As both a traveller and someone who works in the field of international development, I try to support social enterprises whenever I can. For me, it’s almost a perfect recipe: I know my money is being put to good use to support sustainable, locally owned projects, and I get something awesome—be it a product, a meal or an experience—in return. There are no shortage of social enterprises in Hanoi, a city where you can get almost any product or service—even a haircut!—through a social enterprise.
I recently had an opportunity to join Kris and Clare of Insteppe, Impact Travel Alliance and Hanoi Kids for their new Social Impact Walking Tour. The idea is to take visitors behind the scenes of some of Hanoi’s best social enterprises. The tour was just a trial run, but I sincerely hope it becomes a permanent fixture in Hanoi!
All three of the social enterprises we visited during the tour are open to the public. The tour added another layer to our experience—the rare chance to hear stories of impact from the people behind the businesses. The walk also doubled as a guided tour of the city’s inner Old Quarter, with Hanoi Kids as our knowledgeable guides. Here’s what we got up to on the second ever Social Impact Walking Tour of Hanoi!
Collective Memory: Lifestyle products with heart
Our first stop was a store I’d never been into before—and I’m kicking myself for not finding it sooner, as I would have loved to pick up some prints and items for our apartment here. Collective Memory is the brainchild of Nga and Liem, a magazine journalist and a photographer respectively. Their passion for curation and eye for detail really comes through in their shop fit out; each item sold at Collective Memory has been hand-chosen by the pair.
Everything you see is made in Vietnam, from the spice rubs and fragrances right down to the cushion covers and desk ornaments. Most of the 30-plus brands featured have a strong storytelling element and observe fair trade, handmade and/or environmentally sustainable practices.
Collective Memory is located at 20 Nha Chung St, Hoan Kiem (very close to St. Josephs Cathedral). Do keep an eye on their Facebook Page, as they are planning to relocate to a different shopfront soon. Visit their website for more info about the brands and the Collective Memory concept.
Zo Project: Protecting the art of traditional papermaking
Zo Project is a relatively young social enterprise in Hanoi working to preserve the art of traditional Vietnamese papermaking. Zo paper is most famously used for woodblock Dong Ho folk paintings. Zo partners with a village in neighbouring Hoa Binh Province, where the paper is still produced by hand according to age-old techniques.
Zo create wonderful contemporary products using the paper. Posters, notebooks and paper earring all make great, lightweight souvenirs. For those interested in a hands-on experience, Zo also runs calligraphy and watercolour workshops, as well as leading day tours to the papermaking village (more on that in the next section below).
Zo Project’s little shop is located on Hanoi’s famous ‘Train Street’. You can find them at
KOTO: Hospitality training for at-risk youth
I always feel a pang of nostalgia whenever I walk through the doors at KOTO. When Ross and I first visited Vietnam back in 2012, it was one of the restaurants we ate at. KOTO was actually Vietnam’s first ever social enterprise when it opened back in 2001.
This was my second visit to KOTO in almost as many days. Earlier that week, I had been lucky enough to attend a lunch with the Australian Embassy in Hanoi and had a chance to meet Jimmy, KOTO’s founder, and Thao, KOTO’s GM. What’s cool is that Thao was a graduate of KOTO’s first class way back in 2000. A woman who worked at the Australian Embassy put her onto the new training program, and she’s been involved with KOTO ever since (in between studying for her MBA in Melbourne and various other ventures). It just goes to show how taking a chance on someone can completely transform a life.
Our KOTO speaker during the Impact Walking Tour, Hao, is also a KOTO alumni and is now in charge of managing the new students, whom she fondly referred to as ‘kids’ throughout her presentation. Over a snack of fresh nem spring rolls and hand-cut potato chips, the group chatted about our afternoon stroll and impressions of social enterprise in Hanoi.
KOTO Restaurant is located at 59 Van Mieu, right by the Temple of Literature.
Interested in joining a future tour?
The Social Impact Walking Tour is still in pilot phase, but I hope it will be offered regularly in Hanoi soon. Stay in touch with Insteppe and Hanoi Kids for future updates. In the meantime, you can still take a regular walking tour of the city with Hanoi Kids, or even request a custom itinerary and visit some of the social enterprises that way. Remember that all of the businesses mentioned here are open to the public and well worth trying out if you’re in Hanoi.
