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Interview with a philanthropist: Hélène Nguyen Thien


Nguyen Thien Dao was a Vietnamese-French composer of contemporary classical music, who studied composition with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory and after only a year of study, was awarded first prize in composition. Messiaen described Dao as "one of the most original composers of the age". Dao and his music are the embodiment of two civilisations: the East and the Weast. His wife, Hélène Nguyen Thien, is working tirelessly to honour his legacy. 

Nguyen Thien | BNP Paribas Wealth Management

Nguyen Thien 

Hélène Nguyen Thien | BNP Paribas Wealth Management

Hélène Nguyen Thien 

Wife of Nguyen Thien Dao 

What motivated your philanthropy?

My husband’s last words: Dao was a composer of contemporary classical music and he wanted to pass on everything that he had received during his career in music. He wanted to help young people, help them build confidence in their abilities and their potential so that they could continue to give eternal life to music.

It stemmed from love and love of music: when one gives, one does not expect anything in return. A life without music is not a happy life. My wish is that everyone can find happiness in music.  

Tell us more about your philanthropic commitment, the actions you support and the future of your foundation?

In our support for young musicians, we hope to encourage a dialogue between different musical cultures, particularly between the East and the West. We have established scholarships at the Paris Conservatory, the Lyon Conservatory as well as the Centre Nadia et Lili Boulanger (CNLB). We are also supporting young musicians in Vietnam. Starting with the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory, we hope to work in other areas of the country.

I established the Nguyen Thien Dao Fund hosted by the King Baudouin Foundation (public utility foundation in Belgium) and we have already supported a project by some young musicians due to take place in Hanoi.   

When I look to the future, I know it is important to continue to support young musicians over the long term. I hope that there will always be individuals who love young people and music and who will find means to help them. Helping these young people gives me a reason to live.

How do you feel about your initiative now? Are you having the impact you hoped?

Our impact has been encouraging so far. I hope to keep going and to reach as many young people as possible, as well as those who are not aware of our actions and the help we can give.

What advice would you give to others looking to do something similar?

It is really important to be guided by people who have the right expertise and experience. Those who can truly help are not necessarily those in your close circle – they have good intentions but they don’t necessarily have the knowledge or skills needed.  

How has the individual philanthropy advisory team helped you?

Their advice has been absolutely fundamental. I was in a position where I didn’t know who to contact and who could answer my questions. I also didn’t know whether my financial resources were sufficient to realise my dream. My philanthropy adviser helped me to understand my limits – we don’t know our limits. It is important to be guided by someone who can say “this is feasible, this isn’t feasible”; “these are the possible options, this is the path we could take and here are the ideas we can explore.” Otherwise the dream we have will continue to be just that, a dream.