Partnership announcement: Bach Khoa Innovation 2022

The ICM Falk Foundation is pleased to announce its official sponsorship of the Bach Khoa Innovation competition’s 2022 edition! 

Bach Khoa Innovation is an annual innovation competition initiated by Bach Khoa University, a national leader in training, scientific research, and transferring technology in Vietnam.

As their Bronze sponsor, we are supporting their student team, the Beavers, in their journey of creating a bacteria cellulose-based alternative to single-use plastics made from nata de coco. The team has won the third prize in the competition and is continuing their prototyping journey thanks to our Circular Innovation Grant support, working side by side with our Vietnam team to test their product in the B2B market.

Follow the Beavers on their Facebook page to learn more about their product development journey and the ICM Falk Foundation on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram to discover more local innovators just like the Beavers!

If you have a similar product developed by students and researchers in your university, reach out to us today for an opportunity to receive up to $5,000 in grant funding through our Circular Innovation Grant program.

Proposal for Circular Universities Roadshow 2022

Final call of 2022 for the CIG Program

The Circular Innovation Grant program is back for the final open call of 2022!

Do you have a research topic, materials prototype project or university program that would directly contribute to waste and pollution reduction in Consumer Packaged Goods, Fashion or Food Systems? This is your chance to receive up to $5,000 in grant funding and in-kind support from the ICM Falk Foundation.

We want to hear from circular innovators based in ASEAN - whether student researchers or weathered entrepreneurs! Read our RFP below to see whether we would be a match and submit your project's abstract in our questionnaire here.

Reach out to us today to learn more about the program:

You agree to receive email communication from us by submitting this form and understand that your contact information will be stored with us.

From Refill to Re-imagine Vietnam: A future without waste

Summary In this article, you will hear Nhan Nguyen, a Vietnamese educator and entrepreneur for change talks about:

To halt the ever-increasing packaging pollution, businesses and startups all over the world are incorporating the principles of a circular economy into their strategies. And Vietnam is not lagging behind.

According to the newly published white paper “Transitioning Towards Plastic Circularity: Vietnam's New Upstream Future”, the upstream solutions landscape in Vietnam is diverse and rapidly emerging. Over 50% of the circular business strategies currently applied focuses on substitution to plastic, with 18% of solutions observed falling into the reuse/refill category.

In this article, we are interviewing Nhan Nguyen, Lecturer at RMIT Vietnam and Founder of Refill (previously known as Refill Day) to uncover the light-bulb moment that prompted him to bring in such a new concept of “Refill” to the Vietnamese localities. 

Talking about your time back in the US, you usually describe yourself as a “hippie”. So, what exactly is it? What was your so-called hippie life like?

The hippie lifestyle started in the late 1950s to mid-1960s. There was a sort of a youth revolution that started in San Francisco, California and a lot of the youth just thought, “Hey, we wanna live a peaceful, loving, compassionate life”. They really tried to live their lives believing in peace, love, happiness. And they were also very attuned to nature. Bohemian, naturalist, tree hugger are different terms that in the US refer to people that are hippies.

I was born later than that in the US and I grew up there. Back in the States, I was sort of a hippie. When I was in university, we were really into hiking, and just anything nature. 

What drove you to come back to Vietnam and start a circular business?

I came back to Vietnam in 2003 and started working at RMIT. We were a brand new university, and I helped start one of the early clubs there, called the Business Club. But then a few years later, I figured that they really needed to learn more about environmental issues. So in 2005, I was the founding advisor for the environment club at the university. And ever since then, I initiated a lot of projects on campus and I just kept doing all these little projects until something happened in 2013 that fundamentally shifted my focus from climate change to solely anti-littering.

I was outside of a convenience store.I bought a pack of cigarettes and was getting on my motorbike. There was a mom and her son next to me. The little boy, probably 6 or 7 years old, had just finished a box of milk. He was asking his mom, “what do I do with this?” And she said, “just throw it over there”.

At that very moment, I realized I was talking about all this high-level stuff of climate change, when really the most basic thing is, we got to stop littering.

Let's put it this way: if the mother can't understand, or if a lot of people don't understand that throwing stuff on the street is bad, how can we ask them to understand something as complicated as “if I use too much electricity, that's going to burn a lot of coal”? So in 2013, I switched focus. Or in other words, I got more focused.

