Founder of Vietnam’s first social enterprise awarded honorary doctorate

Founder of Vietnam’s first social enterprise awarded honorary doctorate

Jimmy Pham AM, Founder and CEO of Vietnam's first social enterprise - Know One Teach One (KOTO), has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Business honoris causa at RMIT Vietnam’s 2024 Graduation ceremony this week.


KOTO Founder, Jimmy Pham AM was awarded RMIT Honorary Doctorate of Business honoris causa.

A visionary Vietnamese-Australian entrepreneur, Jimmy Pham has transformed countless lives through his decision to return to Vietnam and make a strong commitment to empower disadvantaged young people.

Born in Vietnam, Jimmy moved to Australia as a young child with his mother and siblings, and grew up in Sydney. He was interested in tourism and travel, and studied hospitality at school.

The concept of KOTO began when Jimmy asked young people that he had a chance to meet while travelling to Vietnam - what they wanted out of life. They simply replied, “We need skills so we can find stable jobs”.

He decided he would return to Vietnam for the long term and make a difference. He didn't know how he was going to do it, he just knew he wanted to help.

KOTO was founded in 1999 with a mission to provide at-risk and disadvantaged youth an opportunity to undertake a two-year holistic hospitality training program. From a small sandwich café in Hanoi with a simple desire to provide nine street children with training, a stable income and safe workplace, KOTO has grown and transformed the lives of more than 1,700 individuals, enabling them to support themselves, their families and communities. 

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'news-2-hon-doc-jimmy-pham' RMIT Honorary Doctorate Jimmy Pham (right) and Nguyen Minh Hieu (left), a KOTO alumni and RMIT fresh graduate who received the University’s Opportunity Scholarship to study Bachelor of Communication (Professional Communication).

Its alumni can be found in many leading hotels and restaurants across Vietnam. Many alumni are running their own businesses and providing internships for KOTO trainees and employing KOTO graduates. With their Australian Box Hill Institute qualification, many have been awarded scholarships to continue their studies in Australia and several are working in Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Singapore. KOTO alumni even return to work at the KOTO Training Centre and its restaurants/catering services in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to enrich the lives of its trainees and encourage them to dream big.

Continuing to pave the way for social impact, Jimmy's VietHarvest food rescue program and the Australian Aid funded initiatives for women's economic empowerment showcase his tireless determination to create a more inclusive society.  

As an RMIT Master of Business Administration alumnus supported by AusCham Vietnam and the former Vice-President of the Australian Chamber of Commerce (AusCham) in Vietnam, Jimmy has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership and an unwavering dedication to positive change. His extensive business networks and mentorship initiatives have added to his reputation as a leader in social entrepreneurship and community development. 

Throughout his career, Jimmy has been recognised with prestigious awards, including the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader, the Order of Australia, and the UNICEF ZERO for Social Innovation.   

Ms Jodie Altan, RMIT Vietnam Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement said Jimmy's legacy as a transformative leader and advocate for social justice is a testament to his steadfast commitment to create a better world for all.

“His pioneering efforts to build sustainable ecosystems and empower marginalised communities are inspiring and serve as a sign of hope and opportunity for future generations,” she said.

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'news-3-hon-doc-jimmy-pham' Jimmy and his mother who travelled from Sydney, Australia to witness the pivotal moment of which her son stood among scholars, change-makers, and emerging leaders.

In his acceptance speech, Jimmy showed his deep gratitude toward his mother, “a remarkable Vietnamese woman whose unwavering spirit became my guiding light”.

“It was through her belief in the transformative power of education that I found the courage to embrace my uniqueness, challenge societal norms, and pursue my aspirations. Perhaps this ethos laid the groundwork for what would become KOTO,” he said.

Jimmy said the honorary doctorate he received was not merely a recognition of his individual achievements but a tribute to his mother’s indomitable spirit and the countless resilient souls whose paths have intertwined with him.

To RMIT graduates, Jimmy offered simple yet profound advice – STAND.

“In the face of adversity, draw strength from the unwavering fortitude of your spirit. Rest if you must, but rise again, fortified by the resolve to overcome obstacles and seize the abundant opportunities before you,” he said.

Alt Text is not present for this image, Taking dc:title 'news-4-hon-doc-jimmy-pham' Jimmy called on all RMIT fresh graduates to commit to building a brighter future where diversity is celebrated, resilience prevails, and every individual is empowered to stand tall and make a difference.

Jimmy called on all fresh graduates to “recommit ourselves to building a brighter future—a future where diversity is celebrated, resilience prevails, and every individual is empowered to stand tall and make a difference”.

Jimmy expressed his heartfelt gratitude to RMIT - an institution that believes in the power of education, community, and exemplary leadership.

“I earned my degree at 48, my master's at 50, and now, at 52, this incredible honour,” Jimmy said.

“RMIT did not define someone like me, who chose the less-travelled path, but extended its hand and saw an opportunity to support me so I could continue supporting others.”

“I continue my studies because I believe in lifelong learning. It is essential for me to lead by example when I tell my KOTO kids that knowledge unlocks not only opportunities but also encompasses understanding the importance of health, balance, mindfulness leading to empathy, and ultimately a life filled with happiness.”

Story: Ha Hoang

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