Could you tell us about yourself and how you got involved in the social and solidarity economy?I received my Ph.D. degree in political science at Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany. My Ph.D. research was about the development of civil society and how it relates to regime change. After that, I came back to Taiwan and joined the Humanity Innovation and Social Practice (HISP) project sponsored by National Science and Technology Council. The HISP project is conducted by action research and aims at encouraging universities to work with local communities to respond to challenges they face in local society and development. This project provided me with opportunities to look and explore the diversity of local societies about their particularities and challenges in-depth, which made me rethink about the issues of local development.
The HISP project includes one project office and four or five university teams who work together for three year terms. Each team is cross-disciplinary in nature and includes by professors, postdoctoral researchers and research assistants. I served as a postdoctoral researcher in the project office and in charge of project communication and coordination by visiting and discussing with involved members. I also organized co-learning activities, such as workshops, conferences, and field visits. My task was to facilitate collaboration among different university-teams and different stakeholders involved in the HISP project.
In 2015, the project office organized a conference of university social praxis and invited Prof. Marie J. Bouchard to visit Taiwan. Prof. Bouchard gave a very inspiring keynote speech, “Social Innovation and Partnership Research. Experience from the Quebec Social and Solidarity Economy “, to Taiwan’s academic community and audiences. Moreover, during her stay in Taiwan, she visited each HISP university-team’s fields to know their projects and exchange ideas and thoughts with team members and community partners. These field trips inspired all project members and community partners to think about how to support social and solidarity economy initiatives at local level based on local needs and assets.
When you work in a university-team work with local communities, economic development is inevitably a priority concern. During these visits and discussions, we have found that there are some traditional values and ways of exchange in our communities that are quite similar to the ideas of the SSE. This provided us as the university team members with opportunities to translate some SSE ideas and methods into local context and understanding. Our idea was that community partners’ local knowledge and skills can localize these SSE ideas and become many small and workable projects. This was our vision for the community-university partnership to do something conducive to local economy but alternative to mainstream economy. I believe the SSE is an inspiring approach to envision and practice an economy that can facilitate solidarity among different groups of people while also taking into account environmental sustainability.
Could you tell us a bit about your research and advocacy work on the SSE?My Ph.D. research is about the development of civil society and how it relates to regime change. Thus, civil society that I observed was mainly at the national level and to some extent ignored the diversity of local societies. When I joined the HISP project, I have chance to explore in-depth the diversity of local societies.
The working logic of civil society differs from the state institutions or private sector enterprises. It is especially important to maintain continuous dialogue among different groups and interests within civil society. In recent years, social responsibility is highly upheld in Taiwanese universities. Therefore many universities conduct community engagements. This trend brings both opportunities and challenges for universities to redefine their missions and research agendas. The HISP project is one of the pilot projects to encouraging university-community partnership research.
One of my research interests is how to build conducive conditions for developing the social and solidarity economy at the local level. In line with the policy trend, I am interested in what roles can universities play in building constructive conditions for developing the social and solidarity economy in Taiwan when they serve as new actors in civil society. There are two concepts especially helpful for me to think about this research question, namely “democratizing economy” and “democratizing governance”. These two concepts are the basic map for me to think about and initiate social innovation projects.
Taiwan has democratized since the late 1980s. However, political democratization does not necessarily lead to democratization of the economy. Local societal development is usually subordinate to the principle of continuous national economic growth and local actors have little chance to practice their own economic models. In this context, how do local communities gradually liberate from domination of top-down political and market power and develop alternative ways of life and economy? This is one of the important questions that I seek to answer and the SSE approach provides me with many insightful perspectives. During my work with the HISP project, my main research concern is: Confronted by the domination of state power and market power, how can civil society sustain autonomy and facilitate a just society? In line with this larger research question, my working questions are:
- How does a university team form partnership with local communities?
- From the perspective of democratizing the economy, how does a university-community partnership reframe local economy based on community-assets to pursue an alternative model of development?
- From the perspective of democratizing governance, how does a university team facilitate communication between different groups of people in community and transform community demands into public deliberations?
Currently, I am an assistant professor in Ocean Tourism Management at National Taiwan Ocean University. My future research will focus on gender equality and the SSE. I would like to discuss the characteristics of women in Taiwan and how their informal economic contributions can be viewed as potential to initiate the SSE. Which kinds of flexible mechanism do they build to fit their multi-roles in work, family and community?
What are the reasons you think that the SSE is relevant to the Taiwanese context?During conducting HISP projects, we did lots of in-depth interviews and fieldwork in each field. We have found there are some traditional values, practices, and customs in rural or indigenous communities with an emphasis on sharing, reciprocity, mutual help, and care. These values and practices resonate to the SSE and serve as an important bridge to link the theories and practices of the SSE into Taiwanese context. Thus, the SSE is not entirely new in Taiwan and it has been undervalued for a long time. We have some good foundation of practicing the SSE, but currently they are covered by the mainstream economy. When we think about local development, we need to reframe the economy and the framework of diverse economy suggested by Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities is especially helpful for us to communicate these ideas with the community using the tools and figures in that book. We organized several study groups to read and discuss Take Back the Economy with team members and community partners to rethink and revise our projects. These fruitful discussions also encouraged me to translate Take Back the Economy into Mandarin in order to make more people in Taiwan know the ideas of and how to practice the SSE. The Mandarin version of Take Back the Economy was published in 2021 in Taiwan.
What is your research network on social innovation in Taiwan? How does it work for networking and promoting the SSE to the public?When conducting the HISP project, I worked closely with postdoctoral researchers and research assistants from each university-team. They were responsible for building and maintaining relationships with local communities and initiating social innovation projects with community partners. Thus, we all gained some knowledge and experiences of practicing the SSE during the HISP project. Some of the postdoctoral researchers, including myself, received a formal position in university. We continue our enthusiasm for doing research on and supporting the development of the SSE by including it in our teaching courses and university community engagement projects. In addition, we also worked with the SSE practitioners for research, policy advocacy and cooperative education. There are several workshops and conferences related to the SSE but in different terms regularly organized every year. The term of the SSE is still unfamiliar for the public and the government.
Currently given the policy trends emphasizing the SDGs and regional revitalization, we think it is a good opportunity for us to introduce the SSE to the students and the public in a systematic way. We plan to do this by publishing books and articles on the SSE, providing knowledge and tools of the SSE, and initiating a small SSE project together based on common need. These experiences also need further research and analyses, provision of feedback on practices and theories and doing policy-advocacy. We also hope to have more chances to exchange on these experiences and research findings with international SSE communities, including scholars, practitioners, policy analysts and NGOs and so on.