Category Archives: Society

Social enterprises aim to bring about social change

A new wave of social enterprises is enabling Taiwan’s people to develop a greater understanding of those who are marginalized in society, while at the same time helping to improve the quality of life for these people. These entrepreneurs are not solely motivated by profit, but are focused on educating consumers about the ills in society and about ways to resolve these problems.

These enterprises have re-defined entrepreneurship from “inventing technology” to “reinventing society.” These business owners are not overly concerned about the scale of their enterprises, so they can start with a modest amount of capital. According to a report by Taiwan Panorama, there are five major trends in social enterprises which are in line with Taiwan’s small and medium-sized business tradition.

Social awareness shapes consumer habits

The goal of fair trade is to keep farmers and workers in developing countries from being exploited as a result of globalization, and to ensure they receive a fair wage and decent working conditions. Social enterprises with this focus in mind are developing rapidly in Taiwan.

Fairtrade International (FLO), a non-profit organization based in Bonn, Germany, develops and reviews fair trade standards, assisting producers to gain and maintain fair trade certification and capitalizing on market opportunities. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is another global organization centered on fair trade producer cooperatives and traders, offers fair trade certification. In Taiwan, the major products certified by FLO are coffee beans and designer crafts branded by WFTO.

When Okogreen, Taiwan’s first fair trade coffee house, was established in 2007, it was Taiwan’s first fair trade venture. Thus far, the two most popular concepts have been “brewing coffee at home” and “using fair trade coffee for the office coffeepot”. For home brewers, their social awareness can shape their consumer habits. And the office coffeepots are a standard expense for most offices, representing an excellent first step for fair-trade coffee dealers to establish a foothold. Twenty-two companies have already committed to using fair-trade coffee, with a potentially enormous untapped market.

Organic farmers take active steps

Agricultural co-operatives helped to provide a sturdy foundation for Taiwan’s postwar economic miracle. They combine many things including, labor, cooperative farming, production, sales and distribution. The practice has allowed Taiwan to keep the culture and practice of small-scale farming alive, which is the most influential element in organic farming today.

Founded in 2008, O-power Social Enterprise Company, took advantage of a small business loan to cooperate with organic farmers in Ali Mountain (central Taiwan), successfully increasing its yield year after year. Breaking even in just four years, the demand for its tea, fruit and vegetables has exceeded supply, making O-power a model of Taiwan’s traditional co-ops. Kaohsiung’s Xiaolin and Jiaxian villages in southern Taiwan, which were devastated by Typhoon Morakat in 2009, are now seeing the formation of many production and sales co-ops. They are taking active steps to rise from the ruins of natural disaster using this type of co-operative pooling.

Public-interest media on the rise

Despite the decline of print media, Taiwan’s public-interest media has been on the rise. Since 2006 the monthly Bao Bon Phuong has released Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesia, Tagalog and Cambodian editions one after another. These serve immigrants and guest workers from Southeast Asia, with a combined press run of 50,000. Although the target audiences are minority groups that are small in number, there is enough demand to stock the papers in convenience stores, which demands a high stocking fee. Readership has steadily increased every time Bao Bon Phuong has released a new language edition, quickly reaching break-even point. This has allowed the company to start more new language editions.

Services provided by disabled people

There are over 100 public interest groups in Taiwan working hard for financial self-sufficiency. Chou Wen-chen, executive director of the Bjorgaas Social Welfare Foundation, said that public interest organizations can use the revenue they receive from their employment facilities to help cover their operating costs. What’s more, they create employment opportunities for mentally and physically disabled groups, and their products may even be more competitive than products made by mainstream workers.

The most successful example is the Victory Potential Development Center for the Disabled. The center prepares the disadvantaged, in accordance with their job capabilities, to work at various job sites, including data entry centers, gas stations, digital printing centers, bakeries and other professions. The services they provide are competitive and need no special marketing. For instance, the caramel puddings disabled bakers make for Mr. Nordic, are hugely popular. Many customers do not even realize Mr. Nordic is from a shelter employment bakery.

Social movement products convey message

In recent years, citizen activism has given rise to special opportunities for “cultural and creative products” focused on social and political movements. For instance, towels and T-shirts with anti-nuclear slogans have been sold online and at demonstrations. Items sold have easily reached the tens of thousands, with impressive profits.

