It’s time for a change.
For over 12 years now, I have been running Blue Dragon in Vietnam. I’ve never been alone in this: the struggles, joys and challenges have always been shared among a team. That team has grown over the years, as has the scope and impact of our work.
In the earliest days our work was with street boys in Hanoi who were mostly economic migrants to the city.
Today we rescue girls trafficked into China for sale to brothels or as brides; we bring them home and make sure their traffickers are caught. We find kids trafficked to sweatshops, and we believe we are close to extinguishing the use of child labour in garment factories. We send about 1500 children to school, and another 70 to university.
And we continue to work with Hanoi’s street kids, although these days they face very different problems. In addition to homelessness and lack of opportunity, they are targets for sexual predators on a scale that continues to shock us. Vietnamese law does not include males in its definition of victims of sexual abuse, so the abusers have so far been difficult to catch and prosecute. We’re working on changing that law, and momentum is building.
We’ve done much, and much remains to be done.
However, my role in all this is changing. If you’re on the mailing list, you will know by now the news: I am stepping aside as CEO. Once lunar new year rolls around, late this week, I will no longer be the boss. I can see that Blue Dragon needs somebody new, somebody better able to manage and administer the day to day running of what is now a significant organisation.
Blue Dragon is not only my job. It’s my family and my life. There are people whose lives I have changed; and many more who have changed mine. There are people I gave hope to when all seemed lost, and people who stood by me when I thought I had lost my own hope. There are so many special – profound – connections that I can’t imagine that I will ever be able to leave.
So I am not walking away from Blue Dragon, and not looking for a new job. I’m simply hanging up the CEO hat and continuing on in the role of Founder, with a capital “F”. Rather than running the organisation and calling all the shots, I will be working on special projects alongside the team. My work in anti-trafficking and crisis management will be increasing. I’ll be mentoring staff and developing leadership among the kids. I’ll be finding ways for Blue Dragon to grow without compromising our philosophy of caring for the kids as individuals. With a bit of luck, I might even have more time to write my blog.
While I can write about this objectively now, getting to this point has taken many months and has sometimes been an emotional affair. It certainly hasn’t been easy to take this step. What has enabled it, though, is the amazing team at Blue Dragon, who have supported my decision completely.
Our incoming CEO, Julienne Carey, has risen through the ranks of the organisation. She started as a volunteer; took on the role of Communications and Fundraising Manager; and then became Deputy CEO. The Blue Dragon staff know and respect her, and see this move as a natural next step. Nobody has expressed surprise that Julienne is taking on the leadership role. For both Julienne and I, it is enormously reassuring to know that we have the full support of the staff, some of whom have been with Blue Dragon since before we were even officially an organisation.
When I first moved to Vietnam, I joked that I was coming here to retire. Aged 28, I had left my job in Australia, sold or given away everything I owned, and was in search of the simple life. I utterly failed at that – creating and running Blue Dragon has been anything but simple – and now I am again at the point of making a major change.
This new move also won’t be retirement. I suspect things aren’t going to get much simpler, either. But I do hope that now I can be more focused, have more time to think and to breathe, and achieve even more for the people I care most about: the kids and staff of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.