An announcement on the International Vietnamese Academics Network’s Facebook page jumped off my screen. Ly Le, who posted it, mentioned that while it was Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao’s (Nguyễn Thị Phương Thảo) money and she could do what she wanted with it, she was sad for Viet Nam and for the donor.
Ms. Thao is Viet Nam’s first female billionaire and the only woman among six, according to Forbes. President and CEO of VietJet Air, president of Sovico Group, and Vice President of HDBank, Ms. Thao has a net worth of $2.7 billion.
Here’s the official announcement from Linacre College about the MOU and the proposed donation:
We are very pleased to be able to announce that we have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SOVICO Group, represented by their chairwoman Madam Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, to receive a philanthropy donation of a total of £155 million. This gift will have a transformative impact on College and we are immensely grateful for their generosity.
The MoU was signed in Edinburgh on Sunday 31st October and sets out the intention to create a new graduate centre for our students and endow graduate access scholarships. We have long been one of the least well-endowed colleges at the University, so we are delighted that a significant part of the donation will be for our general endowment fund, to help support the daily running of College.
SOVICO Group has also committed to all their subsidiaries reaching net zero carbon by the end of 2050 with the input from leading Oxford academics.
After receiving the first donation of £50 million, we will approach the Privy Council to ask for permission to change our name from Linacre College to Thao College in recognition of this landmark gift.
Technically, the donation will come from SOVICO Group, of which Ms. Thao is president. As mentioned, the funds will be used to establish a new graduate center and endow graduate access scholarships.
This is yet another example of the rich, in this case an institution of higher education, getting richer. I can’t help but wonder why Ms. Thao didn’t donate to a worthy cause, of which there are countless, in her home country. The answer is obvious but not convincing. Money can buy honor and prestige. It doesn’t get more prestigious than Oxford, a university her son attended.
My hope is that a culture of philanthropy will continue to develop in Viet Nam after the nouveau riche get tired of buying more monuments to their wealth and begin thinking about “giving back” and their legacy. This quote from Steve Jobs comes to mind: Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me. More wealthy Vietnamese should do something wonderful for Viet Nam.
Shalom (שלום), MAA