Wu Chung-shen, chair of the sociology department at Fu Jen Catholic University, explained that “movement products” have symbolic meaning for its members, and their price can be set at various multiples of the manufacturing cost, thus giving the organization a greater profit margin. This is very much a social enterprise model.

Taiwan Panorama noted that it is wise for businesses to keep things small since even a small organization can generate big energy. The goal of social enterprises is to help resolve social problems by meeting various needs. It is not necessary that entrepreneurs aim to build up a large corporate structure, but one with social care in mind and in practice.

Rally in Taiwan opposing same sex marriage amendment

On November 30, several groups in opposition to the “Marriage Equality Bill,” legalizing same-sex marriage protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the presidential office. Led by the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, over 150,000 people participated, shouting slogans in defense of heterosexual marriage. Many of them carried signs supporting marriage and children “Made by Daddy + Mommy” and “Against revision of Article 972 of the Civil Code” which would allow same-sex marriage.

The Coalition, one of the organizers of the event, said that allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children would encourage “sexual liberation”, undermine traditional family values and confuse gender roles for children. The Coalition stressed that any change to marriage and the family structure must be approved by a nationwide referendum.

Meanwhile, about 500 people in support of legalizing same-sex marriage gathered a few blocks away in front of the Legislative Yuan. Organized by the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), they countered with signage on “freedom in love, equality in forming a family”.

Victoria Hsu, director of TAPCPR, said that the groups against the bill distort the meaning of marriage equality. Their fear of same sex union leaves little room for rational discussion, causing many citizens to misunderstand homosexuality, she told the United Evening News.

The amendment drafted by TAPCPR, includes three bills on marriage equality, partnership and family system. Under the name of the “Bill Package for Diverse Family Formation”, these three bills were independently drafted. Among them, the bill on marriage equality has collected a million supporting signatures up to September 10. It was submitted to the Legislative Yuan and passed the first reading on October 25.

TAPCPR took three years to complete the revision on Article 972 of the Civil Code, and drafted the new bill with the purpose of meeting the needs and complexity of Taiwan society. The amendment rewrites the definition of family, while deregulating the traditional family structure based on marriage and sexual relations.

If passed, the “Marriage Equality Bill” will rewrite the existing civil law on marriage and the family, changing the specific gender indication of male and female to a gender neutral description. References to “husband and wife” would be changed to “spouses” and “father and mother” would be substituted by “parents”, so that the legal recognition and protection of marital relationship of men and women are extended to include gays and lesbians.

Under the partnership system, “family” is redefined, allowing gays and lesbians to spend the rest of their lives together in a legal relationship. The definition of “family” in the Civil Code is rewritten under the new amendment, with the word “kinship” removed from the law. Instead, it would read, “a couple living together for the purpose of permanent living.” It is therefore not necessary to have kinship in a family.

The Global Views monthly noted the battles to pass the bill package will begin by addressing same-sex marriages, but the more challenging battles will be centered on the partnership system and the family system, especially the latter.

Because these two bills do not build upon the premise of marriage and sexual relations, and won’t be punished with the crime of adultery because there is no marriage bondage. For the religious conservatives, they see this as a breakdown of “monogamy”, the core of family ethics.

The Coalition of Protecting Family, the strongest opposition against the bill, believes that the new partnership system is considered as a one to one relationship, without the obligations of loyalty and easily revocable. Their fear is that partnership legalizes mistress status, while the new family system allows people without kinship to form a family, planting the seed of incest and sexual liberation.

The United Daily News reported that President Ma Ying-jeou called for more dialogue, communication and discussion to reach a consensus because this involves the social foundation of marriage and family. It will create more opposition and backfire if done in haste without social consensus. On the other hand, he hopes that the Taiwanese people will be more tolerant and respectful in this regard. Ma said that homosexuality is a human rights issue, a cultural issue, and also a generational issue in our society, “because young people are more receptive to homosexual rights”, he said.

For the first time, women outnumber men in Taiwan

Last month, Taiwan’s male-dominated society became a thing of the past, when for the first time women out-numbered men. According to the Interior Ministry, the male population stood at 11,683,187 while the number of females reached 11,684,133, about a thousand more than males. The Interior Ministry predicted that this trend will only become more pronounced over time.

