Grad says we can learn from Vietnam’s response to COVID-19

Elise Giles with locals in Hanoi 2018

Griffith Business School graduate, Elise Giles is now one of the leading young minds encouraging Australians to look to Asia for our future.

Last year Elise was recognised as an ASEAN-Australia young leader for her ability to drive issues and opportunities across the region, having worked and studied in Vietnam, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.

The 26 year old is based in Melbourne as Capability Development Manager for Asialink Business, facilitating those links and opportunities for other Australians.

The role gives her the chance to tap into her deep interest and love for engaging with Asia and youth leadership.

“Basically Asialink business is the national centre for building Asia capability,” Elise says.

“Our role is building Australia’s workforce…whether it’s doing business in Asia, if they haven’t done that yet, or how to sustain doing business with Asian counterparts, that’s the key.”

Elise says in many ways her heart is still in Vietnam, where she has “a gorgeous Vietnamese family who affectionately have adopted me as their daughter”.

She gets great joy from enabling others to see the potential of these countries through bi-lateral youth-led programs such as the Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue.

Another program she co-developed in Vietnam was an e-volunteering project that links Griffith students to Vietnamese social entrepreneurs to support and build the capacity of their ventures.

From Monto to Asia

Elise grew up in the outback Queensland town of Monto, but credits opportunities provided by the Griffith Honours College including a pivotal study trip to South Korea, combined with an Asian studies course, for ’catapulting’ her deep interest in and love for Asia.

“I think that it’s something that’s evolved over time for me, Asia, certainly wasn’t on my periphery,” she says.

“I was in the Griffith Honours College at the time and I got a call. It was at the end of my first year and the manager said there’s an amazing opportunity to go to South Korea. And actually it was at the same time, the President of North Korea had died and was passing on the leadership to his son and there were opportunities to do a study exchange. I hadn’t even been overseas.

“So I took the opportunity and did a month in South Korea studying, living with South Koreans. And it was just phenomenal.”

Elise was then deployed to Vietnam to strengthen local responses to infectious disease threats, working closely with the Australian Government and UN agencies.

She also took part in the 2019 Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue, held in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, a four-day transformative residential program.

Lessons from #COVID-19

Returning from Vietnam to Australia just as COVID-19 hit, Elise says we have much to learn from emerging economies such as Vietnam.

“My former colleagues in this team are essentially at the forefront of Vietnam’s incredibly successful result to combat COVID with little to no deaths recorded and very little outbreaks within it within the community,” she says.

“The masks started coming out very quickly. The government response was really phenomenal at shutting down borders. They didn’t let the children return to school.

“The thing that I like to reflect on in terms of Vietnam is that 70% of Vietnam’s population is young people. So under the age of 35. They’re experiencing GDP growth of 7% or they were until COVID.

“So when we’re looking at how a country like that responds, it’s the mindset of the people. It’s also their skills, and fortuitous nature that they see opportunities.

“While many people stereotypically think of Vietnam as being quite disadvantaged, actually it’s powering ahead. It’s actually jumping over what we’re doing in the West and really the returns speak for themselves.

“It’s creativity, it’s innovation, it’s collaboration, it’s everything we want to do. And that’s why also we do promote engaging Australians engagement with Vietnam.”

Looking to the future

Elise is now looking to the future, planning a 2500km cycling tour of the Ho Chi Minh Trail with young leaders from Australia and Vietnam for 2021-22.

“We’d be cycling 30 days exploring the relationship between Australia and Vietnam during those 30 days with young leaders,” she says.

“I have to give myself at least a year preparation, but I’m really excited about this journey and what I see as being quite a transformational experience for young leaders who are keen, but it is for those that are serious about cycling.

“And being able to share that passion and love that I have for Asia, but also for Vietnam and changing the mindset of Australians in thinking about, “Well, what opportunities are there to collaborate? Because there are many ways that we can connect with the region.”

“Whether it’s from a trade and business point of view, or learning environmentally and socially from each other, I think it will benefit both countries.”