Localization as a Humanitarian Effort: The Wondrous Vision of the Virtual Assistant Circle

Localization as a Humanitarian Effort: The Wondrous Vision of the Virtual Assistant Circle
December 6, 2017
 In the wake of the Great Flood of 1999, a small group of people went to Hue, Vietnam to help save the lives of children who had lost their parents in the tragedy. Who could have ever guessed at the time that teaching language localization skills would become a road map for leading so many of these children out of poverty and into a future of real opportunity?To learn more about Virtual Assistant Circle, visit: www.friendsofhue.org
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Speaker Transcript
Renato I am Renato Beninatto.
Michael And I’m Michael Stevens.
Renato Our listeners know that this podcast promotes and is a big fan of humanitarian causes. We have done a couple of shows on Translators without Borders…
Michael The Endangered Alphabet show was another one.
Renato Endangered Alphabet.
Michael It’s just great that we get exposed to these groups that are doing good and we can’t help but put a microphone in front of them.
Renato Well, that’s our way to help.
Michael It is.
Renato And today we’re talking to very passionate people who have dedicated their effort and their private time to helping children through localization.
Michael Yes, so it’s a very creative work. It involves business, humanitarian efforts, care for children, just a great story, and I think our listeners are really going to enjoy it.
Jenny Hi, I’m Jenny Do, I’m an attorney in Silicon Valley focusing on contract, but my real passion is to serve as a humanitarian worker. So, I found and run the Virtual Assistant Circle, which is a program for Friends of Hue Foundation operating a children’s shelter in Hue.
Anna My name is Anna Nguyen. I work as a sales engineer at Cisco in the Internet of Things so very involved in the tech community here. This is my baby here, the Virtual Assistant Circle; I’m their board member, secretary, program management, liaison to many of the US companies here. And I’m looking forward to my trip in Vietnam in December to meet the children.
Renato So, tell us about the program and how did this idea come to you.
Jenny Well, first start we just responded to the Great Flood of 1999, and we came to Hue, basically just trying to save the kids; they lost their parents, and the program… at that time the government was not looking after the kids, so we felt that we needed to build a shelter for the kids, and so we did.

We built it out of scratch, and now it’s a big compound, and basically we took in children that were sold in slavery, sex slavery or abused kids or orphans. Those that basically nobody wants, and we take them in, and we believe… what our passion is to create leaders out of them, and in the beginning years we tried to have programs that teach them how to be self-sustaining, and it was not working. We showed them how to sew, how to cook, how to fix cars, and we ended up creating opportunity for traffickers to actually snatch them and bring them to other countries as workers, you know, work for… almost like a slavery format.

So, we learned that we got to push them for higher education for them to understand how to protect themselves, and that’s when we put all our efforts in to create an opportunity for them to go to college. So, our kids who graduate four-year college, they return to us, and we create job for them to do, and it was through the generosity and care of e2f Translation’s CEO Michel Lopez that help us to train the kids in localization industry. And we brought the kids here; they learned a trade, we send them back home, and they have been training and working and cultivating this ever since.
Renato So, they work in the translation part of the localization process. They translate English/Vietnamese. What are the jobs that they do because I think that they do other tasks also in the localization process?
Jenny Correct, it started out just little work of data entry, invoice processing and then it start… for those who have ability to speak really good English, write well in English, and also have management skills, they start taking up tasks like in direct project management and also money collections.

And they start working with clients directly here, and it just grew since we started out and it depends on the project. Some project is more complex, then we only select the best one, but again we keep trying to expose them to different kind of task, and then whoever grows into that task, we make them become specialist.
Renato So, Anna the name of the venture is Virtual Assistant Circle. How many kids do you have there?
Anna So, we have about 30 kids, and 10 of them are part of the staff right now, the Virtual Assistant Circle, and they’re supporting full-time… so it’s virtual because it’s remote, and they are very good at computers and using the internet, emailing. And we made sure that the computer is very secure, so that all the client information, there’s no worries.

The kids are very responsive, take initiative, and I think the important thing is they have 21st century computer skills, and they can work remotely and support customers globally.
Renato Absolutely, so this concept of a virtual assistant is essentially doing back office work and things like that, so are they working for translation companies? What is the structure? Who is an ideal supporter of your initiative?
Jenny So, basically, Friends of Hue Foundation is a nonprofit… it’s a U.S.-based nonprofit organization here in Silicon Valley, and we’re the ones that are legally responsible for the children in Vietnam, and out of that we created Virtual Assistant Circle.

So, the children actually work for Friends of Hue Foundation, so the localization are not really employing the kids. We designate staff to work with localization companies, but we’re the ones that do the management, we’re the ones that deal with all the legal aspects, but the money, whatever the localization pay, they pay directly to the kids. So, we don’t take money on that.