Compared with other countries, Taiwan was indexed at 100.6 among countries with a higher sex ratio in 2011, meaning there are 100.6 males for every 100 females. Currently, male dominated countries include India (107.8), Malaysia (106.1), mainland China (105.2), Norway (100.5) and South Korea (100.4). Countries where women outnumber men include Italy (93.7), France (93.9), Japan (94.8), Austria (95.1) and Mexico (95.6).

Hsiao Chia-chi, deputy minister of the Interior Ministry, pointed out that Taiwan’s population was previously male-dominated since it is traditionally a patriarchal society, and also because the relocation of Chiang Kai-shek’s government to Taiwan in 1949 brought with it a large number of male military personnel, according to the Taipei-based China Times.

With the passing of those veterans over the past decade, along with an influx of nearly 440,000 foreign brides, the sex ratio has gradually shifted. At the end of last month, women for the first time outnumbered men. The cabinet-level Council of Economic Planning and Development estimates that the sex ratio will reduce even further to 93.1 after 47 years, that is, for  every100 females there will be 93.1 males.

The average life expectancy in Taiwan is 83 years for women and 76.2 years for men. In younger age groups, there are more males than females, but this ratio shifts in the older population, since women typically live longer than men.

The United Daily News reported that, although Taiwan’s society is now made up of more women than men, studies by the Examination Yuan which is in charge of validating the qualification of civil servants, found that higher level positions are still dominated by men. Women account for 58 percent of all junior civil servants, 55 percent at middle levels, and 28 percent in executive positions. Tsai Bih-hwang, chairman of the Civil Service Protection and Training Commission of the Examination Yuan, believes that it may take another 15 years for the ratio of male and female executives to become more equal.

Translated into earnings potential, the average hourly rate for a Taiwanese man last year was NT$278 (US$9.30), while it was about NT$232 (US$7.70) for a woman, or 16.6 percent less than a man’s wages. The Council of Labor Affairs noted that although inequality of earnings between women and men is a global problem, the gap in Taiwan is not so wide. In Japan, female workers on average earn 34 percent less per hour than their male counterparts. South Korean women make 32.7 percent less than men, and in the United States, women make 19 percent less than men.

In-roads are being made not just in reducing the income gap between men and women, but also in shortening the lines at ladies’ restrooms on the island. The Liberty Times pointed out that due to a scarcity of women’s restrooms, females queue for longer. Taiwan’s Construction Law was amended at the end of 2010 to require the ratio of men’s restrooms to women’s to be 1:5 in public places where restrooms are jointly set up. The situation is expected to improve within five years, according to the report.

Declining number of Taiwanese students in US

According a report released by the American Institute of International Education on November 11, the number of international students studying in the US during the 2012-2013 school year reached a record high of 819,644, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year. Among them, for the first time, the largest number (230,000) are Chinese students. In contrast, the number of Taiwanese students studying in the US fell to 21,867, only the sixth largest group. This was 5.9 percent lower than the previous year and marked the sixth consecutive year of declining numbers of students from Taiwan.

The Central News Agency reported that the second to the fifth largest source of foreign students in the US during the 2012-2013 school year in their respective order are: India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada. When combining China, India and South Korea, these three countries account for 49 percent of the total foreign student population in the US.

Coming in at sixth place, Taiwanese students are mainly comprised of graduate students (49.7 percent) and undergraduates (27.4 percent). The number of students studying in the US from Taiwan peaked in the 1993-1994 academic year, reaching 37,581, but started to decline in 2007-2008.

Despite decreasing number of Taiwanese students studying in the US, the survey shows an upward trend for Taiwanese students staying in the US to find work after graduation. In 2011 those who applied for US internships after graduation numbered 3,377, and this number jumped to 3,417 last year.

According to the Central News Agency, Miss Yang, who graduated from the University of Southern California (USC), where the majority of international students study, is currently working with a public relations company in Los Angeles. Many of her Taiwanese friends studying electrical engineering at USC are expected to get a high paying job in Taiwan, but they are leery about the culture of overtime and excessively long hours in Taiwan’s technology industry. Most of them have decided to stay in the United States, hoping to accumulate some work experience before returning to Taiwan, said Yang.

Torch Plan aids foreign spouses and children assimilate

Every Wednesday this past spring, Xu Xiao-wei, a third grader at Pingtung County’s Gongguan Elementary School in Pingtung County (eastern Taiwan), arrived on campus at dawn so she could participate in a Vietnamese culture class. Classes like those in Vietnamese at Gongguan Elementary School are a part of the National New Immigrant Torch Plan. During the 2012 school year, classes were launched at more than 300 elementary schools across the island to cultivate a sense of multiculturalism.

