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Winrock International
Medical plastic waste in Vietnam

From data collector to project officer: A journey of self-discovery in Vietnam

Nam (at left) introduced CHERAD’s team at the project mid-year review workshop in April 2023.

Graduating from university with a major in international business in 2020, Nguyen Vu Nam is one of the young people in Vietnam yearning to explore new things and express themselves.

His career started as a data collector and real estate market analyst. Although that job held some challenges, it mostly comprised monotonous computer tasks. After a year of spending long days and nights in front of a computer, I found my excitement waning and began to worry that I might not learn anything new and valuable,” Nam shared. “I kept thinking about it until I ultimately decided to give up and look for something different. I was confused at the moment because I was still unable to find anything to fit in with.”

Nam became involved in the environment and health sector by chance. Thanks to a friend’s introduction, he went to a job interview at the Center for Health Environment Research and Development, whose mission he thought would better fit his interests.

In August 2022, Nam began working at CHERAD as a communications officer, handling all communications-related responsibilities for the organization, including work on the development of a circular economy model in medical plastic waste management. As one of the key focuses of the USAID Reducing Pollution project, this initiative aims to reduce environmental pollution caused by medical waste by developing and implementing a model that can refurbish, reuse or extend the usage of medical plastic waste as long as possible at hospitals across Vietnam.

Nam has been involved in large event planning since he first joined CHERAD. He prepared CHERAD’s initiative display for the launching ceremony of the Reducing Pollution project in November 2023 and the award ceremony for another significant project at the same time. After six months of working on the project, he bravely stepped up to become the initiative’s project officer. This was quite a big challenge because the job involves not only project management expertise, but also an understanding of the circular economy, medical plastic waste management and environmental protection policies.

“In the nonprofit project activities, staff members are required to actively engage in a wide range of jobs requiring a diverse set of skills,” Nam said. “I have encountered numerous ‘firsts’ while carrying out the initiative. Without the enthusiastic support and help of CHERAD colleagues and the Reducing Pollution project’s members, I would not dare to think that I could complete all those jobs.”

Nam gained confidence and rapidly accumulated work experience by working, learning and engaging in all activities, from technical and logistical tasks to strategic decision making. From the initial days of simply translating plans or attempting to read and comprehend the substance of documents, in the second year, Nam was able to propose and create plans for several activities on his own. For example, Nam is conducting a survey regarding the status of medical plastic waste management in Binh Dinh province. Nam was responsible for all logistics, as well as coordinating field survey activities and collecting key informal interviews. Additionally, he served as the focal point for implementation of CHERAD’s capacity strengthening strategy for healthcare facility partners.

‘’Being trusted and provided autonomy to proactively carry out my tasks is the most valuable aspect of my work,’’ Nam stated. “I have the opportunity to analyze, debate, and even make decisions without being criticized not only within CHERAD but in bigger events of the Reducing Pollution Project.”

Fellow leaders like Nam are encouraged to participate in training sessions of the project as part of that trust. These sessions cover a wide range of topics closely related to technical work, such as project management skills, medical waste management, gender equality and social inclusion, monitoring, evaluating and learning, private sector engagement and communications planning including media writing, photography and public speaking. These contents were conveyed in four focused training sessions for nearly 80 project staff in backbone organizations and partners of the Reducing Pollution project and other training courses organized by USAID in 2023, as well as daily on-the-job training by both Winrock and CHERAD.

The initiative recently began the pilot phase of implementing the circular economy model in hospitals, and additional challenges must be overcome in the future. Increasing the capability of associated partners and backbone organizations like CHERAD is crucial to the success of the Reducing Pollution project and related initiatives. With continuous learning efforts and local capacity building, young professionals like Nam are helping to strengthen CHERAD and sustain project impacts.

The most significant element, according to Nam, is to grow personally and make a positive impact on the environment and society in which one lives.

“I recognized the significance and difficulties of this job only when I could see and actively participate in activities relating to the environment and society,” he said. “Not only did I get what I had expected — that is, the chance to express myself and try out new skills — but I also discovered something deeper in my work: A sense of social responsibility and personal fulfillment.”

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USAID Reducing Pollution

The USAID Reducing Pollution activity is a five-year project that supports locally-driven initiatives that substantially reduce environmental pollution in Vietnam through a collective impact approach. The project will build the capacity of government, local nongovernmental organizations and private sector partners to prevent, mitigate and reduce environmental pollution, and increase the capacity of stakeholders to generate, […]