More than Just a Sip: The Ecolife Café Concept
Local villagers in Giao Xuan commune, one of the buffer zones of the Xuan Thuy Wetland Reserve (the first Ramsar48 site of Vietnam) provides community-based ecotourism (CBET) services with support from the Centre for Marine Life Conservation and Community Development (MCD). Various groups of had earlier been provided with skills to provide services to eco-tourists such as home-stay, food and environmental guide services. As a result, hundreds of eco-tourists have come to the area.
Though considered to be one of the coastal areas forecast to be most vulnerable to climate change, the local community has not yet fully understood the phenomenon and why it needs to be more adaptive and resilient. Through a grant from iBoP Asia, Vietnet-ICT in collaboration with MCD and Ecolife Ltd., sought to establish and implement a community learning center, the Ecolife Café, that would provide a lively space for information exchange on climate change adaptation in the Giao Xuan commune.
Since it was part of a bigger community-based eco-tourism enterprise, Ecolife Café set out to become an ecotourism center that demonstrates information about ecotourism services. Apart from that, Ecolife Café offered a library corner with computer and free internet access, and a common learning Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention space where villagers could hold meetings and exhibits on climate change adaptation tools and discuss livelihood diversification and related new technologies.
Using ICT as a key element to bridge the digital divide, Ecolife Café offered innovative ways to enable poor coastal villagers to be introduced to the concept of climate change and climate change adaptation tools that could be applicable in many other similarly-situated coastal areas of Vietnam.
The Ecolife Cafe project is expected to generate jobs for villagers, host hundreds of guests and events and make the villagers improve their social, economic and political position. The final outcome is the creation of sustainable supplement livelihoods for thousands of villagers in poor coastal villages of Vietnam, thus reducing pressure on coastal fishing.
A group of volunteers worked on the physical design of the Ecolife Café, with inputs discussed with the community members. Several community small group meetings were held to discuss important issues related to the café’s purpose, functions, its difference from other government-organized learning spaces, its location, ownership, and sustainability.
The community further devoted time discussing the ideal ownership and management of the café. They agreed that they wanted to develop a business model that ensures sustainability and participation of the local community. Local authorities and representatives of different groups were also involved in setting the criteria for selecting the host of the cafe.
In terms of roles and organizational structure, the community-based Ecotourism Management Board was clearly identified as responsible for the general management of the eco-tourism activities at the local level. The community- based eco-tourism cooperative and the Ecolife Café play the role of service providers. Vietnet- ICT is responsible for using technologies for engaging the local community in climate change adaptation. MCD, on the other hand, takes responsibility for all eco-tourism and climate change-related activities, such as community dialogues on climate change adaptation. Ecolife Ltd. was tasked to ensure the sustainability of the business idea and to popularize the concept in other areas.
In June 2010, Ecolife Café was officially launched with hundreds of community members, guests from national and provincial government agencies, and the media in attendance.
Two community dialogues on climate change adaptation were subsequently organized by the MCD and Vietnet-ICT at the Ecolife Café, which drew hundreds of local community members as attendees. The first community talk focused on bringing general knowledge about climate change impacts that affect human life, especially those of coastal communities. The second community dialogue centered on illustrating the human activities that had environmental impacts and led to disasters.
Benefits, Outcomes, and Reach
As a pioneering effort, the Ecolife Café, by combining a coffee shop with climate change adaptation aspects, equipped the village poor with tools for adapting to climate change impacts through internet surfing, updating information and interaction with tourists. The concept itself also began to create a social value of changing the Vietnamese perspective of coming to a coffee shop, from enjoying coffee for leisure to enjoying coffee while raising awareness on the world’s hottest environmental issues.
The space offered by the café provided opportunity for approximately 300 local villagers to learn about climate change issues through the visualized facilities at the Ecolife Café and the dialogues and workshops. The same space also enabled volunteers to enhance the ICT skills of community members. Eight villagers who received training in computer and internet use from the volunteers were expected to train others in the community. About 100 youth and women in the community also had the chance to use the computer and internet at the café.
For community members that have traditionally been involved in eco-tourism activities, the presence of the Ecolife Café provided more opportunities to offer services and interact with eco-tourists. About 30 households directly engaged in eco-tourism have so far been benefited by this development. In other instances, talented community members have contributed to the art scene in the café and earned income by playing musical instruments for art performers.
With the Ecolife Café concept successfully established in Giao Xian commune, the project team is optimistic that its pioneering effort would be multiplied in other coastal communities around the country.
While implementing the project, the researchers recognized the importance of forging partnerships in each field. Hence, the structure and roles were clearly defined early on. Vietnet- ICT focused on the technology aspects, while MCD attended to the eco-tourism and climate change-related aspects of the project; with Ecolife Ltd. looking at the business and sustainability angles.
The involvement of the ultimate beneficiaries, the local community, was also crucial in successfully designing and implementing the project. The participatory attributes of the Ecolife Café deepened the community’s sense of ownership in the initiative. One would note, for instance, how community members contributed some of their assets in decorating the coffee shop and in ensuring that the project’s requirements are met.
The project thus gave Vietnet-ICT and MCD a chance to practice and enhance their knowledge in community development, which was important in the conduct of community dialogues and general project implementation process.
Being a vital part of Giao Xian eco-tourism services, the Ecolife Café is regarded by the project as much dependent on the success of eco-tourism practices. Thus, the project saw the need for the café to be managed and coordinated by the local eco-tourism management board, which will define marketing activities in order to attract responsible eco-tourists to the area. Should the board’s plans to popularize Giao Xian as a local and foreign tourist destination materialize, the Ecolife Café will become an added attraction to tourists, which will in turn create more jobs and benefits to this local community that thrives on eco-tourism.
The Ecolife Café is an idea, not just a coffee shop. By combining community-based eco-tourism and climate change adaptation via the café, the idea is expected to be applied in other coastal areas of Vietnam with conditions that are similar to Giao Xian. Lessons learned from this experience would be used in other places with flexibility and adaptability to local conditions. It is also expected that, in numerous cafes in big cities, the concept of Ecolife Café associated with responsible tourism could be promoted.
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