Tell us a bit about your current refill business. How is it circular? 

Our business is really simple. We basically refill bottles. For example, when someone runs out of a particular product, we take either their bottle and we refill it for them, or we find other bottles that we can clean, refill and then we trade those bottles with the customers.

Usually what people do when they finish using a product is that they throw the packaging out. So our business is circular because we keep the bottle in circulation. We're using it again, again, and again. Right now, we've set our goal to reuse bottles 10 times, and then we're gonna see how the bottle is still doing after 10 uses. 

How are the customers reacting to it?

There is definitely a segment of people who like what we're doing. We've gotten a lot of really good feedback on Facebook during our pilot. We have customers who've come back and bought from us a second and third time, given that we've only really been operating since December last year. We're now in our 6th month of operation and we're getting some very positive feedback.

People say that sustainability, or circularity in particular is a hindrance to profit. As a circular entrepreneur per se, do you agree with this?

I do agree with that. Apparently for now, it's cheaper to make a plastic bottle, fill it up, sell it and then have people throw it out. Whereas financially, there’s definitely a cost to refilling. If you just think about what a refill has to do: we have to collect containers and clean them. We have to make sure that they are sanitary, and then refill them.

However, we can't charge more than what people are already paying to buy that product at the conventional store. In fact, a lot of our customers don't understand how we do the business, so they actually think we should be selling cheaper. You know, “if I bring my own bottle then you don't have to spend money on the packaging for a new bottle, so you should be selling it cheaper”. That even cuts into the profit margin too.

Convenience is also a major issue. People are used to having convenience. They can walk into a Circle K, pick something up, use it, and then they are done. They just throw it out. They don't have to save it. So yes, there is a hindrance to profit as of right now. At this point in time, it is definitely cheaper to do it the old way.

But having said that, it is still very early days of this circularity movement. I'm hoping that in the future, we can start making a little bit more money to be more financially sustainable. There are a lot of laws coming out, for example, the EPR laws. We'll see if that will change the market. Maybe they'll have to start increasing the prices on brand new plastic or virgin plastic, maybe refill businesses like mine can get a tax break from the government. We'll see how it goes.

As an educator, how do you perceive the attitude of the younger generation when it comes to sustainability or circularity movements? What are some lessons learned in educating younger generations?

When we talk about the level of awareness in Vietnam among young people about things like climate change, it's nowhere near as good as the West. But it is getting better.

For example, a common question that I asked in pretty much every class probably for the last 10 years is: Can anybody in class explain to me what causes climate change? And very rarely do I get a student that's confident enough to raise their hand and say they can explain it. Not many students can answer that question and climate change is a serious issue. 

So I think there is a gap there. The level of awareness in Vietnam is not that great when it comes to sustainability. For circularity, I think that's even lower. I don't think that a lot of the students, or even professionals understand what a circular economy is. So I think that there is a long way to go to raise awareness.

Having said that, I'd say over the past three years, there's definitely been a lot of awareness raised about the negative impact of single-use plastic. We see a lot of coffee shops now offering alternatives to plastic. So I think that's gonna happen very quickly. And again, with the government behind it with the laws coming out, I think that circularity and at least the plastic pollution issue is going to get much better very quickly.

Closing in, how do you think we can empower the next generation to start social ventures like yours?

Vietnam is a pretty entrepreneurially minded country as a whole. So I think for empowering young people, it's mainly giving them opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship. It’s about giving them access to information and courses to learn how to build a value proposition canvas, teaching them the tools and best practices for starting a business.

I know there are quite a few access to hackathons, accelerators and experts. One of the things that I remember when I was in university was that they had small business development centers which were funded by the US government all around the country, so people who wanted to start a business could go. Here at RMIT, they have an RMIT Activator which fulfills the same function. And I think the more opportunities there are for young people to learn about entrepreneurship, that's gonna empower them with the knowledge that they need. And maybe it'll light their passion for starting a business.

Last question, what are some projects you look forward to executing in 2022? How can our audience support it?

I'm only looking at doing 1 project: Refill. We're gonna be expanding and growing this year. So please support us and refill your goods.

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Click here to read our previous interviews with other Circular Heroes and stay tuned for more interviews coming up monthly!