So, for example, the average cost is usually about $350 to $500 a month per staff, and then out of that we ask that the company match 50% for every dollar paid to go directly to the shelter. So, for example, if you hire one of our staff at $500 then we ask that you pay $250 to the children’s shelter. So, this way your total cost is $750 and what we bring back to the shelter is $250. And what does that $250 do is actually feed three kids.

So, our costs of raising a child with full education… and for us it’s not just shelter, for us it’s more about cultivating a leader. So, with that concept the one child, it costs us $1,200 a year with all costs involved. So, you imagine that if you pay $250 to hire… per month to help us we actually turn around and feed and support three other kids. So, overall we’ve been doing this for 12 years. I don’t know how many kids have been in and out of our shelter, I don’t know. They start calling me grandmother now.
Michael That’s lovely, and so it’s a way that LSPs and companies can have these services done, be done in a way that’s good for the world, and continue to help and support and grow your vision. If you get more of those clients would you be able to expand the number of children that are supported?
Jenny Correct. And we not only just take care of the kids, but because we are only American-based nonprofit in central Hue, so when there’s flood, which we have almost annually, any kind of disaster, any kind of problems in the region, people come to us first. The U.S. consulate have visited us many times, and they love us because of the professionality and the things that we handle for the region.

So, in other words… we do heart surgery also, we provide insulin for victims who can’t afford medical care, we provide flood victims with roof and emergency kits, and emergency fund for them to renew their lives.
Renato So, this is a program inside a much bigger effort in all areas of support to…
Jenny Correct.
Renato Areas in situations of crisis.
Jenny Correct.
Renato Fantastic.
Michael Well, we loved hearing about the children’s shelter of Friends of Hue Foundation.
Renato Where is Hue?
Jenny So, Hue is an old capital of Vietnam. Anna is originally from Hue. I have never been… I mean I’m not connected with Hue but I’ve been serving Hue for the past 12 years. So, basically… it’s not like Saigon or Hanoi, it’s very quiet, low pace and very traditional because it’s a cross between Chinese and French culture.

And it used to be the old dynasty, the Nguyen Dynasty used to be there, so it’s very, very… it’s a different pace of life and people there are extremely polite, and this is where we found that we can do good work at ease.
Renato So, Anna what other services the listeners of our podcasts could use with the children that you support there?
Anna Yes.
Renato So, you mentioned something… you mentioned localization help but what other services are there?
Anna We can also offer website management. They can do QuickBooks, helping with emailing, data entry, as we mentioned, updating websites. So, we are able to quickly train them, we go back every couple of months. If there’s a big project we handhold them and just ensure that they deliver a high-quality output to the customer.
Renato How many “clients” do you have already in this space?
Anna As we mentioned the big one is e2f.
Jenny So, e2f translation has been our backbone, and we also have two other clients, but who are not in the localization industry.
Renato Okay, so these are clients that are using you for the back-office services?
Jenny Exactly, mostly data entry, and I think there’s some bookkeeping, so this is light work, but I think that for… basically is that if the client’s interested in our service, we would have some trial sessions and work out… to learn about the project.

And what we encourage is that if we are allowed to use the client’s platform, to have access to the client’s material, so then usually whatever the staff is doing, then it can be monitored. We require that our staff be on Skype during that whole time that they sign on, so they’re constantly there.

So, this is how their production can also be monitored by the client over here, but the good thing is that usually they get orders or project assignments during the time that they go to sleep. When they wake up they handle that when you go to sleep.
Renato I was thinking that’s a very easy way for translation and localization companies to have 24-hour support, you have somebody literally 10 to 15-hour difference and you can use that time difference to your advantage to use some of these support tasks that you would need.
Michael It’s excellent. So, the website is www.friendsofhue.org, that’s friends of H U E .org. I hope our listeners do check it out.
Renato Yes, we’ll have the contact information in the show notes in our website and thank you so much.
Jenny Well, thank you this is such a wonderful opportunity, and we hope to make a difference for the localization company who choose to use us, and in return please know that you’ve touched lives and you’ve saved lives.

End of conversation

Virtual Assistant Circle

The Virtual Assistant Circle (VAC) is a subsidiary branch of the Friends of Hue Foundation (FHF). FHF is a nonprofit foundation. The foundation supports a children’s shelter in Vietnam to give children who are abused or abandoned a place to live. We also provide disaster relief programs to help rebuild communities in Vietnam when natural disasters strike. Based in San Jose, FHF promotes youth empowerment and community involvement by recruiting volunteers, particularly of the younger generation, to participate in the producing community events focusing on art and culture.

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