Addressing Poverty and Development Issues in the Renewable Energy Sector with a Different Approach
CARE International, a global organization dedicated to poverty eradication and social justice, has implemented over 300 projects in Vietnam in over 30 years. While traditionally, CARE’s development projects were designed by external experts, limiting local community participation to consultation and beneficiaries, this approach has evolved. Full, active local community involvement entails leading their development pathway, investigating issues, identifying local solutions, and accessing financial resources for timely implementation.

Addressing limitations of traditional methods, CARE is embracing innovative approaches that enhance active leadership, collective agency, and power balance. The goal is to stimulate creativity, ensure informed, equal partnership at the grassroots level, optimize public investment use, and sustainably reduce poverty. An exemplar of this is the Bridging Bonds approach (BB for short).

The BB focuses on four pillars: Capacity, Financial empowerment, Social dialogue for collective decision-making, and Informed, equal partnership. It encourages active leadership, empowerment, local innovation, and informed equal partnership. This approach has recently been piloted in the hydropower sector via the DAWN-B project, showcasing how these four pillars can shape and sustain a comprehensive development project.

In the BB, the Capacity pillar activates action-oriented, problem-solving knowledge and skills, utilizing the SASSA method. Rather than building capacities, BB taps into existing capacities accumulated over time in adult people throughout their lives. The DAWN-B project applied SASSA to improve the research capacity of Community Researchers (CRs) investigating local development issues related to the Ta Lang hydropower plant. This approach leverages the natural learning stages in adult learners, particularly benefiting ethnic minority adult learners with limited formal education. Thus, empowered with research skills, CRs have led inquiries into environmental and livelihood issues caused by the operation of the hydropower plant in their villages since 2009.

Chairwoman Hoang Thi Trong praises the DAWN-B project’s participatory approach, contrasting it with her previous experiences: “In past projects, external specialists conducted research and proposed solutions, with the community only involved in implementation. However, in the DAWN-B project, locals led from the outset. The research skills that Community Researchers have, has allowed them to take the lead in investigating, discussing, and identifying potential solutions with other villagers. When the investigation is led by their fellow Community Researchers, villagers gained more confidence and willingness to voice concerns, share their perspectives on common community issues.

What I found particularly commendable about SASSA is that the method allows Community Researchers to actively shape their personal learning pathway. Particularly, the SASSA’s five stages, which resembled a natural learning cycle of an adult person, have embedded community researchers in real-life situations through which they were aware of, explored, evaluated and supplemented relevant skills that have already existed within them so that to bring those capacities and skills to the next level.”

The BB’s second pillar, Financial Empowerment, focuses on financial self-reliance. This is achieved through a “Bridging Bonds Fund,” enabling communities to mobilize finances for prioritized solutions. In the DAWN-B project, the fund served two purposes: mitigating Adverse Environmental impacts (AIM) of the Ta Lang hydropower plant through grant mechanism using the BB-AIM fund and increasing financial access for new community adaptive livelihood practices (CAI) through repayable loans using BB-CAI seed fund. To attain a loan, loan applicants must present detailed business plans or livelihood activities, which are evaluated based on feasibility, potential knowledge generation for the community, and risk mitigation. The BB-CAI fund operation follows CARE’s Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) principles.

Villager Trieu Thi Thai expressed gratitude for the BB-CAI fund, which provided a much-needed loan for pig fattening. The fund is managed by the local Women’s Union and will continue supporting other women in the community.

The third pillar, Social Dialogue for collective decision-making, promotes open, democratic decision-making via regular social dialogues organized by the Partnership Committee (PC). This allows all parties, including community representatives, local authorities, and Ta Lang hydropower company investors, to balance power, voice concerns, select practical solutions, and allocate resources for community benefit. The DAWN-B project’s PC organized two public dialogues in 2022-2023. The first one allows community researchers to present their AIM solutions leading to the selection of the most feasible, cost-effective AIM solutions for the BB-AIM grant, and to endorse the BB-CAI operational regulations. In the second dialogue, the Committee reviews the AIM implementation and evaluates its implementation process and results, and to launch the first CAI loan disbursement. CARE and the Bac Kan Provincial Women’s Union supported these discussions to ensure democratic operation based on constructive and mutual benefit principles.


Vice-general Secretary cum the Chairman of the Commune People Committee Hoang Van Tue appreciates the new approach of open social dialogue in decision-making. In his view, such a process allows villagers to express concerns about the environmental impacts of projects like hydropower plants, the local government to hear villager’s concerns and proposed solutions, and the investor to understand the consequences and challenges of their investment.

The final pillar, Partnership, emphasizes equal cooperation to find solutions and implement plans. In the DAWN-B project, monetary contributions from the BB-AIM fund, Dong Phuc Commune’s People Committee, and villagers’ labor resulted in practical environmental interventions. Additionally, by March 2023, the BB-CAI fund provided five loans to facilitate new livelihoods and business models proposed by women in the community, fostering exchange and improvement among recipients.

Chairwoman Ha Thi Lieu praises the tripartite partnership dialogue, highlighting its ability to address the root causes of social instability and effectively address concerns. She appreciates the new way of working offered by BB, acknowledging its effectiveness and potential significant impact involving all stakeholders: the people, the government, and the hydropower company.

After four years, the Bridging Bonds approach has proven successful in the hydropower sector. It is certain that this approach can help address social conflicts that may arise during the investment process; the process that has triggered significant changes in traditional livelihood practices, environment, and local ecosystem. Essentially, the Bridging Bonds addresses social conflicts, reduces community development costs, and enhances community autonomy in their development process. Ultimately, the approach transforms communities from mere beneficiaries into active owners of their local development pathway.