After greeting her teach, To Ngoc Anh, in Vietnamese, Xu joins 16 other students. They might sing a Vietnamese children’s song, practice their pronunciation or learn other aspects of Vietnamese culture. For instance, do you know that the Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to the Chinese zodiac, except that the Vietnamese have a cat instead of a rabbit?

At a graduation ceremony held at the end of the semester, her teacher gave Xu an award and complimented her on her excellent Vietnamese pronunciation. In the audience was Xu’s proud Vietnamese mother, who has spoken Vietnamese to her daughter from a young age. Her mother said that the opportunity to study Vietnamese at school has allowed her daughter a greater command of Vietnamese writing and phonetics. She told Taiwan Panorama, she hopes this will spur her daughter to study by herself and use the Vietnamese dictionary.

Taiwan’s growing multicultural society

According to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), Taiwan currently has 130,000 immigrant spouses from Southeast Asia and 320,000 from mainland China. In almost all cases, they are women married to Taiwanese men, noted Taiwan Panorama. These immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in 1998, peaking in 2004. At present, there are 161,821 children of immigrants in elementary schools and 41,525 in junior high schools.

Over the past nine years, the total number of elementary and junior high students fell from 2.84 million to 2.22 million, while the proportion of children of immigrants attending those schools rose from 1.6 percent to 9.2 percent. It is estimated that by the year 2030, 13.5 percent of all 25-year-olds in Taiwan will be the children of immigrants.

Su Hui-wen, chief of the Immigration Counseling Section at the National Immigration Agency, told Taiwan Panorama that in light of the increasing global trend toward transnational marriages, cultivating a sense of multiculturalism among the next generation is essential for creating an open, peaceful and competitive society.

With that in mind, the MOI and Ministry of Education launched the National New Immigrant Torch Plan in May 2012. The plan calls for local governments to select focus schools – elementary schools with at least 100 children or where 10 percent of the students enrolled are children of immigrants. Under the plan, teachers make visits to immigrant households, language classes are provided in the immigrants’ languages, summer camps are offered for both parents and children, and training given to volunteers.

Regaining confidence

In Pingtung County, where the children of immigrants number nearly 100,000, long before the Torch Plan was implemented, a group of women with the Juridical Association for the Development of Women’s Rights (JADWER) began to visit the county’s elementary schools located in the mountainous or remote areas, campaigning for multiculturalism in schools.

At Pingtung’s Gongguan Elementary School, all students are targeted for the Southeast Asian multicultural classes, explained To, a JADWER partner who teaches Vietnamese at the school. The classes are not confined to book learning, but incorporate interactive and fun lessons by using Southeast Asian traditional clothing and accessories, toys, photos and maps. Sometimes the teachers demonstrate how to cook Southeast Asian dishes in class. In addition to whetting the students’ appetites, these experiences are truly memorable experiences.

Ho Thanh Nhan, a Vietnamese woman who married a Taiwanese man, said she visits schools to promote multiculturalism because she wants to help children of immigrants adjust and be confident. As an example, she told a story of a boy whose parents had divorced. Three years ago the mother returned with him to Vietnam. This past year, the father brought him back to Taiwan to live with his family. However, by then, the boy had forgotten his Mandarin and was regularly excluded. He became an easy target for bullies who referred to him as a “Vietnamese idiot.” His teacher was at a loss about what to do.

Upon learning of the situation, Ho visited the child’s class and told his classmates that the student had forgotten his Mandarin while living with his mother in Vietnam, but living abroad can broaden our knowledge and teach us independence. She then invited the boy to the front of the class and had a conversation with him in Vietnamese. Witnessing the boy’s fluency in a foreign language and his confident manner, the door to his classmates’ acceptance was opened. After a couple of months, the boy’s Mandarin was much improved. He could joke with his classmates and mingle with others.

Learning their mothers’ native tongue

Taiwan Panorama pointed out one reason why many children of immigrant mothers perform poorly at school is that their home environments might not be as supportive of their education. Their mothers do not understand Chinese and are busy working all day long, and the fathers likewise do not offer much support. Often, it is the illiterate grandmothers who spend all day with the children. Under such circumstances, it is no surprise it becomes hard to supervise and support their schoolwork.

