Hmongdom is a rural development non-profit organisation utilising excellent visual material to empower, encourage and equip impoverished farmers from marginalised rural areas of South East Asia to diversify their livelihoods and improve their income. We do this by creating and distributing high-quality, relevant mini-documentaries on different livelihood options, such as growing flowers as cash crops or community-benefit tourism. Episodes are based around interviewing successful business entrepreneurs within the local community and showing how it can be achieved by the viewers. To date our youtube page has received over 500,000 views with further activities in the pipeline.
This initiative is based on research-informed insights on the complex nature of poverty and marginalisation among the Hmong, an ethnic group of 4-5 million people spread across the borderlands of China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Firstly, most Hmong communities are found in remote rural highlands areas with poor infrastructure and have been ‘left behind’ from national economic development, thereby missing out on increased GDP levels experienced in the cities and lowlands. Secondly, a history of ethnic discrimination and struggles for autonomy has left tensions between Hmong communities and their respective governments, resulting in mutual distrust. Thirdly, older generations of Hmong (especially women) did not attend school and many are not fluent in speaking the national language, still fewer can read and write. These factors often make state-led development projects among Hmong communities unsuccessful.
On the other hand, however, there is a very strong sense of ethnic solidarity across the transnational Hmong community, whereby richer people feel an obligation to help their poorer ethnic comrades. While government initiatives may be viewed with suspicion, Hmong people are very trusting of, and responsive to, advice and input from other Hmong speakers. Moreover, film is an excellent education medium for those who are illiterate but tend to have excellent visual and oral learning skills.
Hmongdom taps into these dynamics by producing hands-on, Hmong-language video content based around different livelihoods opportunities such as cash crops, community benefit tourism or textiles trading. Each episode interviews a successful Hmong entrepreneur to inspire and motivate viewers, as well as clearly demonstrating the practical investments and farming techniques needed to succeed. Despite the high levels of poverty and poor infrastructure in upland South East Asia, Hmong people are surprisingly well-connected online which has enabled Hmongdom’s early success.
Hmongdom is more than just an online presence and in 2019 a Hmongdom ambassador travelled to 50 villages across 5 different provinces of Vietnam’s highlands, showing villagers the videos and providing further livelihoods advice. In April 2020 we will be organising a training workshop in Hanoi for Hmong students and aspiring entrepreneurs, using film material to equip and encourage them to apply business principles in their communities. We are very grateful to the following sources of funding as well as a number of private individuals for their generous donations:
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Warwick Ventures (University of Warwick)
- International Development GRP (University of Warwick)
- Lord Rootes Memorial Fund (University of Warwick)
- Association of South East Asian Studies in the UK (ASEASUK)
If you are interested in funding or collaborating with Hmongdom, as either an organisation or individual, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.