More social enterprises to support in Hanoi
Here are just a few of the other social enterprises and for-purpose businesses I love and regularly support in Hanoi. Pay them a visit next time you’re in town!
Fashion, gifts & textiles
Craft Link is one of the biggest and best-known art and craft organisations in Vietnam. They work with artisan groups across the country (including the hemp co-op in Ha Giang, which I visited earlier this year) to improve their product development and market access. Craft Link has two stores on Van Mieu (close to the Temple of Literature). Mekong Quilts is a non-profit craft business that works with artisans in rural Vietnam and Cambodia. Their store on Hang Bac in the Old Quarter sells beautiful handmade quilts and toys.
Tohe Style is one of the coolest social enterprise models I’ve come across. Their main venture is providing art classes and creative education for local children with learning disabilities. They fund their outreach program through their shop, which takes the best kid’s designs and prints them on clothing and lifestyle products (all using eco-friendly materials). Tohe has a boutique on Do Quang (the same street as Collective Memory). Other fashion labels that support rural artisans by providing them with a fair price for their textiles include Kilomet109, Future Traditions (also stocked at Collective Memory), and Chula—among others.
Food & drink
Hanoi Social Club employs KOTO graduates to create and serve their delicious menu of Vietnamese and Western dishes. JOMA, one of the most recognisable social enterprise brands in Southeast Asia, has two branches in Hanoi. JOMA partners with NGOs such as REACH to provide vocational training opportunities to youth. Profits raised from Peace Coffee in Tay Ho go towards supporting the Peace House Shelter for domestic violence and human trafficking. Drop by the nearby Peace Shop, which accepts clothing donations (handy if you’re trying to trim down your luggage) and sells second-hand garments and homewares. If you’re a coffee drinker, Oriberry and Circle Coffee at 49 Hang Quat both use Fair Trade beans.
Spam Cham is a monthly fundraising event for REACH, a Vietnamese NGO that offers vocational training and employment for disadvantaged youth. Also check out the Red River Tearoom for regular fundraising dinners, markets, and other fun events.
Health, beauty & other services
I mentioned earlier that I get my hair cut at a social enterprise—Em Hair Salon is the place. Managed by REACH, Em is staffed by program graduates. Better still, 100% of profits go towards funding future training. Oh, and they do a great hair cut!
There are at least two spas in Hanoi that double as social enterprises—Dao’s Care is my favourite. They work with visually impaired people, training them in massage therapy, and also offer Red Dao herbal baths (a traditional wellness treatment from the Dao ethnic minority community). Omamori Spa also works with visually impaired massage therapists and offers a lovely service.
If you ride a motorbike (or want to hire one), consider using VIP Bikes Hanoi in Tay Ho. They offer apprenticeships to disadvantaged youth in motorcycle mechanics and regular donate to local charities. (Full disclosure: They generously donated a prize to a work event, so I’m a big fan!).
Tour companies & activities
A walking tour of the city with Hanoi Kids is a great introduction to Hanoi. Try a cooking class with KOTO or a photography tour with Vietnam in Focus, a local company that supports a range of charities and also offers support to young Vietnamese photographers and journalists. For something hands on, try a DIY workshop or craft-themed tour with GIU—a social enterprise with a mission to preserve Vietnam’s heritage crafts. Backstreet Academy offers a range of activity-based tours in Hanoi as well as food tours and walking tours of the city—all hosted by locals. If you’re a textile lover like me, Textile Linker runs tours to neighbouring Hoa Binh Province, where you can stay with a Hmong family and learn about the traditions of indigo dyeing and batik.
Beyond Hanoi, Da Bac CBT is pioneering community-based tourism in three villages in beautiful Hoa Binh Province, with more projects in Dien Bien Phu and elsewhere. YESD is a social enterprise run by two Vietnamese friends. They run tours across the North—including in Ha Giang, where they provide training to homestay owners and contribute to a community fund. Ethos and Sapa Sisters and both reputable responsible travel companies operating in Sapa.
Over to you! Have you visited a social enterprise in Hanoi or elsewhere in Vietnam that you love and would recommended to other travellers? Are social enterprises something you seek out on your travels? I’d love to hear your thoughts!