In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was living in towns and cities. A greater number of job opportunities, better education, and more developed infrastructures have all been cited as reasons why people chose to move away from isolated villages and to replant their roots.
However, a small group of people have been left behind – they are the elders, the disabled, and the children, whose social and economic statuses usually prevent them from leaving their home towns. In Taiwan, we encountered a social enterprise that is trying to fix this issue by providing employment opportunities to marginalized individuals in Doushe County – Taiwan Farmer. We interviewed the CEO of Taiwan Farmer, Mr. ShunYu Wang, in his office in Doushe County.
What prompted you to start Taiwan Farmer? What was the social issue you were trying to resolve?
Wang: I grew up in the Doushe village. I am a farmer myself. Taiwan is experiencing urbanization in a similar way to other parts of the world. Our lands became deserted because of natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, and earthquakes. They hit the agricultural industry particularly hard. Many farmers did not want to grow produce anymore. Commercial developers would come in and buy the land from the farmers at a price farmers thought were fair. However, the prices were much lower than the fair market value. Farmers lost their land, became farming workers, and later became cheap laborers in cities. When they got older, they were not able to find jobs in the city anymore due to their limited skills outside farming.
Unfortunately, they already lost their lands. I wanted to break this cycle by providing farmers with opportunities so that they could make profit by being farmers. I wanted to bring back their respect for their land and to stop selling their lands to developers.
What economic benefits do you provide to the community?
Wang: Taiwan Farmer operates as a cooperative. Profits are shared with every farmer who is part of our group. Everyone has an equal right to vote, to raise his or her concerns, and to give opinions in the group. We like this form of organization because farmers have limited knowledge about the capital market. It would be too complicated to use a corporation as the form of organization. We currently have 15 full salary employees, 12 government subsidized employees and 15 volunteers, a total of 42.
For the 12 government subsidized employees, the government pays them 18,000 NTD (approximately $600 USD) a month because they are mostly elders who had limited employment options. No large corporation would take them. So the government hoped local NGOs could employ them. Now they are working for us and earn an extra 25,000 NTD (approximately $850 USD) a month on top of the government subsidy, making a total of 43,000 NTD a month (approximately $1,450 USD).
Do you get a lot of government support?
Wang: Not as much as we wanted. We think training and education for marginalized groups should mostly be done by the government. But our government hasn’t done enough of that. However, it takes good policies to develop the ecosystem for a sector. If the support system for a sector, for example – agriculture – is not well developed, no producer could do well in it. It’s important to have the social, cultural, and policy align with each other. Moreover, social enterprises and non-for-profit organizations are grassroots. They can only make small changes. To change the overall atmosphere, more government support is needed.
Prior to working at SIRG, Wendy visited Taiwan as part of a student delegation hosted by the government of Taiwan in 2009. She was selected as a finalist to present a business plan to venture capitalist in Hong Kong Poly U Entrepreneurship Challenge. After graduation, Wendy worked as a business analyst for a large company, and later for a private-equity funded start-up in the U.S. She volunteers for SCORE – “advisor for America’s small business” and is one of the youngest financial instructors for underprivileged women in Houston.
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