Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Harriet Goodman

Committee Members

Bin Chen

James M. Mandiberg

Subject Categories

Asian Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Leadership Studies | Life Sciences | Other Political Science | Politics and Social Change | Social Justice


civil society organizations, nonprofit–government relations, civil society organizations, Vietnam, nongovernmental organizations, trust, bricolage, lách, cultural values, loopholes, personal connections, networking


When Vietnamese civil society organization (CSO) administrators manage their relationships with government authorities to ensure children receive social services, they operate under Vietnam’s complex political, socioeconomic, and cultural constraints in environments where the Vietnamese government employs soft power to control CSOs and their donors. This study adds to the literature on the nature of CSO in Vietnam. It details the current imbalance of power between state-sponsored organizations (SSOs) and non-SSOs and provides an updated view of how Vietnamese non-SSOs mix social, economic, and political roles as employers and advocates.

Combining a qualitative exploratory and interpretative case study, I address a gap in the research by examining how CSOs have taken advantage of opportunities they encounter in their relationships with government agencies. Narratives from 15 CSO administrators focus on CSO challenges, resources, strategies, recommendations, and their management of relationships with government agencies. In interviews, administrators presented their strategies and recommendations for the specific challenges of working with the government. They noted that tangible resources (donor funds and government subsidies) and intangible resources (networks, trust, and cultural values) are tied to their associated regulations in political and cultural spheres.

SSO and non-SSO cooperation, and perhaps even convergence, is possible because they share common cultural values. As a result, building trust; creating formal and informal networks; initiating pilot projects, best practices, and innovation programs; and strengthening cultural values are major solution strategies or forms of lách CSOs can use to work with government agencies. Lách [dancing in the shadow of the law] is embedded in Vietnamese culture, with both CSOs and government staff employing it to address external forces and challenges in their daily work. Lách is considered a Vietnamese version of bricolage strategy, the art and skillful technique of managing challenges or conflicts with available intangible and tangible resources to avoid confrontation with those holding power. Administrators described how they used lách as a common principle to “do whatever the laws do not prohibit” [luật không cấm thì làm], a principle akin to Levi-Strauss’s concept of “making do with whatever is at hand.” They explained that in overlapping regulations and areas where Vietnam has not implemented its Law of Associations, a set of laws related to CSOs, many possibilities for legal evasion [kẻ hở] exist. In organizational theory, this application of lách could be termed “loose coupling.”

When sharing experiences, CSO administrators raised concerns about government regulations and political and management structures favorable toward SSOs but which left non-SSOs less equipped to serve children and their families. CSOs employed two forms of political and cultural influence to overcome the challenges of complex service and local authority structures, lack of legal clarity, capacity and recruitment, and relations with the Vietnamese Fatherland Front and its umbrella organizations. First, employing their political status, SSOs optimized their political privileges to access better opportunities and elevate themselves to a higher position, for instance, when they used their positions in umbrella/network organizations to assume responsibility for other CSOs. Second, SSOs have also employed lách and taught non-SSOs how to access government resources and other forms of political power to fulfill the state’s agenda to deliver services to children and families most effectively. In addition, non-SSOs have sought resources and bargaining power through political, organizational, community trust, and personal experiences to build networks with multiple stakeholders. Although SSOs retained resource privileges otherwise denied by the state to non-SSOs, non-state actors had access to stable resources from communities and donors via forms of lách. With their strong organizational capacity and community trust, non-SSOs acquired intangible resources from stakeholders, clients, communities, the media, domestic and overseas donors, and the business sector—all outside of the state but still gaining advantages. This study proposes trust, networks of reciprocity, culture, and organizational capacity are important organizational resources impacting CSO relationships with the government and other stakeholders.