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How Microfinancing is Allowing One Entrepreneur to Dream Big

Pham Phuong Thao arms crossed to camera standing among flower bushes



With access to capital and training, Pham Phuong Thao's business is flourishing in Vietnam

Twenty-four-year-old Pham Phuong Thao is from Thanh Hoa in north Vietnam. She set up a business selling flowers and ornamental plants three years ago and now employs six people. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Thao expects to significantly increase her revenue this year by diversifying into online sales and wholesale. She is also expanding into consulting on garden landscaping and design.

As well as the pandemic, Thao has had to overcome other significant barriers, like competition and family conflict. “When I first returned to my hometown to start a business, there were quite a lot of difficulties such as capital, spending time to fulfill family responsibilities such as taking care of my child, and big competitors,” she says. “There were a lot of conflicting opinions from my family, relatives and other people. But one thing motivating me is that my husband has always been supportive.”

CARE’s Ignite program, supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, aims to support entrepreneurs like Thao so that they can grow their businesses through a combination of training, access to tailored financial products and services and challenging the cultural and social norms that hold women back from achieving their potential.

“You need to overcome barriers to give yourself the freedom to fulfill your passions.”

Access to finance has been a particular challenge for Thao. “As we are a young family, we have no collateral, and it was very difficult to mobilize cashflow,” she says. “It is extremely difficult to access loans from commercial banks.” Thanks to microfinancing through Thanh Hoa Micro Finance Institution (MFI), Thao accessed a $1,100 USD loan. Through the Ignite program’s partnership with Vietnamese fintech Canal Circle and Thanh Hoa MFI, Thao has also taken advantage of the Tizo loan management app and is expecting to receive a larger loan soon. “The benefits that I get are installment payments, no collateral requirement and a fast and simple approval process,” she says. “Both the training and the app have helped me to form a habit of more careful and meticulous financial record-keeping.”

Through Ignite, Thao has also received intensive coaching, a grant of $800 USD, and in-person and online business training covering topics such as financial management, business planning, online marketing and work-life balance. “I learned how to manage my emotions, share my feelings with others and to feel more deeply about my experience,” she says. “I also have opportunities to connect with other female business owners in the locality, update my knowledge and expand my business environment.”

A young Viet woman wearing a light blue collared shirt and a conical hat picks flowers

With guidance from her new Ignite network, Thao has chosen to invest her loan into more products so that she can develop her market. Her grant will go toward a distiller and rose dryer. “From those two machines, I have made more products such as distilled rose water and essential oils,” she explains. “I have been launching those products to the market and received good feedback from customers.”

Thao is keen to share her own opinions on how to improve and better market the Tizo app so that it can reach and support people living in mountainous areas with limited access to technology.  She recognizes the importance of digital skills. “Digital skills help me gather information about the market, reach my target customers and learn about their needs in the most efficient way,” Thao says. “Above all, online sales and marketing skills are the most needed skills for business development.”

As her business continues to grow, Thao reflects on her success to date. “After three years of business, I have more products, more customers and a stable customer base. I also now have one of the largest stores in my area.” Thao has high aspirations for growth. “I want to become the largest supplier of flowers and ornamental plants in this area and expand my customer base to a higher-end segment.”

Thao’s concluding message to other women thinking of setting up in business is this: “Be more confident and brave. You need to overcome barriers to give yourself the freedom to fulfill your passions.”

CARE's Ignite Program

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A young Viet woman in a light blue collared shirt uses a yellow jug to spray plants

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