Minh Kauffman  Photo courtesy of CEEVN.

On Friday, July 31, Minh Kauffman, director of the ACLS Center for Educational Exchange with Vietnam (CEEVN) retired after 26 years with ACLS and nearly 50 years working in international educational exchange and community development. ACLS President emeritus Stanley N. Katz has called Minh “the most important person involved in the creation of meaningful relations between Viet Nam and the United States.” With her retirement, the Center will close and pass on its work to the Stronger Together Center, a Vietnamese non-governmental organization founded and maintained by alumni of the many fellowship programs so ably administered by Minh and CEEVN.

Minh and family at the EdEx office in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1991. Photo courtesy of CEEVN.

In 1990, Minh and her late husband, Fred Kauffman, established in Bangkok an educational exchange office to facilitate contact between Vietnamese and American scholars and academic institutions at a time when Vietnam was isolated and the US trade embargo made such contact challenging. The Kauffmans’ goal was to build reconciliation by providing educational opportunities, and to overcome suspicion and separation with cooperation and trust.

Minh and IFP alumna Chu Thi Van Anh in July 2019. Photo courtesy of CEEVN.

Minh first worked with former ACLS Vice President Steve Wheatley and President emeritus Stan Katz in 1990 on a project funded by the Christopher Reynolds Foundation to establish an American Studies Reading Room in Hanoi. When the United States Information Agency in 1992 awarded ACLS a contract to help re-establish the Fulbright Program in Vietnam, ACLS turned to Minh and what was then the Mennonite Central Committee Educational Exchange Center to help design an open, independent, peer-reviewed application process. Doing so required patient and delicate negotiations that were ultimately successful thanks to the confidence Vietnamese officials already had in Minh. CEEVN became an ACLS subsidiary in 1994, and has maintained offices in Philadelphia and Hanoi ever since, managing the Vietnam portion of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) from 2000–2013, along with many other Ford-funded programs focused on international scholarly exchange for 17 years (1992–2009).

Memento Medal presented by Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet and Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan of Education and Training Ministry for contribution to the country’s education field, May 22, 2007. Photo courtesy of CEEVN.

Minh’s career and accomplishments have been nothing short of remarkable. Under her leadership, ACLS-CEEVN managed over $45 million in grants and funded nearly 2,000 fellowships, study tours, and grants to Vietnamese scholars and organizations. The many honors bestowed on Minh, including the Friendship Medal awarded in 2005 by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong, have also brought honor to ACLS. 

Alumni of the Vietnam Fulbright Program gathered for reunions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in October 2018. Pictured here is the Ho Chi Minh City group. Photo courtesy of CEEVN.

CEEVN stakeholders and alumni from different programs met with Fred and Minh Kauffman in October 2018, in Hanoi, to brainstorm ways to maintain CEEVN’s legacy as the organization prepared to close in June 2020. Photo courtesy of CEEVN.

The Excellent Bridge: The Journey of the ACLS Center for Educational Exchange with Vietnam

In August, ACLS will publish The Excellent Bridge: The Journey of the ACLS Center for Educational Exchange with Vietnam, a history of Minh’s work. Those wishing a copy of the book or to honor Minh with a contribution to the Stronger Together Center should write to Kelly Buttermore, [email protected].

As she closed this significant chapter of her life, Minh shared these words:

With immense gratitude, I would like to thank ACLS for its support and guidance of our work over the last 26 years. It is thanks to my colleagues’ faith and confidence in us that our mission is now complete.

And we should never lose sight of the many individuals who by taking up exchange opportunities invested their ambitions, energies, and careers in the idea that knowledge is a public good. I am especially proud of how our alumni and partners have transformed the knowledge and skills they gained during their fellowships and exchange activities into tangible actions that have fundamentally changed how their communities view themselves and their own potential.

—Minh Kauffman—

Minh with current and former CEEVN Hanoi staff. Photo courtesy of CEEVN.



