Thien-Nhien Luong is the CEO of Design Capital Asia, a non-profit and non-governmental organization based in the USA and Vietnam whose mission is to eradicate poverty through youth empowerment. She is a member of the board of directors of Vietnamese American Non-Governmental Organization Network (VANGO) and a member of Vietnamese Reach for Health Coalition (VRHC).
Ms. Luong obtained her undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from UCSB and MPH in Epidemiology from UCLA.
On her work in Vietnam...
My commitment to helping Vietnam stems from my experience working on the HIV/AIDS project in Vietnam to estimate the HIV infection rate among commercial sex workers in 1997. I witnessed firsthand how poverty plays an integral part in dangerous risk-taking behaviors in an individual, tearing apart a family, breaking a community, and weakening a society and its culture. I was the first to introduce saliva testing for HIV infection in Vietnam. Later I was involved in the efforts to introduce Anonymous Testing Services (ATS) for high-risk populations in Saigon, advocated for MSM to be added as an at-risk group to surveillance, and championed for methadone clinics for injection drug users also in Saigon.
Because of my familiarity with Vietnam when working on these projects, I was approached by several non-profit organizations to consult on health-related projects to serve the poor population. I have also worked with many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on their charitable projects (corrective surgery program, mobile health program, scholarship program) for Vietnam.
In 1999, I co-founded the Friends of Hue Foundation (FHF) with Mr. Nguyen Dinh Huu and others to assist Thua Thien, Hue to get back to normalcy after the deadliest flood in a 100 years. It wasn't until I became FHF's Executive Director in 2008 did I learn about the band-aid approach that many charitable NGOs have embarked on for years. It took me roughly two years to draw on needs data, as well as on my research, public health, and community development experiences to create development vision and programs for Vietnam. One program called Healthy Initiatives through Peer Education (HIPE) has been focusing on youths from orphanages/children shelters, at-risk communities, and poor schools to empower and train them to become Peer Health Educators (PHEs), who are then given education scholarships and placed back in their schools and communities to lead health workshops on sanitation, environmental protection, tobacco control and prevention, and sexual reproductive health. To date, our PHEs have provided needed health education to 35,000 children and have directly reduced hygiene preventable diseases such as parasitic and eye infection diseases. The second development tract is about social entrepreneur development through capital investment and business capacity training on business development, operation, marketing/sales to labor laws and work place safety to name a few to qualified social entrepreneurs who in return create job, provide job training, and participate in annual giving to the poor people and communities. Since 2010, our 67 social entrepreneurs have trained 379 students, added 311 full-time jobs and 42 part-time jobs, and have enjoyed roughly 45.5% in business growth on an average.
On being a full-time mom to her three children and children around the world...
I resigned from the job that I absolutely loved at the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to be a full-time mom to my three wonderful children ten years ago. However, I am still devoted to working with amazing people to address public health needs locally and in Vietnam. In the past, I was motivated by the need to prevent children and youths from having to go through what I went through living under the communist regime and as a refugee. But now that I have my own children, all children have become my inspiration, my today, and my tomorrow. I'd like very much to see them feel that they are cared for, loved, and have a supportive network beyond parents to help them grow productively and meaningfully. My morning begins with my children and my day ends with my children, but in between, other children are always within my thoughts and actions. I am so very grateful to have found incredible moms and women joining my calls and causes to help children in need.
On joining PIVOT..
To me, the hardest part of being a woman is being both a parent and an educator to not only my children, but children in need everywhere. The professional accomplishments and accolades are means to allow us to be good parents and educators to children and youths around us. Among the people in PIVOT, I understand that the one compelling shared reason for us to join the organization was to ensure the security our children's future.