Volunteer Stories

Ravi Dutta: Business Adviser to the Lao Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce

EMDAP Program: Business Adviser to the Lao Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce
  • Story Snapshot

  • Country: Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • VEGA Lead Member: Institute for International Education (IIE)
Ravi with the former Lao Ambassador to the USA

Ravi with the former Lao Ambassador to the USA

Ravi Dutta
Coordinator
Location: Orange County, California
Career Summary:
Ravi has a Masters of Public Administration and International Management with extensive experience implementing programs in small micro-enterprise development, education and health over six years in five different countries (Namibia, Indonesia, Jordan, South Sudan and Laos). This was Ravi’s second post as an EMDAP Adviser. He was previously an EMDAP Adviser in Jordan.
Area (s) of Expertise: Program Management, Monitoring and Evaluation, Business Development, Public-Private Partnerships
Education: Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey – Masters of Public Administration and International Management

ASSIGNMENT OVERVIEW
Name of project: Business Adviser to Support the Lao Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce
Country: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Duration of Assignment: April 2014 – December 2015
Assignment Overview: In recent years, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) has been making a number of economic market-oriented reforms and recently allowed foreign business chambers to operate in the country.

About four years ago, some American companies (RMA, Emerging Markets Consulting, KPMG) doing business in Lao PDR saw a need for an independent body which could provide policy advocacy on behalf of American businesses in Lao PDR, and so they collaborated with the US Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Thailand to see how to best address this.  There were not enough US multinational corporations operating in Lao PDR to qualify for its own chamber. Consequently, a Lao PDR Committee of AMCHAM Thailand was established in Laos, in 2012, to support American and Lao business development with administrative support from AMCHAM Thailand. Within Lao PDR, it was known as the American Chamber of Commerce of Lao PDR (AMCHAM Lao). Representatives of the aforementioned American companies were the founding board members. It had aspirations to reach out to and support Lao businesses with interest in the US market and Lao-American entrepreneurs and attract more US investment in Lao PDR and someday qualify to be an independent AMCHAM.

This was an impressive feat but after a year, it became evident that there were limits to what AMCHAM Lao could achieve as all of the founding board members had other full-time jobs. Coincidentally, some visiting representatives from USAID mentioned that the Emerging Markets Development Advisers Program (EMDAP) might be of help. The founding members and the US Embassy seized the opportunity and applied for an EMDAP Adviser with the US Ambassador’s endorsement.

When Ravi arrived the Lao PDR as the EMDAP Adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce of Lao PDR (AMCHAM Lao) in 2014, it was working on developing a website but struggling to launch it and had aspirations for a Facebook Page in addition to more aggregate aspirations mentioned above. Within the first three months, Ravi filled in many gaps in the website’s content and launched it and then launched a Facebook Page which now has 1,245 likes to date and has been a platform for numerous exchanges of communication about US-Lao business.

Scholars with US Ambassador

Scholars with US Ambassador

AMCHAM Lao also had aspirations for a program in Corporate Social Responsibility to give back to the Lao Community, and many board members thought way would be through scholarships to future Lao business leaders. Ravi piloted an initiative to utilize funds raised from AMCHAM Lao events (golf tournament and AMCHAM Picnic) to make a scholarship program to support Lao college students who want to lead continuous development of the Lao economy in the future. The pilot supported six girls and six boys. Ten of the students were from underserved provinces away from the capital. An AMCHAM Corporate Social Responsibility Sub-committee is in place to keep running the scholarship program and golf tournaments and AMCHAM Picnics are validly marketed as fundraisers for scholarships.  Between April 2014 and December 2015, Ravi inducted 32 new members, increasing overall membership from 19 to 51 members. This put AMCHAM Lao in a position where it can now afford to pay a staff person whereas it could not before.

Take away messages and notes:
The process of achieving the above results was not without some frustrations, traction and stakeholder misunderstandings. However, it was altogether a great learning experience. Ravi has taken the following messagesaway from the experience:

“The exit strategy should be planned from the very beginning.”

“Focus on completing one task at a time and do it well.”

“If you find that stakeholders can’t give you input, propose a course of action and ask them to propose something better.”

“Know your goal and all of your work should contribute towards that goal.”