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About Refill: Refill is an innovation-seeking to minimize the amount of virgin plastic going into the environment by refilling to reuse. Their business model synthesizes two existing ideas that no one else has tried before: motorbike delivery and refill stores. Refill provides a convenient alternative to single-use plastic by refilling reusable containers with trusted products at our customers’ homes, offices, restaurants or hotels using the "refill" or "milkman" model.

Learn more and support their work at: Refill | Facebook & Refill

About the ICM Falk Foundation: The ICM Falk Foundation is a private, 501c3 family foundation that seeks to support innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership that drives positive, equitable, and sustained impact for the world’s communities and ecosystems. Building on the global commitment to the Circular Economy, the Foundation is now actively focused on innovative solutions that contribute to the reduction of waste production and pollution within Asia.

The Circular Innovation Grant's Q2 Open Call

We are back for the second open call for grants in 2022! The ICM Circular Innovation Grant Program is looking for applications in the ASEAN region that are:

We are also partnering with Earth Venture Foundation in the selection of potential grantees for the Food Systems sector. As a not-for-profit foundation providing grants to climate solutions, Earth Venture Foundation will join us in the discovery of potential grantees that are working on: 

Apply by Jun 17th to gain access to US$5,000 in grant funding!

🚩 Examples of our previous projects: https://icmfalkfoundation.org/projects/ 

🚩 Read our Request for Proposals (for eligible grant topics): https://lnkd.in/ec7rMC6h 

🚩 Apply by filling out the screening questionnaire: https://lnkd.in/eAf-CSiq 

Linear mindset & the throw-away culture in Vietnam: How can we bend towards circularity?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the ICM Falk Foundation or its members.

“Waste not, want not”

Think about your latest favorite purchase. It could either be a few bars of chocolate, a new body care product, or a new piece of home furniture. All the packaging and the no-longer-wanted items - where do they go?

In most cases, they eventually get tossed in the landfill, one way or another, sooner or later. Sadly, that’s how our economy has been designed to work. It is not designed for reuse or lifetime use, but rather to send natural resources directly to the landfill. 

So, did you throw anything into the trash bin today?

If you are like most people, you probably did. An average Vietnamese produces around 0,45 - 1,08 kg of waste on a daily basis. This number is even estimated to increase by 10 to 16 percent every year.

With a population of nearly 99 million people, Vietnam generates about 25.5 million tons of waste every year, of which 75 percent ends up in landfills. The same pattern can also be witnessed in the global landscape. In 2021, the world generates 353 million tons of plastic waste alone, of which only 9% is recycled, 19% is destroyed and nearly 50% is buried in qualified landfills.

The linear mindset of a throw-away society, as a direct result of materialism(1) and consumerism (2), is a fundamental contributor to these frightening numbers.

How did the throw-away culture become so dominant in our daily lives?

“Material goods no longer serve just our basic needs for food, housing, health, education and vitality. Indeed, they shape our sense of belonging and identity. The idea of endless growth has been embedded in our emotional and cognitive lives since the Industrial Revolution.” (Harald Welzer)

Vietnam’s transition to a market-driven economy since Doi Moi has created many changes in social ideologies, prompting consumers to embrace new ideals. We can not deny the fact that such transition has brought about enormous socio-economic benefits for the Vietnamese. But the hard truth is, the linearity of the ongoing economic pathways is not anywhere near sustainable.

Vietnam, as a newly industrialized economy, has made its way to the top 20 countries with the largest amount of waste, higher than the world’s average. In the expanding economic hub of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, “consumers are confronted with a world of commodity goods, and rapidly becoming integral to the culture of pleasure-seeking” (Viet Dung Trinh)

Capitalism has imprinted on our minds that the more people spend, the better it is for everybody. Marketers and advertisers have perfected strategies to create new demands and convince consumers to buy things, even when not in need.

On a global scale, prosperity is coming at a “devastating cost” to the natural ecosystems.

We, governments, consumers and businesses, with the deep-rooted linear thinking process made default by ever-more consumerism, are all parts of this linear system that is exhausting the planet and violating the lives of natural ecosystems.

A scene from "Don't Look Up", a Netflix movie atirizing the global response to climate change

If the linear lifestyle is so detrimental, then how could we move away from it?
Simple enough: circulate it!

