Long lasting friendships and economic diplomacy go hand in hand

First published at Danida Alumni, Danida Fellowship Centre‘s Alumni network for Danida Fellows.

The new Vietnamese-Danish alumni society fits well into the strategic sector corporation program “Partnering with Denmark – Danish Authorities in International Cooperation”.

By Vibeke Quaade

200 Vietnamese graduates, have studied at Danish institutions of higher learning since the 1960s. More than 100 Vietnamese students that have graduated from Vietnamese local education institutions partnering with Danish institutions. There is a solid base on which to build a local Danish-Vietnamese alumni in Vietnam.

And this is exactly what the Danish Embassy is doing.

In June the board of a new local Danish-Vietnamese Alumni will be constituted. It will consist of a mix of previous Master and PhD fellows, who now occupy high senior positions in Vietnam, and younger alumni eager to find a foothold at the labour market.

Our goal is to have an alumni that represents and reflects the broad spectra of Danish- Vietnamese Alumni and their interest. We want to build a network that is relevant to the individual alumni, and at the same time makes sense in terms of the strategic collaboration and partnership between the two countries,says Morten Pristed, Councillor on Education and Health, Danish Embassy in Hanoi.

Partnering with Denmark 
The partnership Morten Pristed refers to is not just any partnership. It is the strategic sector corporation program “Partnering with Denmark – Danish Authorities in International Cooperation”. The purpose of it is to build on the experiences of 45 years of diplomatic relations with Vietnam dominated by aid, and to embark on a mutual growth and trade agenda.

Partnering with Denmark” is Denmark’s official transition instrument to move away from aid towards trade. It is forming a new direction for the relationship with Vietnam, Pristed says.

Personal relationships are the clue 
When Pristed first arrived in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi in August 2015 it was to actively pursue sector cooperation between the Vietnamese and Danish authorities under the strategic partnership program with an emphasis on education. Pristed found that sketches for a Danish-Vietnamese alumni were already in place. He immediately thought it fitted perfectly in with the goals of his job.

An alumni of current and former students with a connection to Denmark are very much in line with the overall thinking of the long term relationships we have in mind for the strategic sector collaboration program. The personal relationships are the glue of any Alumni. Long lasting relationships between authorities and institutions become much stronger when personal relationships are involved, he says.

Bridging between Vietnam and Denmark 
In Vietnam there are already good examples of how the mutual growth agenda between the two countries and a student alumni go hand in hand. About 100 Danish companies are established in Vietnam. They are more or less constantly looking for new qualified staff that can help expanding their business and bridge the thinking between the Vietnamese and Danish work, culture and educational thinking, according to Pristed.

To sell and to be active in a market that is different from your own takes a lot of insight and knowledge. People who have studied in the other country, or otherwise have gained the cultural insight and knowledge, they can bridge, Morten Pristed says.

He explains how the Danish Ambassador Charlotte Laursen hosted a small job fair in April 2016. 40 students who will graduate this summer and get a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from Niels Brock Copenhagen Business College at the Foreign Trade University, Hanoi attended. The soon-to-be graduates were given the opportunity to meet selected Danish companies and some of their local partners looking for candidates with an international profile.

Worldwide competition among universities
For the Danish Institutions of higher Learning Pristed also sees obvious advantages in Danida Alumni. He describes how universities ties worldwide are competing to stay high ranked. Formalised alumni networks are strategic relevant tools for the universities to enhance international collaboration.

To keep innovation in Denmark internationally competitive it is key to attract students and researchers at the highest international level possible. Alumni networks fits very well into universities and research institutions strategy of attracting the best qualified student and researchers from abroad, says Morten Pristed, who looks forward to getting the Danish Vietnamese Alumni started.

Marking 45 years of diplomatic relations
Two major activities of the new Danish-Vietnamese Alumni are in the pipeline before the end of 2016. One of them will be closely linked to Danish-Vietnamese business interest and involve companies. The other one will be part of the celebration of 45 years of diplomatic relations between Denmark and Vietnam.

I cannot think of a better occasion than the 45 years anniversary as the official opening of our new alumni network. Personal relationships are long lasting. They can play a key role in our future economic diplomacy between Vietnam and Denmark, Morten Pristed says.

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