I am not sure why I drink coffee every morning. Perhaps it is my affinity for Vietnamese cà phê sữa đá or the warm greeting from the barista at my favorite café and the chance to practice newly learned Vietnamese vocabulary. I certainly do not need the caffeine jolt since any lingering feelings of fatigue after waking up in the morning quickly disappear once I am sitting on the back of a motorcycle taxi. The 15-minute commute to work is a sensory overload and legitimate arm workout. From desperately clinging to the motorcycle as we zig zag amongst Ho Chi Minh City’s legendary traffic to the onslaught of sights, sounds, and smells of the city starting its day, I am wide awake by the time I arrive at my favorite café near my office. While these twice daily rides to and from work initially terrified me, I have grown to love my unique work commute and the visibility it provides into Vietnam’s economic engine.

Vietnam has remained one of the world’s fastest growing economies over the last 20 years, building international interest and driving investment into the country. Yet, growth has also meant an increase in economic disparity which I witness first-hand during my daily work commute. In front of new, gleaming malls filled with the latest global fashion brands, I see street hawkers struggling to make ends meet. My motorcycle taxi will navigate past a Porsche in one moment and a push cart in the next. As Vietnam continues to grow, the private sector will play a larger role in driving the economy which makes it critically important to foster an inclusive economic environment that promotes social goals and equal economic opportunities. Through my work placement at Patamar Capital, a social impact venture capital fund, I am able to play a small part in investing in early-stage, high-growth companies that are not only benefiting the economy, but also meeting public sector challenges and promoting an inclusive economic environment.

Given my professional background in both investing and development, Patamar has proven to be an excellent fit since the firm’s mandate is to invest in companies that unlock better economic opportunities for Asia’s low-income communities while solving pervasive public sector problems at scale. On a weekly basis, I am developing relationships within Vietnam’s entrepreneur community, attending development or technology conferences, and conducting due diligence on potential investments with an eye towards both profitability and social impact potential. Most importantly, Patamar has provided a unique window to explore the use of private capital, investing, and business as a tool for sustainable, inclusive economic development.

Outside of work, I have taken to exploring the many narrow alley-ways that comprise Ho Chi Minh City in search of the city’s best coffee and am a regular at a local spinning studio. I have also joined Ho Chi Minh City’s Young Venture Capital Association which has allowed me to meet peers at different funds across the city and expand my Vietnamese business vocabulary. I am excited to further explore the city and broader Asia during the remainder of my Luce year.

by Robert MacGregor on February 18, 2019