For over 10 years, IUCN reported concerns to UNESCO regarding the environmental impacts of floating communities that had taken up residence in the core zone of the Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site. In 2013, the Quang Ninh provincial government relocated several hundred of these fishing families out of the WHS to Ha Phong, a 20 minute drive from Ha Long City.
Helping these ex-fishers--many of whom have no more than a primary level education--adapt to a new life was one of the key objectives of the USAID-supported Ha Long-Cat Ba Alliance, a business-led initiative that is working to both improve environmental conditions and support sustainable livelihoods in Ha Long Bay and the Cat Ba Archipelago.
When Alliance member Coca-Cola, the US beverage giant, decided to build an EKOCENTER in Ha Long, IUCN and our Alliance NGO partner the Center for Marinelife Conservation and Community Development (MCD) recommended that they build it in Ha Phong. EKOCENTERs are Coca-Cola's flagship CSR initiative, integrating the company's focus on access to water, equality for women, and community well-being. The building provides local people with free, purified drinking water and wi-fi, a small shop, training center, library, and sports field or recreational area.
The first EKOCENTER in Asia was established in 2013 near Coca-Cola's bottling plant in HCMC. The second and third were in Hanoi and Da Nang, and the fourth is now in Ha Phong. Ten more, including two in the Mekong Delta, will be installed before the end of 2016. All these facilities are managed by the local Women's Union.
The Ha Phong EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola's 100th world-wide since they began rolling them out in 2013, was opened on March 25. The launch event attracted over 300 participants, mostly community members as well as high profile guests including the Vice Chairman of the Ha Long City People’s Committee, senior executives from Coca-Cola, and representatives from USAID, IUCN, and MCD.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony of the Ha Phong facility, Derk Hendriksen, Coca-Cola's Vice-President of Business Integration, highlighted the importance of cooperation between the private sector, government, and civil society in the EKOCENTER initiative. Microsoft and DELL contribute computer software and hardware; another firm provides the reverse-osmosis technology for the water. Meanwhile, the local government the land and the community building that forms part of the EKOCENTER. In Ha Phong, IUCN and MCD contributed books, posters, videos, learning materials, and trainings on environmental related issues.
USAID's Chris Abrams pointed out that the EKOCENTER provides “a vital space and platform for partners to support environmental outreach, improve education and community development, thus being a pioneering approach to connecting with communities and helping them to build a sustainable future”.
A particular focus of the Ha Phong EKOCENTER is training women who can no longer go fishing. The Women's Union will provide training on basic business skills. IUCN is interested in transferring the expertise from a women's cooperative in Xuan Thuy, Nam Dinh Province, that has established a business making beautiful lights, jewelry, and ornaments from sea shells. Coca-Cola is interested in selling these at its HQ in Atlanta, USA.
After the speeches, attendees witnessed the signing of the EKOCENTER launch certificate, followed by the inauguration of the facility itself. Finally, to further celebrate, several hard fought games of tug of war took place, a popular local past-time!