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” (Albert Einstein)

Everything that surrounds us has been designed by someone, from tangible things like clothes or buildings, to intangible ones like the way we get our food (EMF). To move away from the throw-away mentality, we need to actively become better designers of our own lifestyles. In other words, we must re-design our thinking and consuming process. To do that, nature is the greatest designer that we can learn from.

Nature has found its way to be around for a few billion years. In fact, nature has already solved numerous challenges facing humans today, with the so-called “circular approach” where everything is interconnected, restorative and regenerative. 

By applying circularity to the economy, we can learn to be thriving and sustainable.

Now the ultimate question remains, what does it take to make a circular economy work?

Let’s start with a simpler question: Will replacing a plastic straw with a paper one help solve the environmental crisis?

The answer is yes, and no, simultaneously.

A few years ago, the idea of paper equivalents felt like we’ve half-way saved the Planet. Unfortunately, that has never been the case. The term “Plastic Straw Syndrome”(3) has since then come to the table to remind us that focusing solely on one sustainability challenge is not only inefficient, but also leads to the detriment of the bigger picture (Circular Online).

For a circular economy to work, we need systems-level change that starts with a fundamental shift away from the linear mindset. But, what eventually makes systems-level change happen? One smaller change upon another, with a holistic vision in line. Collaboration, innovation and transformation are now more important than ever to efficiently circulate materials and products within and between individuals, businesses and economies.

Even though “circular economy” might sound like a big, ‘alien’ terminology to most of us (because it is!), it is crucial to note that you do not have to be an economist to understand its fundamentals and applications. In fact, the term does a splendid job in capturing everyone, everything within that builds up the so-called “economy”.

Everyone has a role to play in building circularity, and so do you.

Towards building a circular, resilient future for Vietnam

In an effort to foster circularity understanding and inspire environmental stewardship for local youth, the ICM Falk Foundation launches a new series of blog posts where we interview individuals who have significantly contributed to a circular economy in Vietnam and the world, to whom we refer as “Circular Heroes”. The series aims to uncover the personal stories behind influential upstream, circular movements in Fashion, Consumer Packaged Goods and Food Systems to understand their drives, struggles as well as visions in working towards a circular Vietnam. The series is dedicated to help local youth feel resonated and empowered to find their own sweet spots to take actions for a circular economy.

Follow us on social media for timely updates on this series. Reach out to us if you are a Circular Hero wanting to share your stories to inspire the local community!

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(1) Materialism: The belief that having money and possessions is the most important thing in life. Cambridge Dictionary

(2) Consumerism: The idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person's wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions. Investopedia

(3) Plastic Straw Syndrome: As succinctly put by Professor Peter Hopkinson in an SAP sustainability roundtable last year – often happens when governments, consumers or businesses fixate on one sustainability challenge to the detriment of the wider picture. Circular Online

*Source of the post's thumbnail photo: Xóm chài ven sông - Câu chuyện rác nhựa (undp.org.vn)

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About the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation
The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation is a private, 501c3 family foundation that seeks to support innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership that drives positive, equitable, and sustained impact for the world’s communities and ecosystems. Building on the global commitment to the Circular Economy, the Foundation is now actively focused on innovative solutions that contribute to the reduction of waste production and pollution within Asia.

How can circular innovation benefit youth entrepreneurship in Vietnam?

As part of the ongoing blog series on Youth circular entrepreneurship in Vietnam, the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation (ICM Falk) is proud to partner with KisImpact, a 2021 ICM Falk grant recipient, and KisStartup to bring you the last blog of the series - “How can circular innovation benefit youth entrepreneurship in Vietnam?”.

State of play for youth entrepreneurship in Vietnam

There is an increasing interest among Vietnamese youngsters in running their own businesses. According to a survey carried out by the World Economic Forum in six countries in ASEAN in 2019, Vietnam ranked third in terms of entrepreneurial ambitions among young people. Young entrepreneurs also showed a higher rate of early-stage entrepreneurial activities than older ones (OECD, 2019).

In comparison with older counterparts, young entrepreneurs faced a lot of challenges in creating and operating their startups due to a lack of entrepreneurial skills, supporters including mentors, access to the market, and funding (Lim & Grant, 2014). These barriers are in line with findings from our survey of young innovators from technical universities in an upcoming case study by KisStartup - University-based Innovation for Technical Students. Surveyed innovators indicated that their projects could not move on to later stages because they lacked initial funding, human resources, and project orientation.

