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Woman risks it all to invest in creating handmade recycled books

Update: March, 28/2019 - 08:47
Samples of handmade books from the For A Better World projects.
Viet Nam News

Khánh Linh

HÀ NỘI — In 2017, Lê Thị Khởi took a bold step and quit her stable job as a sales manager in Hà Nội to start her own business.

She had been with the company for four years after undergoing heart surgery. Doctors told her that the job was suitable for her health condition.

But Khởi had had enough. She wanted to stop wasting her time and start pursuing her desire to do something for the environment while also earning a living.

Khởi sold the 70sq.m of land her family owned to raise money to build a workshop in her hometown of Hưng Mỹ Commune.

And that was that. For A Better World Development Investment JSC was born thanks to her passion for helping disabled people and love for the environment.

For A Better World focuses on using waste paper and old canisters to make eco-friendly handmade books for children aged between two and ten.

Lê Thị Khởi, founder of For A Better World, poses with a foreign delegate at an event to promote her handmade books. — Photos courtesy of Lê Thị Khởi

Khởi and her team collect waste paper and canisters from neighbourhoods and schools. The paper is then transformed into eye-catching and durable handmade books.

The workers – mostly disadvantaged people - are in charge of classifying and recycling the paper. Khởi, together with two education experts, is in charge of the content, focusing on teaching kids the alphabet, the time, numbers, shapes and tips to keep the environment clean.

In just two years, the enterprise has produced 1,000 handmade books and created jobs for eight disabled people with a monthly income of between VNĐ 1-3.5 million (US$43-150).

The project was among the top ten start-up initiatives among 250 enterprises from across the country to participate in the Startup Incubation Programme organised by the Foreign Trade University this month. The project aimed to connect start-ups with potential investors.

From trash to treasure

Khởi said the world was facing more environmental challenges than ever, and the 21st century had already been dubbed the era of trash. Regardless, people had continued to litter.

“I got in the habit of collecting waste for recycling in my hometown. They took plastic and metal waste, but ignored waste paper and old canisters they could have sold.”

A child holds the first versions of handmade recycled books at the launch of For A Better World in 2017.

“I know it takes a lot of investment to recycle waste paper and the profit is quite low. That’s why there are only a few companies operating in this area.”

Khởi said many people shared her idea. Some produced toys from paper, but they quickly broke and had no value.

Having worked for two years as a part-time nanny for a British couple in Hà Nội, Khởi said she believed books would work.

“Children can read books over and over again without getting bored like toys.”

Explaining why she hired disabled people for her project, Khởi said her mother was disabled, but always trusted her and encouraged her to follow her dreams.

“I believe I can make a change for the better with my business, and that I’m capable of finding solutions to improve the environment while making profit, and creating jobs for disadvantaged people.” — VNS

Public comments about books

Lê Hà Phương, a teacher at Phan Bội Châu Gifted High School in Nghệ An Province, said she bought four handmade books when she visited the workshop a year ago.

“They were the first handmade versions produced by the workshop. When I saw disabled people making the books despite their problems, I decided to buy them.”

Phương said her five-year-old daughter loved the books.

As a teacher, Phương said she was quite choosy about selecting books for her children. The handmade books brought her more than a book.

“They are not like many mass-produced products on the market. They teach my daughter about the need to recycle paper and keep the environment clean, the skills to make a book, and empathy for disabled people who strive to make their lives better.”

Nguyễn Hồng Trang, general manager of Edubelife Finance Training JSC and a consultant for many start-up programmes, said: For a Better World was a humanitarian mission that had been recognised by NGOs, the US Embassy and the British Council.

However, given the economic benefits, the model was not effective.

“The project hires disabled people whose productivity is limited, and doesn’t apply technology, which leads to higher production costs.”

Trang said the project was currently calling for investment.

“This step is difficult. However, investment is not all about making a profit. There’re groups of investors who focus on the society and community.”

Trần Quốc Thành, director of Nghệ An Province’s Department of Science and Technology, said the products were new on the market, but they should be handmade. — VNS



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