

Since the trial, the CBT project in Hoa Binh has attracted over 20,000 visitors (more than 7,000 international) and generated $450,000 in revenue, directly benefitting over 6,000 people. Profits are also reinvested in the community for local development projects, such as road upgrades.

“Dr Gledhill is always modest and states that it is AOP, and especially our dedicated Vietnamese team, that deserves the credit. However, without Dr Gledhill’s vision and his many contributions, the project would not be enjoying the success it is today,” said Brayden Howie, CEO of Action on Poverty. “Our partnership with Dr Gledhill is a model of how philanthropists and NGOs can work together to achieve things neither of us could do on our own.”

Nhat and Quy’s business success

Dr Gledhill’s model has given ambitious people like Mr Nhat and Mrs Quy the life-changing opportunity to run their own business.

Nhat and Quy live in Sung village and belong to the Dao ethnic minority group. Before joining the CBT project, this husband-and-wife team relied on agriculture to get by, but struggled to earn enough to care for their elderly parents and send their two children to school. Nhat considered moving to the city to find work, but worried about leaving his family behind.

Nhat and Quy.

With a small loan, Nhat and Quy upgraded their home into a homestay. They added some new facilities for international guests, such as Western bathrooms, while retaining the traditional touches that give the home its history and character. Since launching their business in 2018, they have received wonderful feedback from customers, who love experiencing life in a traditional Dao village and exploring the nearby mountains, caves and forests.

Nhat and Quy have now been operating their business for almost three years and earn an extra $670 per month, which guarantees good living conditions for the whole family and covers the children’s school fees.

“Thanks to the CBT project, my family can introduce our culture and lifestyle to visitors,” said Mr Nhat. “I never imagined serving international visitors one day. The income from tourism also helps me afford a higher quality of life for three generations of my family without me moving to the city.”

Inspiring generosity and catalysing change

CBT in Hoa Binh is now a registered social enterprise and won the ASEAN CBT Award in 2019 for its outstanding product.

While the model has been affected by COVID-19, business owners have pivoted swiftly towards the domestic market, for example, by hosting writing camps and trail runs that draw visitors from the city.

AOP has also attracted additional funding from governments, corporates and private foundations to scale up the project in six more districts, helping thousands more people on their journey out of poverty. None of this would have been possible without Dr Gledhill’s vision, passion and generosity.

For more information on how AOP can help you bring your vision to life, visit actiononpoverty.org/bethechange

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