It’s not every day that students get to make a positive impact half a world away. But that’s just what Brown graduates and best friends Linh Tran and Myron Lam did. As undergrads they studied economics, international development and social entrepreneurship. “I was very inspired by the idea of using business as a tool to create sustainability and social impact,” says Tran. “All of these interests made me decide to go to Vietnam and explore ethnic inequality – an ongoing issue that the ethnic minority in the Central Highlands of Vietnam has been facing.”
During the trip they were introduced to an endemic superfruit called gac by their host mother. She also shared her aspiration to bring the fruit to the market as a way to earn more income and empower her community. Inspired by her spirit and determination, they created X.O.I., a social enterprise that makes gac fruit juice. Putting X.O.I. on the market has helped to empower Vietnamese farmers while sharing the health benefits of gac fruit with the global community.
The health benefits are stunning; gac fruit contains an extraordinary amount of vitamins and minerals that help to prevent heart disease and maintain eye health, among other benefits. It’s also packed with vitamin A, C, E and omega 3, 6 and 9.
There were plenty of bumps along the way that made it difficult to bring gac to market. But this was Tran and Lam’s passion, and they knew that anything was possible. There were bureaucratic blockages when it came to dealing with the local government, but that’s part of the deal when working in other countries. They spent their time learning about what the needs of the community were, and worked to achieve what was best for them. In this case, building a product from produce that was already being farmed.
Since starting the social enterprise, Tran and Lam have gotten X.O.I. into Eastside Marketplace and Whole Foods. “For a small local food brand, being able to sell in Whole Foods Market stores allows us access a bigger group of consumers,” Tran says. “And [it’s] a bigger opportunity to introduce our brand to consumers who are socially-conscious, care about eating healthy and are supportive of local producers.”