Ho said that immigrant mothers also understand that education is their children’s only path to advancing in society, but their husbands are not willing to take on any more responsibility by monitoring their children’s education. Consequently, it’s essential that children participate in supplementary instruction after regular school. Furthermore, government and school support ought to be extended to help immigrant spouses in their daily lives via language study, skills development courses, career guidance, and even marriage and family counseling. It also helps the development of children of immigrants to learn their mothers’ native tongue.

Su noted that if the mother’s language is valued, the mother’s status within the family will rise. She believes this will be the most direct effect of these classes. In the long-term, language is a part of the mother’s culture. If children of immigrants can pick up the torch of their Southeast Asian culture and language, it will also have a positive impact on their personal development and self esteem. In the future they will become the much-needed bilingual talent for expanding trade with ASEAN countries and increasing tourism.

Tsai Shun-jou, JADWER director, said that Taiwan society has long held prejudices against Southeast Asian cultures and languages. Quite a few immigrant mothers and their children, when they find that strangers and in-laws do not value their heritage, simply give it up. Yet if children are to inherit their mother’s language, it will depend on the mothers and children communicating through the inherited language in their daily lives. Mothers must be courageous and secure in their status, and school must foster an atmosphere that encourages multilingualism, reported Taiwan Panorama.

High foreign spouse divorce rate causes concern

On average, a Taiwanese couple divorced every ten minutes in 2012. Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan said recently that the rising divorce rate is a common problem in all developed countries. However, in breaking down the statistics, the United Daily News reported that the reason for Taiwan’s high divorce differs from other countries, due to the fact that large numbers of foreign spouses have issues in adapting to their new environment.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, there were 55,980 couples who divorced in 2012, an average of over 150 couples per day or a couple every ten minutes. Among the divorced couples, one in four is from a multinational marriage.

Minister Lee pointed out that the high divorce rate is a serious issue; however, there are no simple solutions to cure the problem. He said that the Ministry of the Interior will enhance social welfare, as well as provide marriage counseling courses for new immigrants to integrate into Taiwanese society as soon as possible.

According to the United Daily News, the Garden of Hope Foundation CEO Chi Hui-jung said that for foreign spouses from Southeast Asia and mainland China, it is not unusual for Taiwanese men to pay money to marry these women without developing any foundation of love. Both sides have big differences in cultural background and in their expectations, resulting in a failed marriage.

Chi said that the Taiwanese men, who marry women from Southeast Asia, are mostly from the middle to lower classes, who expect their wives to be obedient, take care of the housework and bear children. While these foreign spouses arrive in Taiwan expect a better life, only to find that their husbands are not as economically well-heeled as they expected. This expectation gap, coupled with differences in eating habits, religion, and language, are added stresses to the marriage.

According to Professor Yang Shu-chu of Chiayi University, despite cultural differences, marriages between Taiwanese husbands and foreign spouses are still manageable if they are built on a foundation of love. However, if they met via a marriage agency without building a deep understanding of each other, or if they become mired in an atmosphere of increasing distrust, their marriage will be even more difficult to maintain.

Yang said that many Taiwanese men isolate their foreign spouses at home for fear that they might meet new friends or run away after adjusting to their new community. Instead of being home bound, it is better to let them go out to attend adult schools or vocational institutes, allowing them to make new friends, and learn something new, which all contributes to a positive effect on family communication and child rearing. In addition, encouraging their children to learn the language of their mother’s native country will instill a sense of belonging in their wives, thereby promoting marital harmony, reported the United Daily News.


Not just coffee, Okogreen also sells social justice

Located on Tongshan Street, the shortest street in Taipei, Okogreen is the first Taiwanese company certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organization International (FLO). Hsu Wen-yen and Yu Wan-ju, the husband and wife co-founders of Okogreen, told Global Views monthly that their shop is not just selling coffee, but also ideals. “I am not running a business for the sake of business, but also to solve social problems,” said the 40-year-old Hsu.

Non-fair trade coffee keeps small time farmers in poverty

Drinking a cup of coffee is such a simple daily ritual, but few people know that with a sip, they drink the combined efforts of millions of small coffee farmers.

Coffee is the second largest commodity worldwide, after petroleum, with prices set by the futures market and in the hands of multinational companies. The whole process, from growing coffee to selling it to the end consumer, is filled with unfairness and injustice. Globally, “unfair coffee” keeps 2.5 million small coffee farmers living under the poverty line, often unable to feed themselves, provide clean water or send their children to school.

