The story behind the man behind the helmet

Published: 26/01/2009 05:00



Lookatvietnam - Most people enter the world of business for one reason – to make a profit. However, Greig Craft dived into the business world for an altogether more altruistic reason – to save lives.

Lookatvietnam - Like millions of Vietnamese people the length and breadth of the country, you may wear one every day, you certainly see them in their hundreds every day and one might even have saved your life in the past. What is it?

A Protec helmet, a brand of crash helmet popular in Vietnam due to its reputation for high quality. However, few people know the story of its inventor, a fourth generation American with strong ties to Vietnam who never gave up, even in the face of extreme difficulty.

“Money can’t buy happiness”

Most people enter the world of business for one reason – to make a profit. However, Greig Craft dived into the business world for an altogether more altruistic reason – to save lives.

“Money can not buy happiness but it can save human lives,” Craft said, while receiving a delegation from the Australian House of Representatives, led by Speaker Harry Jenkins, who visited his helmet factory in Hanoi’s Soc Son district just before the Lunar New Year.

To demonstrate the force of this conviction, Craft established the Asian Injury Prevention Fund (AIPF) in 2000, which spent 1.9 million USD on the construction of a non-profit helmet factory, the world’s first example of this kind of humanitarian venture.

This idea was backed by numerous world-renowned companies, including the US’s AIG Insurance Company and Atlantic Philanthropites NGO, ATL Vietnam, BP Vietnam and Craft himself.

This was a step of great humanitarian significance, particularly when the number of motorbikes on Vietnam’s roads skyrocketed from 500,000 in 1989 to 7 million just one year later, while very few people wore helmets whilst riding, said Than Van Thanh, Chief of the Office of the National Committee for Traffic Safety.

In 1999, Vietnam was among countries with the highest numbers of fatalities resulting from road traffic accidents. Traffic accidents now occupy sixth place in the top ten causes of death in the southeast Asian country.

The prevalence of road deaths led Craft to consider the building of such a factory as an absolute necessity. “During a man’s life, he does not have many opportunities to change or improve the lives of those around him. Thus, this is a chance that I must take full advantage of,” he said.

He took head measurements and examined the bone structures of 5,000 Vietnamese people as a basis for the design of a safe, light, well-ventilated and fashionable Protec helmet. The Protec factory, which commenced operations in 2002, has generated jobs for 100 local workers, including 20 employees who are either disabled or victims of AO.

To date, more than 350,000 primary pupils in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia have been supplied with Protec helmets under a scheme called “Helmets for Kids”, designed and instigated by Craft in 2000. He was presented with an “Asian Creativity” award in 2003 by the Far Eastern Economic Review in recognition of his work.

With safety always at the forefront of his mind, Craft also spent a further 100,000 USD to build a helmet testing laboratory in the grounds of the factory, where every component of a Protec helmet has to pass a stringent set of safety tests.

Selling high numbers of helmets means more money can be given to schools and the community, he said, adding that the factory makes no profits.

“Never say never”

The Asian Injury Prevention Fund Chairman Greig Craft. (Photo VNE)

Craft’s factory manufactures between 300,000-500,000 helmets each year, which are mainly used in the domestic market or exported to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Uganda and Nigeria, earning 15 billion VND in annual revenues. The whole of its profits transferred to AIPF to fund a range of charitable activities.

Before he became successful, Craft had weathered a number of failed business ventures, for example, in the mid-1990s, Craft was one of the investors in a 300 million USD steel factory in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau. However, following a feasibility study, the project, which was the largest of its kind at that time, was shelved and Craft’s time, effort and money disappeared in a puff of smoke.

But he did not give up as a result of this failure. He vowed to forge ahead, thanks to his love of Vietnam and his motto of “Never say never”.

Craft’s great grandfather arrived in Vietnam during 1899-1900 on a voyage to explore Southeast Asia. His father, who first came to Vietnam in 1955, was always proud of his son and, up until his death, supported his work and commitment to Vietnam.

“We can find solutions for everything. I am not the cleverest person but I can make anything happen,” Craft said


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