An old story which teaches us that each and every one of us can contribute to making the world a better place is the reason behind the organization’s name -  „Sao Bien“ which is the Vietnamese word for starfish.

'The starfish' story or 'We Can Make A Difference'

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water. He came closer and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and it is low tide. If I don’t throw them in now, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It has made a difference to this one.”

The story („The Star Thrower“), written by Loren Eiseley, was first published in 1969 in „The Unexpected Universe“ and many different versions of it have been written since then.

Sao Bien. Room for Education.

At the beginning of 2016, after 15 years in asset management, Thomas decided to go to Vietnam to work as a volunteer.

He was so deeply impressed by the honest hospitality, the openness and thirst for knowledge that he decided to found an NGO supporting education in Vietnam.

With the active support of „Verein für Soziale Gerechtigkeit‘ (Organization for Social Justice) and three enthusiastic board members, he quickly raised initial donations for his project.  A short time afterwards, Sao Bien was registered as a non-profit organization in Austria.

The organization aims to give children between the ages of 6 and 11 access to quality education by building schools in very remote and very poor villages in Vietnam. In this way it aims to contribute to the children’s right for education, as anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals. More …

Sao Bien solely focuses on those areas in Vietnam which, due to their location and poverty, have not received sufficient support from the State and other NGOs in the past. These areas are mostly populated by ethnic minorities.

Many organizations shy away from the logistical troubles and additional costs that are often connected with these remote locations.

Sao Bien involves the local people and local authorities as well as teachers from the very beginning. This ensures a high degree of identification with the project and, at the same time, guarantees that the school exactly matches the specific needs of the particular village.

Agreements with the local authorities ensure a proper use of the building after completion.

The project is implemented with the help of different local partners whose support is essential in particular for finding a suitable location, contact with local authorities and a smooth and efficient implementation.

High efficiency is achieved by a lean organization with an experienced project manager based in Vietnam and a NGO-experienced board based in Vienna that handle financials, risk management and legal aspects. Therefore, no money is wasted on headquarters and other overhead costs, but reaches the children in need.

The focus of an international organization on these regions will eventually raise awareness of the problematic situation of these minority groups.

Das Team

Thomas Farthofer

Thomas worked in the field of asset management for 15 years, five of which for a British investment company in Gibraltar. After returning to Vienna, Thomas started his own business as a ghostwriter and as a member of the Austrian non-profit organization, Verein für Soziale gerechtigkeit (Organization for Social Justice). At the beginning of 2016 Thomas decided to go to Vietnam as a volunteer, where he worked at the Hanoi University of Industry, the Hanoi University of Natural Resources and Environment as well as at the Pascal Secondary School. Thomas was deeply impressed by the positive attitude, the friendliness and openness of Vietnamese people and thus decided to create a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting education in Vietnam. With active support from the Verein für Soziale Gerechtigkeit and experienced board members, Thomas managed to realize his vision. Thomas now lives in Ha Noi and is responsible for Sao Bien’s operations in Vietnam. Regular field trips helped Thomas to discover the real problems of ethnic minorities living in Vietnam’s mountainous areas.

Rüdiger Rücker

Ruediger is the father of two sons. After his graduation in business administration in Vienna, he started his professional career at the Austrian Stock Exchange. After ten years in Vienna, Ruediger decided to take up assignments in Dublin and Frankfurt. Since coming back to Vienna in 1997 he has worked as a capital market consultant and project manager. Recent projects have taken place in Ethiopia, Western Balkans, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Aserbaidschan and Russia. Rüdiger’s hobbies are scuba diving, photography and cooking. Ruediger has been actively engaged in charity work since 2014 and was president of the Austrian Children's Heart Society. Rüdiger is president of Sao Bien and as such responsible for the overall strategy of the organization.

Christian Janisch

Christian studied Business Administration and Sociology in Vienna. During that time he was actively involved in the Austrian Students Union. Christian then worked in the financial service industry and for an Austrian bank. Since August 2016 Christian has been general secretary of Idealism Prevails, an Austrian-based NGO, for whom he also regularly writes articles about political and economic developments. Christian loves sports, travelling, TV series and board games. As a board member Christian is responsible for administration and back office.

Burkhard Weiss

Burkhard worked in the field of asset management for 20 years. He started his career at Credit Lyonnais, and now works for one of the largest Austrian asset management groups. Although Burkhard also actively participates in several other organizations, he immediately offered his support to his friend, Thomas, when he heard about Thomas’ idea to bring positive changes to the world. Within Sao Bien, Burkhard is responsible for financial matters.


04/2016 Thomas’ first volunteering stay in Hanoi, Vietnam
07/2016 Thomas’ second volunteering stay in Hanoi, Vietnam
8/2016 Launch Facebook Page
9/2016 Registration as non-profit organization (Austria)
10/2016 Letter of support from the Austrian Ambassador in Hanoi
11/2016 Completion of project 1
2/2017 Completion of project 2
3/2017 Cooperation with ngo-shoes
4/2017 Chimney talk Thomas at Idealism Prevails
5/2017 Award Ceremony Sozialmarie (Austrian Audience Award 2017)
5/2017 Completion project 3
5/2017 Article in Viet Nam News und Vietnam Economic Times-The Guide
6/2017 Charity Event in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
7/2017 Launch Website
8/2017 Article in Austrian Kronen Zeitung
8/2017 Completion of project 4
9/2017 Charity Event in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Chuck's Burger
9/2017 Completion of project 5
11/2017 APA-OTS press release(German only)
12/2017 Story on VTV 4 (Channel 4 of Vietnamese State broadcasting)
12/2017 Completion project 6
1/2018 Completion project 7 (Gemeinschaftsprojekt mit VSNL)
7/2018 Completion projekt 9
7/2018 Completion project 10