In the early 1990s, the Labour Confederation of Ho Chi Minh City began to align many trade union activities with the social work being undertaken throughout the city in order to reduce poverty. Priority was given to creating employment for unemployed workers and labourers reliant on self-employment to generate income. However, one of the obstacles to the creation of greater self-employment was the lack of available credit to establish small enterprises.
Research was undertaken to identify programs that had successfully created self-employment opportunities on a large scale that offered the potential to significantly improve the well-being of the poor. Eventually, a suitable program was found in the Grameen Bank. Grameen had achieved considerable success in reducing poverty and creating meaningful employment in rural areas of Bangladesh through the provision of credit.
CEP was provisionally set up in July 1991, based on the Grameen model with modifications made to suit the social and cultural context of HCMC. Shortly afterwards a number of pilot credit programs were implemented in urban and rural districts of HCMC (District 1, Go Vap, Cu Chi and Can Gio). These credit programs were targeted at the poor with an emphasis on sustainability, so as to be a long-term, viable and effective partner of the poor.
On 2 November 1991, the People's Committee of HCMC authorised the Labour Confederation of HCMC to formally establish the “Capital Aid Fund for Employment of the Poor (CEP)”. CEP’s purpose was to build close relationships with the working poor, providing an opportunity to reduce poverty through loans for income generation and employment creation.
In 1992, and each year thereafter, CEP slowly but steadily expanded the outreach of its microfinance services, implementing the modified Grameen Bank model in all of its branches.
In 1998, the Government of Vietnam awarded CEP a Third Class Labour Medal for its significant contribution to poverty reduction in Ho Chi Minh City. CEP was awarded a Second Class Labour Medal by the Government of Vietnam in 2001.
In 2001, the Government of Vietnam and the Government of Australia signed the “Expansion of CEP's Microfinance Services Agreement”. This facilitated the expansion of CEP's branch network and permitted an increase in its organisational capacity to extend its services in each of the 24 districts of HCMC.
In 2007 CEP opened its first branch outside HCMC, in Binh Duong province. By 2009 CEP had established branches in 5 provinces outside HCMC, as CEP focused to a greater extent on providing financial services to the working poor in rural and less developed areas of Southeastern Vietnam and the Mekong Delta.
In 2011 CEP was awarded a First Class Labour Medal from the Government of Vietnam in recognition of CEP’s contribution to improving the well-being of poor families in Vietnam.
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