With the experience of almost 20 years in social movements, Hsu learned about how fair trade can change the market system while studying at the Graduate School of Environmental Science and Society at the University of Essex, United Kingdom. In order to realize his dream, Hsu launched a business intending to better people’s lives in 2007.

Earning FLO certification

Different from traditional businesses, Okogreen combines business with social justice. Every pack of coffee beans or every cup of coffee they sell is 100 percent in compliance with FLO certification and deemed fair trade.

The process of attaining FLO certification includes purchasing their beans directly from producers or cooperatives also certified by the FLO. By purchasing directly from farmers, they are free from traders and middlemen. This set-up, coupled with the FLO regulations of minimum purchase prices, safeguards small farmers from being exploited.

Hsu told Global Views that “small coffee farmers can benefit more from fair trade transactions.” As an example, the current minimum purchase price of coffee is US$1.60 per pound. However the non-fair trade coffee market prices range from US$0.80 to US$1.00 per pound. It was even lower in 2000, when the price fell to US$0.50 per pound.

Hsu has visited coffee farmers in Peru, and what impressed him most was that the farmland was originally cultivated for coca, the source plant for cocaine. The Peruvian farmers used to grow coca because coffee prices were too low. But with the FLO keeping prices higher, coca farms have disappeared. After 20 years working with the FLO, the drug gangs have finally gone.

Yu, who used to work in marketing and public relations, recalled it took almost a year for them to be certified by the FLO, since no company ever applied in Chinese. So the FLO had to tailor a set of rules for Okogreen.

Fair Trade champions

The initial funding of NT$3.5 million (US$112,000) to start Okogreen was raised with the help of several friends. Before FLO certification was attained, Hsu was unemployed. They survived on Yu’s monthly wage. “At that time, it was difficult for us to afford a meal of NT$80 (US$2.70),” Yu said. Then came the good news that Okogreen had been certified by the FLO.

Though, the business is not without other hardships. Now, they educate their customers daily on what fair trade means and travel abroad to meet coffee growers in remote countries. Although it might seem romantic from the outside, it was anything but.

Yu remembers their trip to Sri Lanka. After they landed in the largest city, Colombo, they were surprised to see few people in the streets outside the airport. Later they found out they just missed a huge explosion there. Then at gunpoint in Peru, they were asked by the police to pay bribes in order to clear Peruvian customs.

Nevertheless, they were not daunted by these challenges. It is imperative to do the right thing, emphasized Yu. She was invited to introduce the promotion of fair trade in Taiwan at a FLO conference in Asia. It is one thing she never tires of doing.

After delivering the speech, a gray haired European man approached Yu, saying “you are so young.” The gentleman was happy that a younger generation has joined the ranks working with fair trade. His positive feedback bolstered her confidence about Okogreen’s purpose, knowing that she did not champion fair trade in vain.

Just the start of Taiwan’s fair trade journey

In order to run a socially responsible business, creative marketing is more important than running a regular business. Okogreen once developed a strategy of no price fixing, that is, customers decided what they wanted to pay at the counter. There was once a guy who paid NT$1,500 (US$50) for a cup of coffee.

According to Global Views, there are 38 Taiwanese companies adopting fair trade coffee, including Google’s Taiwan office. In the UK, where fair trade prevails, at least 5,000 colleges and universities only sell fair trade coffee. This fair trade campus phenomenon is being adopted in Taiwan too. With the promotion of Okogreen, National Taiwan University was the first to adopt a fair trade campus, with four other schools to follow suit.

Okogreen has an annual revenue of NT$6 million (US$200,000), just breaking even. Hsu and Yu do not take a salary. “We survive on what we earn from delivering speeches and writing articles,” said Hsu happily, adding that it violates the spirit of a social business if earnings are put into the pockets of shareholders.

Okogreen has successfully created a business model where social justice can go hand in hand with commercial profits. There are many such companies promoting public welfare in the world, but in Taiwan, it is only just getting started, reported Global Views.

Taiwan’s Miniwiz promotes recycled waste for building materials

You probably have never heard of Arthur Huang, but maybe you have heard of his creation EcoArk, the main exhibition hall at the Taipei International Flora Exposition. EcoArk, a nine-story green structure built using 1.5 Polli-Brick was a resounding hit upon its unveiling and has since earned many top international prizes in the green building arena. Huang and the company he founded, Miniwiz, are now internationally known to be on the forefront of creating stellar installations made from recycled materials.

