Dr Gledhill is a visionary philanthropist who is revolutionising the role individuals can play in tackling global challenges like poverty.
Five years ago, Dr Gledhill, a retired computer scientist and academic, had an idea while on a trip to Vietnam. This idea has since helped thousands of people out of poverty, created an award-winning model for social enterprise, and inspired transformative investment from governments, corporates and other philanthropists.
The drive to make a difference
In 2014, Dr Gledhill visited Vietnam’s north-west Hoa Binh province – a remote, mountainous area with a high proportion of ethnic minority groups. Hoa Binh’s population is almost entirely dependent on agriculture and around 50 per cent of people are illiterate.
Dr Gledhill learned that several communities had been displaced from the fertile lowlands of Hoa Binh to make way for a hydro-electric dam. Their traditional farming practices were ill-suited to the more rugged upland terrain and many now struggled to meet their daily needs.
However, Hoa Binh offers some of the most magnificent scenery in Vietnam. From the lush rice paddies to the stunning limestone karsts, Dr Gledhill, a keen hiker, was impressed by the region’s natural beauty. On that trip, the seed of an idea was planted.
Leading with passion
Guided by AOP, Dr Gledhill built on his own experiences with eco-tourism to develop a model for community-based tourism (CBT). This is an ethical and sustainable model for tourism, owned and managed by local communities themselves.
Supported by Dr Gledhill, AOP helped three villages in Hoa Binh trial the CBT model. The project helped local families start businesses such as homestays, and offered training in hospitality, English and food preparation.
Dr Gledhill went far beyond most philanthropists’ involvement with an NGO. Along with contributing multi-year grants to the project, he took a self-funded study trip through the region, provided feedback on the design of the CBT model and participated in crucial meetings with Vietnamese authorities.
In 2015, Dr Gledhill joined AOP for a trial trek between the three participating villages, providing many businesses with their first paying customers.
Since the trial, the CBT project in Hoa Binh has attracted over 20,000 visitors (more than 7,000 international) and generated $450,000 in revenue, directly benefitting over 6,000 people. Profits are also reinvested in the community for local development projects, such as infrastructure upgrades.