The social innovation ecosystem of Taiwan is an intriguing one as it continues to develop from 2014 when the government recognized their role in creating innovation and solution for social issues around Taiwan

Taiwan is a fascinating country. Its history can be seen in the architecture of the capital city Taipei, where the old meets the new. The economy is driven by the growth enterprises in the 70s, but now it also give way for new ideas blossoming in the age of the 4th industrial revolution.

Intertwined within its old buildings and restored historical landmarks there is a growing social innovation ecosystem that’s emerging. According to government statistics, as of 2016 there are over 118 Social Enterprise in Taiwan and it is projected to grow in the next few years.

This interesting focus on social innovation and entrepreneurship is what led me to travel to Taiwan quite often. I wanted to immerse myself in the social innovation ecosystem of the country and find out what makes it tick.

My curiosity about Taiwan began in 2017 when I started facilitating APYE Thailand and Korea. It piqued my curiosity as to why there were quite several Taiwanese students in the program and they were actively engaged.

Edward Tseng, being a former delegate himself, is instrumental in organizing these students to join the program to make them aware of the SDGs and create changemakers in Taiwan. He also organizes programs with the help of Impact Hub Taipei and Better Partners after APYE.

In the follow-up to the program, they continue developing their social venture project or create new projects in these workshops and mentoring sessions, but what’s unique about this is that they can localize their ideas from APYE and they are able to conceptualize new creative ideas from their experience.

Which brings me to my first engagement with them, which actually was an online mentoring session while they were at Impact Hub Taipei around March 2018. Needless to say, I was impressed with the ideas they presented and with their commitment in creating innovative solutions for specific social issues in Taiwan. This convinced to book a ticket and fly there one month after.

Before flying in to Taipei I did a little research, there was a push for social innovation and entrepreneurship in Taiwan since 2014 with the “administration first, legislation later policy” by Minister Feng Yan. First important player of the ecosystem seems to be in place and ready to support the development of the social enterprises and entrepreneurs.

I flew in April 2018 with the simple objective of meeting the players of the ecosystem and founders of social enterprises. Here’s what I found.

There is a huge interest in social entrepreneurship in Taipei and the founders of these enterprises are young. One of them is Sky, founder of Learn for Yourself, an education service and platform that creates tools and videos for public schools in the rural areas.

When I spoke to them last year, they were focused on creating training program and content for science and they train teachers in rural areas on how to use these tools and videos in their classes. Their vision is so good, I easily bought into it because innovation in education is one of my advocacies and apparently so do other teachers who want to come on board in this social enterprise.

Another young entrepreneur started his venture while still in college. Chiu Jyun-Ping, founder of Hao-Shi Social Enterprise, is a stalwart supporter of the SDGs. He wants to educate Taiwanese youth about the SDGs and he came up with a tabletop game for it.

Currently, he was prototyping his game when I met him but after getting a demo of his game, I am convinced that it would be an innovative way to learn about the SDG, create solutions for it, and to have fun in the process especially for the youth.

I also met Juan Diego Prudot of Impct Coffee, a social enterprise that not only buys their coffee at Fair Trade from suppliers, but their value chain also includes building learning centers at the communities of their coffee farmers. Their social enterprise became a finalist in one of the toughest pitching competitions, the Hult Prize.

The youth have representation, but I know I can’t conclude with these three cases. However, it didn’t take long before I was convinced that the youth are buying into this idea of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. On June 2-3, 2018 I was invited as a resource speaker for Sustainable Entrepreneurship Program by Impact Hub Taipei.

There I met 25 young participants from different universities, and a few newly graduates, who had developed amazing ideas from clothing, education, environment, elderly, and even creating a guesthouse. The second players were in place. So, my next question was, if the students were buying into this idea what were the universities doing about it?

I got my answers quickly when I met Professor Chen, Manager of the Yunus Social Business Centre (YSBC) at National Central University. The Yunus Center has programs that encourage students to establish social enterprises and compete for Yunus Prize.

The competition happens annually in the University and it offers program and mentorship for development of these social venture ideas before pitching it during the competition. The prize is also an open competition for college students, professionals, and NGOs. National Taiwan University through initiatives of some professor opened a in campus.

The design school known that started at Stanford University. They offer programs to students on design thinking. The academe has another player in place.

If you have the government supporting the initiatives of creating social enterprise startups and the academe and student seemingly on board too, what other organization are in need to complete the ecosystem? I got my answer as a speaker at forum on my first visit in Taiwan. Final players are private and public organizations.

In the small forum I met player like B Current Impact Investment which provides funding for social enterprises; The Taiwan NPO Self-Regulation Alliance which helps Social Enterprise with evaluating their social impact; and there 180 degrees, Student Consultant Association, which assist in business development of social enterprises and non-profit organizations making sure that they are sustainable and they are running efficiently.

Aside from Better Partners and Impact Hub Taipei, there’s also Social Enterprise Insights, which provide programs for the development of social enterprise. The final players are in place.

The social innovation ecosystem of Taiwan is an intriguing one as it continues to develop from 2014 when the government recognized their role in creating innovation and solution for social issues around Taiwan. In my short travels to Taiwan I know I just saw the tip of iceberg.

The interplay of the different sectors such as government, academe, private, and public partners, is welcome development in creating a space where a social enterprises thrive and create a sustainable business model and a clearer social impact. This interplay is crucial for social innovation ecosystem to thrive and it is something other Southeast Asian countries need to learn from to have an equitable development and economic model. Let the social innovation and entrepreneurship thrive.

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