Given his reputation, his projects are now closely followed by the international press and designers. EcoArk’s creation was featured in an hour-long documentary by National Geographic. Last year, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg awarded him the coveted New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Venture Fellow and this year, his Feather Pavilion won the 2013 International Design Excellence Awards® (IDEA).

In an area where environmentally friendly buildings can be tagged onto a building simply using solar panels or built using energy efficient green materials, Huang goes much further. He is a purist and insists on using materials made of 100 percent waste. Case in point is the Nike Flyknit Collective, the Feather Pavilion was designed and constructed using 100% recycled materials. By using recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, Huang developed a material with similar strength, firmness and flexibility.

Born in Taiwan, Huang left to study in the United States at 11. Back then, he was the stereotypical Asian nerd, with overly large glasses dominating his face and high water pants. His gentle geekiness did not make him very popular. Although scholastically strong, he was physically lacking. Cognizant of his image, he shed his glasses and started exercising daily.

At 18, he entered Cornell University to study architecture and became drawn to environmental protection. After obtaining a Masters of architecture degree from Harvard University, he launched his Miniwiz business in New York City.

Upon returning to Taiwan, Miniwiz built a cooperative relationship with Nike. In building the Feather Pavilion, he used Polli-Bricks and yarn extracted from PET bottles that Nike also used in its closely woven sneakers. This public space would win the distinguished Gold prize from the Industrial Designers Society of America this year, and now permanently displayed in Shanghai.

Today, Miniwiz has an annual business of NT$300 million (US$10 million), of which foreign customers account for over 50 percent. Taiwanese customers are still not comfortable with the higher expense tagged onto building materials from recycled wastes, so Miniwiz is more popular outside of Taiwan.

Roan Ching-yueh, a Taiwanese architect and writer, told Commonwealth that Huang has challenged the current frame of the world. He continues to break the stereotypes imposed upon him in by race, culture and industry. “He has a vision. If Taiwan can’t take advantage of his vision, I would feel sorry for Taiwan,” Roan said.

Trust index places families, doctors, teachers top

As Taiwan becomes more populated and increases its level of international engagement, one might expect the leading moral and ethical issues governing trust to decrease, but that apparently is not the case. Since 2001, the Ethical Promotion Association has conducted a bi-annual survey of social confidence in an effort to gauge the level of trust among Taiwanese people, with the results indicating an upsurge in trust.

In the 2001 survey, 34 percent of respondents said they trusted the “majority of people in society.” While this year’s survey indicates that this has increased to 64.5 percent.

In ethnic Chinese societies, more importance is generally paid to relationship dynamics of the so-called five ethics: father to son, brothers, husband to wife, friends and between a king and his subjects. Of lesser importance is the relationships between individuals and unknown strangers, which is considered the sixth ethic or public morality.

Teng Pei-yu, secretary general of the Ethical Promotion Association, believes that Taiwanese people have made much progress in society. Foreign observers have the impression that Taiwanese people are willing to help, are kind and warm. This has been reinforced by following recent natural disasters in China and Japan, when Taiwan’s people were very generous with their donations and in showing their concerns for the welfare of these neighboring countries.

With regards to the degree of trust conferred on certain people in Taiwanese society, the survey showed that family members ranked consistently at the top for the last six surveys, while doctors and teachers come in second and third.

Government officials and legislators are the least trustworthy, followed by real estate agents and financial advisors respectively. The last two have only recently been added in this survey.

In a cross analysis of people’s political tendencies, plus a comparison of previous surveys, regardless of political affiliation, trust in government officials has dropped three to four percent on average.

Despite ranking officials having come in lower on the trust index, the confidence placed in ordinary civil servants has risen year to year, now coming in as the fifth most trusted people. This was likely influenced by improved customer service training at the local level, generating a positive impression from survey respondents.

According to Global Views, the internet was also included in this year’s survey, with those surveyed expressing a high level of mistrust in the internet. Specifically, 87.8 percent of citizens are suspicious of dating or social networking sites, 75.8 percent do not trust the messages circulating on the internet, 59.5 percent do not have confidence in credit payments and monetary transactions via websites, and 49.6 percent do not trust internet purchases.

