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HAPRI and Dr. Le Vinh Trien Discuss the Institute's Public Policy Direction in the National Context

Updated: May 3

In a world increasingly driven by material wealth and economic indicators, the Health and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (HAPRI) stands at the forefront of a pivotal shift in societal values. As we usher in the New Year, we are privileged to engage in a profound dialogue with Dr. Le Vinh Trien, whose insights into Vietnam's developmental trajectory challenge the status quo and call for a reevaluation of what truly constitutes progress. This interview presents an in-depth discussion with Dr. Trien, exploring HAPRI's strategic vision in public policy and the transformative perspectives necessary for fostering a more equitable, healthy, and culturally rich society. Through a series of thoughtful exchanges, we delve into the Institute's role in shaping policy, the critical reorientation of societal values, and the collaborative strategies that will pave the way for a sustainable future for Vietnam.

"HAPRI's long-term goal is to shift societal value perceptions, fostering an understanding that contributions to society should be recognized through a variety of metrics, not just material wealth. Our research and activities strive to enhance the quality of life, prioritizing happiness, sharing, cooperation, and health—both physical and mental—while reducing the societal pressure to pursue wealth at any cost."
Dr. Le Vinh Trien
Dr. Le Vinh Trien

HAPRI would like to extend my greetings to Dr. Trien, and it is an honor to have this exchange with you on the occasion of the New Year. As previously agreed, today’s topic will be the direction of the Institute in the general context of Vietnam.

  • Thank you, HAPRI, for the warm welcome and for the opportunity to discuss the Institute's direction and my views on Vietnam's development at the start of the New Year. I appreciate the chance to reflect on these topics with HAPRI's leadership, particularly with Associate Professor Dr. Vo Tat Thang, the Director of HAPRI.

First, please allow HAPRI to invite you to share your views on development and the operational direction of the Institute.

  • Let me begin by sharing my thoughts on the development and operational direction of the Institute. HAPRI, as a policy research institute focusing on critical sectors like agriculture and health, inherently shapes the policy direction for Vietnam. This philosophy underpins our activities aimed at the country's development. In the following discussion, I'll delve into specifics regarding agriculture, health, and the role of education.

  • In the long term, HAPRI aims to change the general perception of value scales, the understanding of the value contributed to the community and society. Contributions to society should be recognized through diverse value measures and not be heavily weighted towards material, monetary factors as it is currently.

  • Furthermore, the activities and research of HAPRI will also aim to enhance the quality of life, for the goals of happiness – sharing, cooperation – health (physical and mental); reducing the pressure to get rich at all costs – competition – depletion. (For example, in economics, HAPRI is oriented towards development, not just growth).

Could you please elaborate on why we need to move towards such new perceptions?

  • Regarding why new perceptions like the ones I just mentioned are necessary, or why new perceptions are essential for the country’s development. You may notice, we often complain about the decline in social ethics, where money almost determines social relationships as a cause-and-effect relationship. Material measures overshadow all other measures in evaluating social contributions. Saying someone has a “good job” is understood to mean that person makes a lot of money, regardless of how they make it, accumulating a lot of personal assets without any concern for the spiritual meaning or social contribution of the work. This is not only in business but also in all fields, worryingly even in jobs within state agencies, law, education, culture, and arts… Everyone is oriented towards making money and getting rich, overlooking other values in life. Career guidance from elementary, secondary school to enter “money-making” fields becomes a lifestyle orientation and even professional ethics. I will elaborate more on how this relates to education and agriculture later. When our value measures and the evaluation of social contributions are skewed towards money like that, on one hand, it causes those working in fields that inherently have social meaning and spiritual value to neglect and actively make money; on the other hand, it will lead to the decay of those fields because young people are oriented into certain money-making fields at all costs, regardless of their abilities, aptitudes, and potential to contribute cultural and spiritual values to society and their community. From there, the country will be “crippled” in economic development, and society will be distorted, lacking in spiritual and civilized products increasingly far away. For such simple reasons, HAPRI believes it is time to change social perceptions, especially diversifying value measures and promoting social contributions in humanistic, spiritual, and liberating aspects.