Recently, young entrepreneurs have also shown a greater interest in solving social and environmental issues as we witnessed a stark increase in the number of impact-focused competitions attracting thousands of young people such as SDG Challenge by UNDP, Social Business Creation by HEC Montreal, CiC, etc. 

Take C-Plastics Incubator 2021 run by KisStartup, KisImpact, Spring Activator in partnership with The Incubation Network and the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation as an example. The program focused on providing technical assistance, mentorship and business support for its circular innovator cohort. Nearly 90% of startups joining this program are effectively led by young entrepreneurs from various Vietnamese universities.

Despite the enthusiasm shown by youths, Vietnam still shows the lowest rate of young social entrepreneurship activities, at 1.4%, compared with 18% in the Philippines (UNDP, 2018). Besides, the ages of 18 and 24 show the lowest level of entrepreneurship activity at an early stage. The main obstacle preventing youth social entrepreneurship to thrive in Vietnam is the lack of balance between financial and social aims at the same time, driving the age of social entrepreneurs upwards (aged 45 to 54 with the highest level of social entrepreneurial activities). 

In order to truly support these young innovators while tackling some of the most pressing social issues, ecosystem builders such as KisStartup and ICM Falk are undertaking projects to educate, mentor and coach with daring program design and thought leadership.

Circular innovation & youth entrepreneurship

Given the current nascent ecosystem for youth entrepreneurship support and the challenges that existing impact entrepreneurs are facing to build sustained businesses in Vietnam, ICM Falk believes that a new breed of entrepreneurship is needed for an inclusive growth opportunity for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Circular innovation, the bridge between circular economy and business innovation, seems to be giving the right answers to the local Vietnamese environmental and social challenges. The movement aims to promote the principles of circularity of eliminating waste and pollution, keeping materials and products in use and regenerating natural resources, with a clear application of out-of-the-box solutions in various sectors. More simply put, circular innovation uses business innovation and circularity principles to solve environmental issues at the root.

By shifting away from the traditional definition of sustainability in businesses (ie., “doing business without negatively impacting the environment, community, or society as a whole” (Harvard Online Business School, 2018), circular innovation will put the principles of circularity at the core of an innovative business model. In other words, circular innovators will make sure that their venture would be removing waste from the design phase throughout the lifecycle of their new product or service.

One of the most promising sectors in Vietnam would be no other than environmental impact entrepreneurship. Currently ranked “among the five countries likely to be most affected by climate change” (Climate Knowledge Portal by the World Bank Group), as well as the top 3 plastic waste polluters in the world (Vnexpress, 2019), Vietnam is at the forefront of climate mitigation and waste reduction initiatives. Moreover, with over 25% of the Vietnamese population being under 25 (Report on Vietnamese Youth 2015-2018, MOHA and UNFPA), solving the pressing environmental issues becomes a clear opportunity field for universities, governments and the private sector to include young innovators and entrepreneurs, especially with an original and unique approach such as circular innovation.

Source: CHANGE Vietnam

Leveraging the Vietnamese youth’s capacities and encouraging more entrepreneurship initiatives will become key to solving environmental issues for future generations through a strategic educational journey of circular innovation:

  1. Research and understand opportunities for circular innovation with grants to universities, research institutes and entrepreneurs.
  2. Translate circular transition opportunities into concise learning opportunities about sustainability, impact entrepreneurship, circular economy and innovation, both in theoretical and practical learnings, for youths through grants and partnerships with universities, nonprofits and ESO. 

ICM Falk previously supported the latest Vietnam Climate Leadership Bootcamp for youths where Circular Economy was taught for the first time, in tandem with climate change knowledge and Design Thinking. The initiative allowed for a select number of young Vietnamese students to apply circular innovation thinking into new solutions to solve environmental issues in their communities. For example, Vietnam National University students ideated a simple but effective solution for their campus plastic waste problem: a campus-based refill station.

  1. Support the transition from campus-based ideas to potential new ventures with strategic partnerships and grants with corporates, social entrepreneurs, universities and ESO.

The C-Plastics 2021 program was a clear example of this educational journey. ICM Falk supported Bach Khoa University students from the early prototyping phase throughout the 14-week incubation period with KisImpact and KisStartup. By collaborating with universities’ faculty members and an ESO partner, ICM Falk was able to support young circular innovators to bring to life a viable product that complies with the 3 circular economy principles, solving a single-use plastic problem.

