In the 1960s, Richard Branson quit high school and started a magazine. He hoped he could change the world by using the magazine to protest the Vietnam War. Fifty years later, Mr. Branson is visiting Vietnam to tell people they can change the world in another way. This change can come through free enterprise.
Mr. Branson is best known as the founder of the company called the Virgin Group, which includes air travel and music businesses.
At a conference in Ho Chi Minh City, he said that this money made it possible for him to pay for his philanthropic interests. Professional success can come in many ways, Mr. Branson said. But people who reach success as business leaders have a responsibility to invest their money in their community.
"You've got to make sure you use that money to tackle problems in your community, in your country," he told an audience of 7,000 people. Some people paid as much as $3,500 to meet with Mr. Branson. That is a large amount of money in a country with per capita income of $2,000 a year.
Conferences like these are known as "self-help" classes. They involve speakers suggesting that people can improve themselves or solve their problems without the help of others. Mr. Branson's style of business self-help lecture is very popular in Vietnam. Ninety percent of businesses in the country are small or medium size. And Vietnamese often express the desire to work for themselves rather than a large company.
Most Vietnamese already accept capitalism. Last year, the Pew Research Center, a U.S. organization which studies public opinion, reported 95 percent of Vietnamese agree that people are better off in a free market economy. They agreed with this position even if it meant some people are rich and some are poor. The Center reported no other country, including the US, showed that level of support for capitalism.
However, Mr. Branson said he hoped Vietnam's rising business leaders would use their wealth and power for social causes. On his own, Mr. Branson is involved in many causes, including education and internet access for the poor.
The change from communism to free markets in Vietnam started in the 1980s. Many of the people who attended saw this event as an expert lesson in areas like how to lead, sales and wealth creation.
Bui Minh Hao is the director of Daicata International, a cosmetics company. Mr. Bui attended the conference to learn about management, sales and making money from the speakers.
"Everything is new in Vietnam,” he said. "So in Vietnam really we have to learn the new model from another country. From Singapore or [the] USA or Europe… We have to learn the new things, the updated things."
I'm Mario Ritter.
Lien Hoang reported and wrote this story for VOA news. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
free enterprise – n. a system in which private businesses are able to compete with each other with little control by the government
philanthropic – adj. related to giving money and time to help make life better for other people
per capita income – n. the amount of money in a country divided by the population
capitalism – n. a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government
free market – adj. an economic market or system in which prices are based on competition among private businesses and not controlled by a government
communism – n. a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products and there is no privately owned property
cosmetic – n. a substance such as a cream, lotion, or powder that you put on your face or body to improve your appearance
Now it’s your turn. Do wealthy people have a responsibility to help poor communities? Do free market economies offer the same opportunities to everyone? Let us know in the comments section.