  • The second orientation is not new, but the issue is that no one has been determined to act on it. It is dialectically related to the first orientation. Economic growth with the goal of increasing material values has liberated manual labor, exploited raw resources, and contributed to changing the country’s appearance and the material life of the people compared to the period when the country implemented centralized planning, closed-door policies. However, the policy of economic growth at all costs over a long period has led to consequences such as environmental damage, rampant corruption, social inequality, and importantly, as mentioned, it has made the whole society operate according to the power of money. The country develops materially, everyone chases after wealth, neglecting spiritual values, and thus the quality of life declines. Human competition in material wealth leads to a decline in mental and physical health. We believe that it is time to decisively aim for quality of life, for the goals of happiness - sharing, cooperation - health (physical and mental).

So, whose perceptions are the ones mentioned above specifically? Changing perceptions means changing the perceptions of which target group? Could you please elaborate?

  • Saying changing social perceptions is correct but vague. It is true because all sectors from the state, intellectuals, businessmen – the market to the people must change together to create a new perception of society, and only then can the country transform. And this is not an overnight process but requires many years. HAPRI takes responsibility for initiating and strategizing. However, to succeed, it requires the empathy and determination of all sectors to persist for many years. For the state, it requires leaders to care about their legacy for future generations.

  • You may notice, alongside the government - those who implement policies, research intellectuals must first change their perceptions to be able to contribute policy suggestions, and direct the change in perceptions of other components. These two components need to be aware of their role and mission in rebuilding the cultural framework for society, realizing the significance of contributions from all sectors in various aspects to develop all facets of society in the sense of diversifying value measures. According to Eastern culture, this is ‘proper name, proper words,’ and according to Marx, it is ‘form matches content.’ Officials, public servants, and intellectuals who are not greedy for wealth, not envious or flattering the rich, will have a respected position, the value of their contributions cannot be measured by money, their position cannot be bought by money, corruption will naturally decrease. Then their words to other components will be convincing (proper words). Similarly, each sector will have its own value ladder. Those in commerce and business, even if wealthy, cannot look down on the contributions of artists, farmers, or soldiers. Artists, educators, journalists, doctors also determine their role, the significance of their work, and their status, not chasing money or seeking titles to lose themselves; they do not feel inferior due to a lack of money… (Only inferior when chasing money). Once society is led by multiple value measures, human dignity will be elevated because the contributions of all sectors are valued. Then naturally, both of the above goals will be achieved.

How will the perspective of changing perceptions that you have just mentioned be concretized for the fields that HAPRI is concerned with and responsible for?

  • Regarding Health and Agriculture

    • HAPRI, Health and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, cannot limit itself to just these two fields. It is readily apparent that to change societal perception about the necessity of diversifying value metrics, strategies for public reassurance through guaranteed healthcare are fundamental to allowing everyone to focus on creating value in their respective fields. When money dictates and the healthcare system is not assured, with inadequate and untrustworthy health insurance, people will go to any lengths to earn money to prevent illness because they do not believe they will be treated fairly and humanely when sick.

    • In the field of agriculture, beyond researching and advising on agricultural economic policies, HAPRI is concerned with improving the livelihoods of farmers, who are the most disadvantaged group in society in general and within the agricultural product supply chain in particular. It is unjust and unacceptable that a country reliant on agriculture has farmers who remain the poorest group. Specifically, HAPRI aims to enhance the bargaining power of farmers and increase their share of benefits within the agricultural product supply chain. Besides creating material value and ensuring food security for the community, the essential nature of farmers’ work needs to be emphasized to elevate their benefits in agricultural value. This can be evidenced by the critical importance of agriculture during the recent pandemic.

    • When society is governed by the measure of money, the non-material sacrifices and contributions of farmers are not adequately recognized, and the status of farmers is not esteemed, if not outright disparaged. Consequently, farmers will either abandon their profession or continue farming regardless of the damage to the land and environment. This, in turn, affects community health and contributes to the burden on the healthcare sector.

    • Policies for developing agriculture towards industrialization, even digital transformation, as well as developing transportation infrastructure, reducing negative institutional costs, and logistics to help agricultural products compete as they do currently are necessary. However, in our view, if the perception of the farmer’s status does not change, if their contributions as ‘pioneers’ in the agricultural supply chain and food security are not recognized, then farmers will remain impoverished, and injustice will persist.