A case for supporting circular youth entrepreneurship

The Theory of Change with the ICM Falk’s approach is clear:

More investment and collaboration will result in a sound transition to a circular economy by using existing innovation techniques and proven models, in close collaboration with educational institutions to nurture Vietnam’s future leaders in preserving and helping our planet thrive.

More specifically, strengthening the support ecosystem for youth entrepreneurship implies more collaboration models between philanthropic funders such as ICM Falk and ESOs such as KisImpact and KisStartup which are nowadays critical to fostering adequate solutions to the current climate and waste crisis. 

On the one hand, ESOs in Vietnam have the opportunity to drastically improve the ecosystem by…

On the other hand, funders also have the opportunity to improve the innovation pipeline by…

Through our past collaborations and respective programming efforts, KisStartup and ICM Falk are continuing their effort in bolstering youth-focused circular innovation and entrepreneurship in Vietnam. 

For KisStartup, youth entrepreneurship support will be an ESO’s marathon through trial and error. KisStartup will be uncovering more insights on this topic based on their C-Plastics 2021 Program in Vietnam in an upcoming case study University-based Innovation for Technical Students. A launch webinar in Vietnamese will be held on April 19, 2022 for more exciting program announcements and news (more information here).

At the ICM Falk Foundation, we pledge to continue developing our Circularity Ecosystem that will be inclusive of youths in Vietnam and ASEAN and give them the opportunity to push their ideas further and beyond.  We will continue supporting and co-funding youth-targeted projects for Vietnam starting from 2022 through these workstreams:

KisStartup and ICM Falk are open to new partnerships supporting the circular innovation and youth entrepreneurship ecosystem. Please contact us at hello@kisstartup.com or contact@icmfalkfoundation.org for any collaboration opportunity.


The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation wants to empower Vietnamese students and more particularly engineering students who have great innovative ideas to step up and reach out in order to be equipped with impact business knowledge and be able to adequately address the waste and pollution challenges in their home country.

KisStartup was established in 2015 with the mission to accompany entrepreneurs and startups in enhancing their innovation capacity, supporting them to innovate more effectively and bringing more practical benefits to the community. Our vision is to become a flourishing community of innovators, rooted in Vietnam and acting globally, that creates long lasting impact.

KisImpact - a branch of KisStartup - was established in 2020 to join hands with impact businesses in their growth journey. Our mission is to accompany impact startups and impact-oriented businesses by creating a strong and robust supporting ecosystem for them to grow. 

Join us in our mission to support circular entrepreneurship and innovation for a sustainable future. Reach out to us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org if you want to tackle the waste problem in ASEAN!

How Vietnamese Universities can step up the game for Circular Entrepreneurship

The trends are evident.

Intertwined planetary challenges presented by the traditional, linear economic model of “take, make, waste” are now well known. Circularity, once a fringe concept, has been increasingly gaining momentum as a pragmatic solution to our most intractable sustainability issues. Implementing the circular economy is our best shot to move forward with resilience.

However, “without greater ambition and more radical change from business, the circular economy risked becoming another buzzword.” (John Sauven, Executive Director at Greenpeace UK) 

While the Vietnamese government is working on its end to lead the transformative changes that we need at the macro level, numerous bottom-up initiatives to promote circular entrepreneurship have been witnessed. The development and adoption of innovative, circular business models are key to realizing a circular transition.  Yet, our overall response to this remains slow.

The entrepreneurship ecosystem is developed by the interplay of actors, including universities, government, investors and entrepreneur support organizations (ESO). Among these, universities are considered a vital enabler for the required entrepreneurial environment. Vietnam’s universities are now at a critical juncture to be the key fosterer of a twofold transformation:  an entrepreneurial spark amid a circular revolution.

Circular Entrepreneurship in higher education

Circular entrepreneurship refers to new business models that are built upon the principles of a circular economy and are “regenerative by intention and design” (EMF). It aims to mimic nature’s metabolism systems to build financially viable businesses while also resulting in social and environmental benefits. 

