Alumni Reflection: Candace Gerritsen (Vietnam 2019)

01-15-2020 posted by Acypl

Professional Fellows Program to Vietnam Reflection

by Candace Gerritsen, October 2019

Candace Gerritsen, Chief Operating Officer of Illinois Chamber of Commerce on her PFP Follow-on Exchange Program to Vietnam to visit PFP Fellow Nguyen Tran Dieu

The Illinois Chamber hosted a Fellow from the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) Program in May 2019.  The ACYPL is part of the of The White House Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).  We were pleased to meet from Vietnam, Nguyen Tran Dieu My, known as My (pronounced ME) and host her for 4 weeks in Chicago.  During her stay, My was compiling research for her project related to Small and Medium Enterprises and export markets. She met with local and state officials in various communities, met with union representatives, toured elementary schools. My traveled to the capital of Illinois, Springfield, experiencing a farm. Additionally, My attended Illinois Chamber International Business Council events and development meetings as well as spending time with Chamber Staff gaining an insider’s view of the happenings at the State House.

In October, I was honored to be able to participate in the Professional Fellows Program via the U.S. State Department as part of the ACYPL and YSEALI.  I was to travel to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to meet with business people, government leaders, agencies and business organizations related to Small and Medium Enterprises.  My put together a rigorous plan of meetings with government, private and association representatives. The intent was to learn about available resources in various forms and entities to assist Small and Medium Enterprises. We met with passionate people who want to improve and grow and contribute in a positive way.

We learned SMEs want business to grow, new markets, make customer connections, network with people and organizations that can lead to business development and contribute to growth. Additionally, SMEs need to be educated on other parts of their businesses besides business development. They are grappling with regulations with in their country or province/state that are complicated, antiquated, unnecessarily bureaucratic and expensive.  SMEs have challenges with finding a qualified workforce to hire, follow correct accounting practices, and how to interact with financial institutions, etc. That all sounds similar for SMEs in the U.S.

A wonderful benefit of the trip (besides becoming immersed in a culture in a way one wouldn’t normally be able to just by being a tourist) is being reminded people are people no matter where they live.  They have similar needs, wants and aspirations. The environment, and of course, culture provides a different perspective and outlook. I am reminded how important it is to take the time to learn history and background of a people (or the person) or situation before formulating opinions, thoughts or solutions.  Importantly, I learned that small and medium enterprises have similar needs and wants no matter where their business originates from.  Likewise, taking time to really listen, working to put yourself in someone’s shoes, brings a breadth of compassion, empathy and self- awareness that is easily forgotten in the fast paced, multi-faceted lives we all lead.  Gaining mutual understanding, enhancing leadership and professional skills, and building lasting and sustainable partnerships are integral to progress the global economy.  I couldn’t be more humbled to have been able to share in this program and made some valuable friendships along the way.


Candace Gerritsen

Chief Operating Officer

Illinois Chamber of Commerce


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