Many of those who worked with Minh have paid tribute to her:

Minh had, and has, the confidence of those in important positions in both Vietnam and the US, but she has been one of those quietly effective leaders whose role is carefully hidden so as not to detract from the actions of others. She has been a pleasure to work with, and an inspiration to all of us who came to share her commitment to a strong and healthy relationship between two nations and peoples. 

Stanley N. Katz
ACLS President Emeritus

I want to add my deep gratitude to Minh for her long and dedicated service. In her quiet but efficient and determined way she has made sure that ACLS’s international mission would be fulfilled.

Pauline Yu
ACLS President Emeritus

I speak for myself and on behalf of the Board of Directors when I say that Minh’s work was determinative in helping form the DNA of our work in Cambodia and Vietnam. Our trust in Minh was complete in a world of highly complicated political and sometimes personal intrigue. Minh’s ability to see all sides of an issue–and to have understanding and compassion for all parties–was something to which we have aspired since our time with her.

Andrea Panaritis
Executive Director, Christopher Reynolds Foundation

Dear Minh, 

From the first time we met, I knew you would be an essential part of the Ford Foundation’s effectiveness in Vietnam and elsewhere. Your knowledge, generosity, empathy and professional standards meant that Ford dollars reached talented people in ways that supported their ambitions. You also helped us understand the perspectives and circumstances of recipients of Ford support. In doing so, you made us more effective than we would have been without you. The lessons you taught us spilled over into other regions and programs.

Susan Berresford
Former President, Ford Foundation

Minh’s determination and diligence are inspirational. Her resolute high-mindedness invites colleagues to share in her keen sense of mission and those who do find their work ever more meaningful. She is unfailingly caring and considerate, never forgetting that those she encounters are fighting their own hard battles. The full impact of Minh’s work can be seen in the human flourishing of those to whom she helped open opportunities, and in the respect and deep affection of all who have worked with her.

Steve Wheatley
Former Vice President, ACLS

Even though we had little to go on in those early years, Minh’s sophisticated understanding of how higher education opportunities could advance more equitable development helped to create the program in Vietnam and also served as a model for IFP elsewhere in Asia and in other countries around the world. Evidence of her outstanding leadership is the profound impact that the International Fellowships Program Fellows from Vietnam have had—and will undoubtedly continue to have—on Vietnamese life and society.

Joan Dassin
Professor, Brandeis University;
Founding Executive Director of the Ford Foundation international Fellowships Program

I visited Minh numerous times in the home office she set up in Philadelphia, up those many flights of stairs. Her home office was definitely a “home” office. While everyone was hard at work, you also knew this work was taking place in a family home, with Fred and boys a loving presence. Minh has the widest possible group of colleagues and friends and whenever you come across someone who knows her, they always say, “Minh Kauffman is amazing!” She would never say that about herself, but it is true: she is amazing.

Sandra Bradley
Director of Governance and Society Relations, ACLS

It was clear from long before the formal beginning of CEEVN that the extraordinary Minh Kauffman and her family would play a special role in the building of Vietnam-US relations. She was an extraordinary bridge between the two nations and peoples before many even realized the need for such a role, and as relations grew in the 1990s and beyond her role expanded and deepened. . . . She made all aspects of work and life in Vietnam better.

Mark Sidel
Former Ford Foundation Representative based in Hanoi

I was impressed and also guided by Minh’s love and understanding of Vietnam. Her words and actions reflected a deeply-rooted belief that Vietnam could have, and deserved, a future of peace and justice after long years of war and conflict. Her service was dedicated to empowerment and strengthening of Vietnam’s people and society rather than to personal prestige or organizational fame. 

Clear-eyed, steadfast, honest, committed, inspired by belief in human potential and community empowerment—my friend and colleague, Minh Kauffman. I am fortunate to have worked by her side. 

Mary Zurbuchen
Former Ford Foundation Representative based in Jakarta and former Director for Asia and Russia, International Fellowships Program

When I think back over my 23 years of work at Coady and another 10 years of work for another organization and I challenge myself to think of the most powerful partnerships I have been engaged in the Coady Institute partnership with CEEVN is at the top of the list. This is for one reason. Minh Kauffman.