“Initiating circular economy mentality and accommodating ecologically-oriented curricula and educational strategies could prove to be the driving force to making our economies less wasteful and more resourceful.” (Europa.eu)

The growing number of research confirms that higher education plays a crucial role in fostering entrepreneurship and new attitudes to it (Vaicekauskaite R. & Valackiene A., 2018), which is complementary to the mindset transformation that embraces circular thinking. For a sustainable future in vision, the circular economy should be on every entrepreneur's radar (Bridge for Billions). Universities’ responsibility has now become more apparent than ever as the role of entrepreneurship has grown beyond pure profit purposes and requires system-thinking to drive radical change for people and the Planet. 

(Image Source: Dom Fou on Unsplash)

“An early introduction and exposure to entrepreneurship and innovation is more likely to sow the seeds of entrepreneurial careers for students at a future juncture.” (Dr. Hima Bindu Kota)

Education is the ultimate tool for mindset transformation. At the university level, concepts of circularity and entrepreneurship should be incorporated into innovative curriculums, extracurricular activities, and student competitions. Through universal education to raise students’ awareness on circular entrepreneurship, universities can step up and act as (1) the breeding grounds for budding circular entrepreneurs,  (2) an incubation center for campus-based circular innovations, (3) a knowledge transferor and a bridge between academia and industry to funnel students into the world of entrepreneurship (Dr. Hima Bindu Kota)

The state of play in Vietnam’s universities

(Image Source: Ha Noi University of Science and Technology)

The importance of entrepreneurship education has gained much prominence in the country. 

In 2017, the Government launched the “Supporting students’ start-ups” programme, referred to as Programme 1665, aiming to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in every student, regardless of their majors, to make it a universal concept. Universities did not lag behind. They quickly established start-up centers while deploying various entrepreneurship challenges. Student-focused competitions to foster innovative thinking and solutions finding are gradually becoming a norm in higher education institutes (eg. Bach Khoa Innovation).

Yet, a fundamental shift in the education approach that could help us nurture future citizens with sustainability-focused business skills remains on paper. Rarely do we see student-led ideas materialize into viable business initiatives with measurable impacts. In fact, recent research has shown that the impacts of Vietnamese universities in the startup ecosystem remain insignificant.

While the focus on green entrepreneurship, or circular innovation in particular remains virtually lacking, “the root of the solution, an ultimate transformation of Vietnamese entrepreneurship via the education system, remains problematic” (Dương Văn Bá, Ministry of Education and Training). The struggle lies in Vietnam’s policy-implementation gap.

Up to this moment, circularity is still a novel concept to the general public and in higher education institutions in Vietnam.

The good news is, we have pioneers working to lead the sustainability force. Positive changes are taking place from the bottom up.

University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City (UEH) is one notable university among others trying to transform its education approach and operations to align with the Sustainable Development Goals. From implementing a Zero Waste Campus model to  building a Community of Sustainability Changemakers within the university, EUH has completely restructured its strategies toward sustainable actions with a “glocal”, student-centric approach . By employing ambitious goals, UEH aims to become a multidisciplinary and sustainable university by 2030.

UEH students in a training class on waste audit (Photo: UEH) 

Outstanding student entrepreneurship journeys from university-level competitions to incubation programs, such as the Edifilm are now gearing up to reap their first-comer benefits and launch new circular products into the market.

As part of our programming, the ICM Falk Foundation has engaged in a consortium of sustainability-minded professors and education-focused practitioners across Vietnam who are passionate about accelerating sustainable development. Through policy advocacy, research, and training programs, the consortium aims to promote the concept of sustainable development and social entrepreneurship from a university perspective. Further updates on this multi-stakeholder partnership will be posted on our social media platforms.

Globally, “universities are increasingly re-thinking their role in the twenty-first century and looking to be both more responsive to societal needs and to become agents of change towards solving global challenges.” (Thecircularcollective.com)

(Source: Minerva University)

By effectively instilling circular economy principles and essential entrepreneurial thinking into education, universities can foster sustainable “bottom-up” change through education. Circularity must be one of the key drivers for innovation.

Now is the time for Vietnamese universities to join the global movement and step up the game for domestic circular entrepreneurship. The ICM Falk Foundation is proud to be part of the synergy to drive the upstream, circular revolution via the education system.

