[US to Vietnam + Myanmar ’14] Erin Van Sickle: What is the VFF?
On our first day in Hanoi, our delegation met with Mr. Nguyen Van Pha, the vice president of foreign affairs for the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF). As we began discussing the VFF, Mr. Nguyen noted several times throughout our meeting that the VFF is memorialized in the Vietnamese Constitution, which was printed out in English and provided for us. The VFF was founded in 1977 and acts as a sort of umbrella group of pro-government “mass movements” in Vietnam.
According to the VFF, its role is to ensure that proposed legislation meets the needs of the majority of Vietnamese people. VFF is in charge of “people-to-people relations.” My background includes work in the trade association industry, and it struck me that, based on his remarks, the VFF serves as an association of sorts, though in a very different sense of the word than I knew.
Some of the major parallels I drew between the VFF and American trade associations include:
- Its members pay dues.
- It represents labor unions, youth, women, farmers, and veterans’ issues.
- It advocates for political, social, economic, and security issues for its “members.”
- It has launched a new initiative to allow like-minded organizations in other countries, such as Singapore, to join the group as “affiliates.”
- Every few months, the VFF gathers feedback from its members and sends proposals to appropriate state agencies or the National Assembly if if feels that action is needed on an issue. In this way, the VFF “lobbies” for its members to remove onerous fees/regulations, move forward construction projects, etc.
With such a diverse constituency, a member of our delegation asked what issues the VFF prioritizes for its young members (using the trade association model, that “chapter” would be called the Ho Chi Minh Youth Union.)
Mr. Nguyen responded that the issues important to young people in Vietnam are not so different than in the US, including education, jobs, and devotion to country.
When asked what its biggest advantages and disadvantages were, the officials responded that it is “regulated” by the constitution, which means it is recognized as credible, and its biggest challenge is capacity: “The new constitution has given us too many rights – we don’t have enough staff to carry them out!” Regardless of what we thought about this assertion, capacity issues in the nonprofit, public, and private sector are a challenge that we can all relate to.
Erin Van Sickle is the External Affairs Director for Volunteer Florida.