In our ABCD language we would say Minh is the quintessential (maybe even the ultimate) “gapper’. She knows how to connect people across sectors and countries – from academia, government and non-governmental organizations. She is able to do this because everything she does is for a larger purpose, such as: reconciliation between the US and Vietnam, or providing ethnic minority communities or persons with disabilities with opportunities to drive their own development. When Minh comes calling you simply cannot refuse.

Minh never wants to be the centre of attention. She does her work quietly and with purpose. In the engagements I have been involved in with Minh she often sits at the back of the room. But she takes everything in and is able to look for ways to turn engagements into concrete action.

Minh is the most selfless person I know. I don’t know of any other person who has been willing to turn the organization they founded into a vehicle to support the alumni network their organization created. In doing so Minh has inspired the alumni to collectively join this effort and in their own work and lives to “pay it forward”.

Gord Cunningham
Executive Director, Coady International Institute

This day of official retirement marks both an end and a beginning; but the powerful impact of your life’s work that has connected and empowered individuals and communities will continue to bear fruit. It has been a precious gift to know you as a friend and work with you.

Wanda Kraybill
Former CEEVN Fellowships & Grants Manager

I’m writing to congratulate you on your lifetime of effective work, which has resulted today in networks of smart and diverse Vietnamese across the country who are committed to their communities, their organizations and their vision of social justice. It is no surprise to me that even as you leave CEEVN you have created a like organization in Vietnam to carry on your mission.

These numbers [of fellowships awarded] are just the immediate outputs of CEEVN’s numerous initiatives; the outcomes are more numerous and long term—the positive impacts on many lives that result like ripples on the smooth surface of a pond when one stone is cast. You found many ponds.

Charles R. Bailey
Former Ford Foundation Representative based in Hanoi

Working on the CEEVN website was one of the most challenging and most gratifying parts of my job. Doing what I could to help you and CEEVN was always a pleasure.

Minh, I know you look ahead to a retirement that is sadly very different than you expected. My sympathies are with you as you continue to mourn Fred and adjust to life without his physical presence. In my experience, retirement has its own healing quality.

May you find peace and pleasures as you journey onward.

Candace Frede
Former Director of Web and Information Systems, ACLS

It is empathy and care that makes Ms. Minh a compassionate leader. Being a Ford Fellow myself I can say why these values are so important in supporting social change leaders from the world’s most vulnerable populations. While setting a precedent of equity in higher education through fellowship programs like the Fulbright, Ford and others, Ms. Minh’s contributions to social justice issues go far beyond education. Because of Ms. Minh’s efforts in nurturing the fellows with such values, they have gone on to create impact in their communities and around the world, enduring far beyond their fellowship.

Yogesh Ghore
Senior Program Staff, Coady International Institute

You never knew how long the day would end up being, with Minh doing the arranging. I remember one time after a long day we ended up at karaoke place with a very senior Vietnamese official. It must have made quite a sight—four foot ten Minh and six foot four John belting out the tunes. I bet many people don’t know that Minh could be such a party animal. 

John Ambler
Former Ford Foundation Representative based in Hanoi

Several years into my ACLS career, in July 2010, I volunteered to step in and do what I could to help Minh and CEEVN after the departure of a longtime staff member from the Philadelphia office. This arrangement was meant to be temporary, ACLS would send a little help down from New York until Minh could find someone to take over in Philly once the crush of IFP work had passed. I had always been interested in CEEVN’s work, and I was eager to be a part of it, if only for a short time. 

What I didn’t realize, stepping into that third-floor home office on that July morning for the first time, was that working with Minh would go on to become one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences not only of my career, but of my life. That “temporary” arrangement has now lasted ten years, and I feel profoundly grateful and lucky every day to call Minh my colleague and dear friend.  

Minh, you are a truly extraordinary person, and it’s been an honor and a pleasure –and a lot of fun! – to work alongside you in these last steps of CEEVN’s incredible journey. The difference that you and your tireless, selfless work have made in the lives of so many is a source of constant inspiration. I wish you nothing but the best in your retirement. No one deserves it more!

Kelly Buttermore
Chief of Staff, ACLS