  • Regarding Education

    • To change perceptions about the value scale and the diverse contributions of various fields to societal life, thereby developing a harmonious society where every profession is recognized for its unique contributions and respected, we believe that a broad and deep educational orientation is necessary to lay the foundation for policy changes in economic development.

    • Education and career guidance must aim for sustainable, diverse development and recognize the contributions of all genders in enhancing human welfare and happiness. Students should be guided to develop careers based on their aptitudes, potential for development, and contributions to society, not just to earn a lot of money. Such an orientation will lay the groundwork for strategies to channel students into fields that best exploit their potential at the end of their schooling. This orientation will reinforce the professionalism of various fields. Equal respect for contributions in all aspects, from material to spiritual and cultural, will gradually eliminate the pursuit of money and being led by it. Many social ills, such as corruption in the public sector and the erosion of ethics in all industries, especially education and healthcare, will naturally decrease as citizens are assured of fair welfare, healthcare, and respect in their professions.

In your opinion, to achieve the aforementioned goals such as changing societal perceptions, respecting spiritual values and happiness, making every sector more professional, and ensuring the country’s harmonious and sustainable development, what prerequisites are necessary to initially stimulate the collective consciousness of all sectors, and what specific strategies will HAPRI employ?

  • HAPRI will continue its research and policy advisory work in the aforementioned fields to persuade that development is necessary, not growth at any cost. The research also aims to ensure social equity based on the principle that cultural and spiritual values truly need to be esteemed alongside the creation of material wealth. Additionally, interaction with readers and the media will be a focus because changing something like societal perception requires not only influencing policymakers and intellectuals but also sharing and spreading new perspectives with all sectors.

  • From the perspective of Collaborative Governance, we believe that societal problems need to be addressed from a cooperative and sharing standpoint, not from a do-or-die competitive approach. The healthcare sector and the well-being of citizens should be recognized by all parties as a common goal, leading to respect and development for all involved. The government, medical professionals, public and private health insurance, managers of public and private hospitals, pharmaceutical production and distribution companies, and social organizations representing the people (patients) need to fully understand the benefits and challenges of each party, especially the citizens, to ensure fair distribution of benefits; aiming to improve the quality of healthcare services in a way that ensures equity for all genders—contributing materially as well as spiritually to the community and society.

  • Similarly, in the field of agriculture, the government, agribusinesses, scientists, and farmers within the agricultural product supply chain need to be aware of their responsibilities, their status, and the interests of all parties, especially the farmers, in order to enhance the material and spiritual lives of the farmers, helping them stabilize and develop commensurate with their role and contributions to the national economy.

  • Furthermore, the status of workers in enterprises (laborers) also needs to be reconsidered to better ensure their economic livelihood. Throughout the transition to a market economy with growth pressures, the state has facilitated market development, but the rights of workers in relation to employers have not been adequately addressed (except for a few large enterprises or those with investment from developed countries). The criticism directed at employers towards workers in capitalist countries hundreds of years ago may well apply to countries newly transitioning to market economies today. Of course, business owners also deserve a more transparent institutional environment with less corruption to reduce non-productive costs. However, favoring business development due to growth pressures should not overlook the rights and welfare of workers. Countries like Japan and South Korea have provided good lessons in improving the economic life and welfare of workers, where the state is both transparent and less corrupt to allow businesses to develop and compete, and also demands that businesses pay more attention to the rights of workers.

  • The greed of all parties should be restrained and controlled, and the sense of responsibility towards the most vulnerable members of society, such as patients or farmers in the agricultural sector, should be elevated. This should be the common goal of humane and sustainable development.

  • During the collaborative governance process, the state plays a crucial role in coordinating the relationships among parties by being proactive, understanding the interests and obstacles of each party, and convincing them of the common benefits of cooperation and development based on objectivity, transparency, and consensus. To excel in this, the state must be trusted by all parties, and to earn this trust, it must be transparent, incorruptible, and competent. Then, all parties will be ready to sacrifice their own interests for the common good.

Thank you, Dr. Le Vinh Trien, for this interesting exchange!

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