As for the media, the public expressed more confidence in print media, and more doubts about the trustworthiness of television. In fact, 45.1 percent do not trust news coverage on TV, compared with the survey results from 2001, showing that the confidence rate has dropped by 18.3 percent.

Sun Chen, former chairman of the Ethical Promotion Association, said in an analysis that the level of trust in a society is a “social asset.” With long observation of Taiwanese ethical changes, Sun concluded the “relationship between parents and children is now (in Taiwan) not so close as before, but the relationship between individuals and social groups has improved somewhat,” reported Global Views.

Increased triathlon enthusiasts bolster Taiwan’s fitness industry

The growing popularity of triathlons (swimming, cycling and running) in Taiwan has made this form of exercise big business.

On April 20, the Dajia Riverside Park in Taipei was packed with thousands of people taking part in a running event co-sponsored by National Geographic and the Taipei City government. Despite a light drizzle ahead of the start of the tournament at dusk, the enthusiasm of its 6,000 participants did not waiver.

On the same day, ASICS, a sports equipment company, sponsored a running tournament in Wulai on the outskirts of Taipei, while the Asian Triathlon Confederation (ASTC) also held its Asian Cup in Tainan (southern Taiwan) featuring over a thousand participants.

The cabinet-level Sports Affairs Council (SAC) urges people to adopt the 3-3-3 principle, which refers to the recommendation to take part in exercise at least three times a week, lasting 30 minutes per session, and reaching a heartbeat of 130 per minute during the exercise. People following this rule make up 30 percent of the island’s total population; meaning over 7.43 million Taiwanese are doing exercise regularly.

Commonwealth monthly reported that individuals doing regular exercise spend NT$4,050 (US$135) on exercise per year. Given this estimate, the fitness industry has the opportunity to generate at least NT$30 billion-worth (US$1 billion) of business in Taiwan this year.

According to the SAC report, the total income generated from sports-related industries reached NT$300 billion (US$10 billion) in 2012. Chen Hua-heng, secretary general of the Chinese-Taipei Road Running Association, estimates that if all the big and small events are counted, the number of marathons held each year in Taiwan would total at least 500, with 1.5 million participants. This figure represents a five-fold increase in the space of just five years. In the past, there was about one triathlon a year in Taiwan, now there are over a dozen a year.

Commonweath reported that Massa Lai, owner of Fun Triathlon and a graduate of the Taipei Physical Education College, decided to start his business in 2009 catering to the needs of triathlon enthusiasts. Initially, he thought of charging people by offering professional training and instruction. Now he promotes sales through service. The most popular items sold at his store are clothing and running shoes.

Over the last four years, Lai has also sponsored 10 two-week long triathlon boot camps. Places always fill up immediately after a new camp is announced. His business income jumped from NT$20,000 (US$666) per month to almost NT$400,000 (US$13,333) monthly, growing 20 times in four years.

Chen Wei-ying, public relations manager with Nike (Taiwan) observed that the age of runners has fallen, and that the number of female runners has grown exponentially in recent years, according to Commonwealth.

Taiwanese runners used to be dads jogging around the park in their under shirts and short pants. The situation has changed in recent years. Now Nike promotes many running clubs with professional coaches.

When such activities were first held in Taipei five years ago, there were only 30 attendees. Now these classes are fully booked every time, with almost 200 people showing up. Businesses are very fond of sponsoring such events because of the potential to raise the company’s profile and generate additional sales. Fubon Financial, Super Supao, and ASICS are just some of the companies that have benefitted from this type of sponsorship, Chen Hua-heng told Commonwealth.

The net result is that the more companies that get involved in promoting an increasingly diverse range of sports, the greater the business opportunities that are generated. According to Nike’s Chen Wei-ying, runners today are not just asking for technology and functionality in sports’ products, they also look for comfort and fashion.

Consumers want lighter sneakers and high-end functional clothing. Nike introduced a watch with a GPS function, recording a jogger’s running statistics and immediately uploading this to social networking sites. The watch was so popular that it sold out within a month, even with a price tag of US$100 to US$130.

The big question is: will the sports and fitness industry be transformed from merely a casual hobby into a strong profitable industry in Taiwan? Ultimately, it will come down to whether sports enthusiasts are willing to pay the professional fees of greater participation, and whether the industry as a whole is able to come up with a more complete business strategy, noted Commonwealth.