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Dining for a Cause Time Out Magazine

Jimmy Pham, the organisation's founder and CEO, says: "The idea started on a walk 16 years ago when I met four wandering children and decided to help them; and now we have KOTO. We have been operating for more than 10 years in Hanoi and two in Ho Chi Minh City, aiming to give disadvantaged children a brighter future. The children are our siblings, and KOTO is a family, not just a vocational school."

"During our two-year course, the children are taught soft skills, professional skills, English, and so on", he explains. "It is a source of immense pride when all of them have good jobs and sustainable lives after graduating."

Every six months, KOTO enrolls 25-30 homeless or poor children. The enrollment process lasts two or three months, depending on the number of files. Then, the trainees are provided with a health examination, vaccinations, a uniform, dormitory and monthly expenses.

KOTO focuses on real experiences, therefore during the course trainees get involved in the restaurants. Besides, trainees are taught to develop their soft skills in 36 living skill classes and via many charity activities.

"We should do charity work by helping people develop themselves, not giving them money. Thus, we give our trainee skills and confidence to live a better life," Pham says.

Being a social enterprise means KOTO has to compete like any other business. Therefore, KOTO's leaders have decided to renew and expand the enterprise.

Matin Tran, KOTO's Marketing Director says: "KOTO Enterprise is how we can make ourselves sustainable, so we do not have to always ask for money. Then we can become independent, stand on our own two feet and create the revenue to help the youth. By doing so, we can truly be non-profit."

As a non-profit business, KOTO wants to teach as many youths as possible. This is the reason why KOTO doubled its size in 2010.

KOTO's big step to sustainability starts from a new logo and stretches to whole new systems to strengthen the enterprise. "We need to improve our identity, so last year we created a new look and a new feeling for our enterprise," says Tran. "We set up a general office and a system on how to operate the enterprise. We also restructured our financial system in order to make us more transparent, which is very important for any social enterprise."

In the coming months, KOTO will develop four main areas: its restarants, cooking classes, an online bakery and catering options.

KOTO has two restaurants, one in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh City. The restaurants are well known for their mix of traditional Vietnamese, Southeast Asian and Western cuisines. KOTO cooking classes provide participants, especially tourists, with chances to try cooking Vietnamese dishes.

KOTO online bakery brings its consumers a very convenient way to enjoy delicious homemade desserts. And last but not least, KOTO catering offers impeccable service for big and small groups.

"Recently, the economic crisis has affected us all, so we also face a financial problem; for example, we find it more difficult searching for sponsorship. So, we need to have a new strategy to develop more sustainability", says Pham. "We always aim at being a non-profit business and try to expand so we can help more disadvantaged children."

KOTO graduates have been employed by prestigious hotels and restaurants, such as Sofitel Plaza Hanoi, the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon and the Movenpick Hotel Hanoi. With the motto "Know One, Teach One" many of them are coming back and helping the newcomers. Hopefully, KOTO enterprise will become more successful, bringing better lives to ever more disadvantaged Vietnamese children.

Written by Xuan Hoa

(Source: TimeOut Magazine)

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