In rural Taiwan, there is a cohort of late middle-aged to elderly grandparents who did not leave for the cities. They are often aboriginal, perhaps tied to the towns and villages where their communities once thrived. They often have few transferable skills and limited savings, making the adjustment to city life unthinkable. Moreover, their adult children have left for vibrant urban areas, often leaving behind grandchildren in their care.
With numerous responsibilities and limited opportunities, this demographic is left in a vulnerable position. Many have begun selling their land to organizations working in the tourism sector – but the money they gain is usually short-lived, leaving them landless and jobless for all their efforts.
Enter job-creating social enterprises. Taiwan Farmer is a social enterprise that both engages in ecological conservation and agricultural job creation. It sells manufactured products like award-winning tea and delicious dried mushrooms. Its jobs have flexible hours and training, building community and allowing grandparents to gain an income while looking after their children. It even employs local artists to design the packaging for products, supporting Taiwan’s cultural sector.
Though Taiwan Farmer is a social enterprise that is built to be profitable, the Taiwanese government supports it through a one-year wage subsidy. The subsidy is given to social organizations employing the elderly and disabled, who would otherwise be unemployable.
For the year in which they are given the subsidy, many social organizations expand their staff. A condition of the subsidy is that at least 25% of subsidy recipients must continue working in the organization after the subsidy has ended. Though the government focused on job creation when building this policy, it has also provided a helpful tool in pushing social enterprises to expand. While Taiwan Farmer does have a robust business model and a growing market, government support undoubtedly helps facilitate future growth by providing a capital infusion.
Social enterprises are supporting populations left behind following an economic transition from which they are excluded. While the region is undergoing economic transition, small-scale job opportunities are being created using the inputs that defined the previous economy. Take Taiwan Farmer’s tea – it has carved out a niche by not being the cheapest, but rather by creating a high value-added product through production, packaging, and design. It leveraged Sun Lake’s previous agricultural capacity to provide jobs for a group that has been left out of the development of a new tourism and hospitality industry.
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