the Green Interview Series today, I have the opportunity to interview Bernard Kervyn from Mekong Quilts, a social enterprise acting for sustainable employment of under-privileged women in Vietnam and Cambodia, by creating high-quality products, respectful of the planet. Mekong Quilts currently have have1store and sells world-wide online., bringing the best handmade products to all beloved customers.
Trâm Anh: First of all, thank you for participating in the interview today. For the first question, please tell me a little bit about yourself and Mekong Quilts. What is its specific mission and who does the company serve?
Bernard: I am from Belgium, in Vietnam since 1993 and also in Cambodia since 2007. Before I was product manager at GE Medical Systems (in France), and before that again in Bangladesh for humanitarian work. I have an MBA from UCL, Belgium.
Mekong Quilts has been set up 20 years ago as a social enterprise to market the hand made products in the projects supported by Mekong Plus (NGO from France-Belgium). The producers/artisans are poor villagers in relatively remote regions. The goal of MQ is to give rewarding employment and to generate profits to support the social programs in the same villages as the producers: Hậu Giang & Bình Thuận.
Trâm Anh: Why is it so important for business owners to consider sustainability and other social impacts when it comes to their business practices?
Bernard: We all have a social responsibility, to society and to our children. Sustainability is a crucial goal and all responsible businesses must take this into account. Increasingly, companies which are committed to sustainable development and thus to the environment, have a better image and this helps their marketing efforts. Ensuring we have a positive social and environmental impact is good business.
For example companies which support the education of poor pupils gain a positive image, because who would be against the education of children? Plastic waste is another example: we are all bothered by poor management of waste, we want companies to be clean and not to pollute our environment.
How Mekong Quilts changed Ngoc's life
Trâm Anh: What are some common misconceptions that most business owners have about Corporate Social Responsibility, as it relates to their operations?
Bernard: One misconception is that CSR is an option. That CSR/ESG is an extra cost which one can afford only when we have satisfied the profit requirements, the shareholders. Businesses are compelled to have a mid-long term vision and shortcuts in management, quick savings are ultimately very costly for the companies who have to try to justify their policies and compensate for their poor image.
Trâm Anh: If you emphasise sustainability, sometimes it has an impact on prices. How do you address this issue?
Bernard: Indeed quality has a price. A sustainable business, a business which cares about society and the environment, may have higher costs. But also a higher intrinsic value. Increasingly the majority of customers prefer higher quality products and are ready to pay a corresponding price.
Trâm Anh: What’s the best advice you could give other business owners regarding this important topic?
Bernard: One cannot give any advice but one should invite all, individuals and companies, to be good responsible citizens. There is no planet B, as we are not sure the plan by Elon Musk to settle on Mars will be very pleasant. A business which cares about its environment and plays a constructive role in society has definitely a higher value for the public and in the market, in the mid and long run.
Trâm Anh: Could you share with us an inspiring story that Mekong Quilts has had throughout its history?
Bernard: One day our project manager in Đúc Linh (Bình Thuận) was visiting the bamboo workshop. She noticed one little poor lady in a corner and asked: “I did not know you were working here, are you new?”. The lady answered: “I heard you have to meet a deadline, I wanted to help. Last year you helped me, you actually saved my baby! Today I am happy to help and I do not want any money!”.
HO CHI MINH CITY SNAP, 32 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, District 2 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org