Austrian helps raise women’s voices in Việt Nam

December 13, 2018 - 09:00

After spending six years in Việt Nam, Irene Ohler has fallen in love with the nation’s culture and people. She has been particularly taken by the women in Việt Nam thanks to their strength, resilience and beauty.

Irene Ohler, storytellers and participants at a show of the Women’s Story Telling Salon in Hà Nội in October. — Photo courtesy of Irene Ohler
Viet Nam News

Thanh Hà

After spending six years in Việt Nam, Irene Ohler has fallen in love with the nation’s culture and people. She has been particularly taken by the women in Việt Nam thanks to their strength, resilience and beauty.  

The experience inspired her to set up the Women’s Story Telling Salon and introduce a women’s leadership development programme titled Coming Into Your Own. She has also written a book a book about female leadership: Ba Trieu’s 21st Century Daughters.

The Austrian native is an executive coach, intercultural consultant and the founder of the iglobal Coaching Ltd, which focuses on executive coaching, intercultural consulting and developing leadership skills for a globalised economy.

Ohler’s global experience spans many years living and working as a certified coach and international facilitator across four continents in her country of origin Austria, China, Brazil, New Zealand and Việt Nam.

She originally came to Hà Nội with her husband, who was the New Zealand Ambassador to Việt Nam from 2012 to 2016. They then decided to stay in Việt Nam and moved to HCM City, where she is building her coaching business and lots of exciting initiatives like the Women’s Storytelling Salon, which inspires and celebrates professional women’s success. It is a unique cross-cultural forum, which helps to connect expat female professionals with their Vietnamese counterparts.

 “I had been thinking about creating a salon in Hà Nội for a while. I am from Vienna, Austria, where in the 19th century some influential women brought together the artists, thinkers and influencers of their time to connect and inspire each other. 

“I was inspired by these women, who were smart, educated, well connected and wealthy, and who used their status to bring together influential people in their living rooms, i.e. the Salons of their Palaces. I am also a big believer in the power of stories and storytelling, and wanted to introduce this to Hà Nội,” she said.

Irene Ohler seen at her book signing event. — Photo courtesy of Irene Ohler

Ohler then met Nandini Ooman, who was also living in the capital at the time and had similar plans.

Believing it was fate that brought them together, they created the concept for the salon, and the first one opened in November 2014.

Nandini left Hà Nội a year later and Ohler has taken charge of the salon since then.

Ohler describes the purpose of the salon with three words: celebration, conversation and inspiration.

“It is a celebration of the diverse achievements of women. I want to show and celebrate how diverse women’s professional pathways are. We can become anything.

“I have invited a wonderful range of women of different professional, national and generational backgrounds. We have had very well known storytellers like economist Phạm Chi Lan, former Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar and curator Lê Thuận Uyên. These are only some our wonderful and accomplished women storytellers.

“The stories shared at the salon also trigger great conversations.  Every story we listen to is the beginning of a conversation with ourselves or with others. And, thirdly, and maybe the most important purpose is: inspiration. Stories are powerful because they help us step out of our lives and imagine what is possible!” she said.

“Listening to authentic stories of successes and overcoming challenges inspires and motivates us to do something meaningful with our lives as well.”

Ohler moved to HCM City several years ago and she set up the same salon there. Her first talk show welcomed Đàm Bích Thủy, president of Fulbright University, and Gael McDonald, president of RMIT University.

“I have been very fortunate so far that every woman I have invited has been open and willing to share her stories. My intention is to bring together women of different backgrounds and experience also in the audience. It’s all about connecting with new people and inspiring each other,” she said.

Irene Ohler (centre) during a talk at the Women’s Story Telling Salon. The Austrian hopes to raise women’s voices through her shows. — Photo courtesy of Irene Ohler

Ohler is very proud that the number of Vietnamese women in the audience has grown steadily, and she has welcomed at least 40 per cent of Vietnamese women at each salon. She also plans to hold salons in Vietnamese.

Besides her salon, Ohler has co-worked with a Vietnamese partner to publish Ba Trieu’s 21st Century Daughters, which is already in its second edition.

"It was inspired by all the remarkable Vietnamese women I kept on meeting and hearing about in my first year in Việt Nam. I felt like I had found a treasure I wanted to uncover and tell the world about.

“The book is similar to the Women’s Storytelling Salon as it also tells stories of a diverse group of women, some famous, some not well known, who all have shown leadership and courage in their fields. My co-author, Đỗ Thùy Dương, and I are proud that the book was so well received by the readers and even won two national awards.”

Apart from the salons and the book, Ohler has launched Coming Into Your Own - a leadership development programme for women run by senior leadership specialists in the US. The programme has been developed by women for women of all ages and different levels in their organisations to discover and to strengthen their leadership capacity.

She is also developing another coaching programme for women between 25-35 who often feel torn between traditional expectations and roles, and their own career aspirations. — VNS