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About the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation

The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation is a private, 501c3 family foundation that seeks to support innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership that drives positive, equitable, and sustained impact for the world’s communities and ecosystems. Building on the global commitment to the Circular Economy, the Foundation is now actively focused on innovative solutions that contribute to the reduction of waste production and pollution within Asia.

Join us in our mission to support circular entrepreneurship and innovation for a sustainable future. Reach out to us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org if you have a solution to tackle the waste problem in ASEAN!

2021 Vietnam Climate Leadership Camp: Youths as Circular Agents of Change to Solve Climate Change

Since 2020, the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation (ICM) has been actively involved in supporting waste prevention with young innovators in mind. As the future leaders within their communities, supporting youths in becoming more aware, capable and active in fostering change is one of our main drivers to fund the 2021 Vietnam Climate Leadership Camp (VCLC) within our Circularity Ecosystem approach.

VCLC is an annual campaign organized by CHANGE since 2017 to provide training, support and grants to potential youth-led projects solving climate change issues, targeted at high-potential 18 to 23 year olds across Vietnam. 

Raising awareness simply is not enough. Through capacity-building programs such as VCLC, potential young innovators get to tackle climate-related community issues, noticeably in their schools and universities, through Design thinking, Circular economy principles and further prototyping support, while nourishing their soft skills to become future community leaders.

Key learnings from VCLC 2021:

How was Circularity applied to youth-led climate activism?

During the bootcamp, participants got acquainted with Circular economy principles through the use and analysis of the circular canvas. Through the Circular Canvas, teams learned to create the outline of a project model with various flows, and identify key impacts for users, their home region, and their ecosystem. In other words, they learned to apply systems thinking to their own community and design a solution that fulfills the demands of users through services/products while keeping natural resources in the model. According to Van Tinh, a member of the Go Green team, using the circular canvas helped their team recognize both positive and negative impacts of the project into both nature and community, eventually helping them ideate optimal solutions to mitigate negative impacts from climate change. Finally, the circular canvas taught participants to visualize and analyze the collaboration between key stakeholders in order to reach zero-waste and prioritize interconnected closed-loop solutions rather than just one separate solution. At the end of boot camp, 7 projects were selected to move to the incubation period with a small grant to develop additional skills, test their solutions in their community and receive additional support from mentors and the VCLC network. Amongst the 7 projects, 3 projects are circularity-related: a refill project on Vietnamese universities’ campuses, a sustainable fashion awareness project and a no-single-use-plastic, zero-waste campus project.

Students building Circular Canvas for their project during the offline camp. Source: CHANGE

The VCLC model proved itself to be an ideal program for high-potential youths to become engaged and educated about climate change mitigation, with an added layer of innovation and circularity, thanks to their hybrid training format, updated content and community-building strategy. From learning about Circular economy principles to proposing circular solutions for their community environmental problems within months, the program is proof that youths deserve innovative capacity-building programs where field practice and theory training are combined creatively. Investing and building capacity for the younger generations are keys to leverage new solutions to mitigate climate change and waste pollution from a local-centric perspective. 

At the ICM Falk Foundation, we pledge to continue developing our Circularity Ecosystem that will be inclusive of youths in Vietnam and ASEAN and give them the opportunity to push their ideas further and beyond.


The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation wants to empower Vietnamese students and more particularly engineering students who have great innovative ideas to step up and reach out in order to be equipped with impact business knowledge and be able to adequately address the waste and pollution challenges in their home country.

Join us in our mission to support circular entrepreneurship and innovation for a sustainable future. Reach out to us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org if you have a solution to tackle the waste problem in ASEAN!

The Circular Innovation Grant Program is now open for submissions!

The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation is continuing their international grant-making activities in Vietnam and ASEAN to support Circular and Upstream Innovation. Their work has supported student innovators and entrepreneurs in developing and prototyping new upstream solutions to reduce plastic reliance and pollution in Vietnam since 2020. Read more about our past projects here.


In 2022, the Foundation is launching the ICM Circular Innovation Grant Program (CIG) with an open call for all innovative organizations working within the above-mentioned sectors, to submit proposals and solutions towards waste and pollution reduction within their communities (preference given to Vietnam).

Find the CIG Program's detailed RFP here and apply via the screening questionnaire here.

Applications for our first grant award review close on March 1, 2022, The grant award review is planned for March 18, 2022.

Please reach out to us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org if you have any inquiries about our program or other partnership opportunities.