Shanghai Rendezvous is an interview series for women entrepreneurs of Shanghai. And for this week, we’ll focus on the social entrepreneurship in China.
Social entrepreneurship is slowly changing China for the better. Social enterprises like Taicang Inclusion Factory are creating a massive impact on the society.
Taicang Inclusion Factory is an industrial workshop which gives employment opportunities to people with intellectual and mental disabilities.
To tell us more about Taicang and its services, we talked to Marina, an active part of the organization.
Can you tell us more about the organization you are working for?
I am a Job Coach at the Taicang Inclusion Factory. It’s the first industrial workshop in China to provide meaningful employment to people with intellectual and mental disabilities.
Understanding that there are no real employment solutions for people with intellectual and mental disabilities in China, the TRT (Taicang Round Table – a joint venture of 50 German companies) decided to establish a dignified respectful working environment for people with disabilities, helping them to become respectful members of China’s society and economy.
Our customers are foreign, mainly German automotive companies. We focus on two types of services. One, different assembly tasks using specially designed fixtures and machines. The second one is the configuration of custom-made wire harnesses, which is our specialty.
The Inclusion Factory is more than just a workplace, it is a place of love. We love coming here every day, love our workmates, love the homelike feeling that exists in every corner. We are a big family! I am biased, but it is still true.
We currently employ 17 wonderful individuals. As we constantly see the tremendous change in their life, our biggest goal besides employing more and more employees is multiplying our concept China-wide. By doing so, many more people could integrate into our society, could be part of a group, a team, a place.
What made you decide to start this adventure in China?
I worked with children and adults with special needs for several years in Israel and in the United States. One of my dreams was and still is to help people with disabilities to find a meaningful, respectful and dignified employment.
I couldn’t imagine that this will come true in China. In 2014, I received a scholarship to study Chinese language at Renmin University. I arrived in Beijing with Nadav, my husband, who also worked in the special education field for many years.
He started looking for a job and found an ad which said that there will be a factory for people with disabilities opening in Beijing. We were really excited, but after a phone interview, we discovered it is in Beijing street in Taicang and not in Beijing city.
Despite the distance, it sounded too good to be true. Nadav went for the interview, saw the place, fell in love and stayed. I joined 3 months later.
It is a privilege to be a part of such an important cause and organization. Now we are doing something that we really couldn’t imagine we can do in China.
What’s the impact you expect to have on the society and/ or environment thanks to your work?
The real impact I expect is first of all change the misconception which exists in the society regarding people with disabilities. Secondly to have more and more employment and independent living solutions for people with disabilities; which will contribute to the acceptance of people with disabilities into the society. And by that allowing them to participate in it actively in different aspects of life, like any other human being.
Do you have a background in high-impact organizations? What is the path that led you to work for a positive change?
I think the impact organizations have is a matter of point of view. I have never worked for big organizations. I’ve been part of small organizations which contribute to making social perception change and advocate for pluralism and diversity.
What key momentums made you take this direction in your career?
I think this direction actually chose me and not the other way around.
During my military service, we had soldier volunteers with special needs. One of them, a soldier with Down Syndrome, volunteered in the clinic where I served as an army medic.
After I finished my service, I applied to work as a counselor in Camp Huntington. It’s a summer camp for children and adults with special needs. It was the place in which I got to know the world of people with disabilities, and the much needed and important part they have in our society.
After working at this summer camp for two summers, I came back to Israel and wanted to study special education. But then for some reason, I decided to study East Asian studies and Chinese. At the same time, I was working in a kindergarten for children with special needs.
After graduation, I opened my own education centre for teaching English and Chinese language. Some of my students were children with learning disabilities, ADHD, cerebral palsy, etc.
Every time I changed my career direction I still somehow found myself attracted to and involved in the special education field.
Life is interesting and unexpected as now I have the opportunity to combine my major with my passion. It has really surpassed my wildest dreams!
What’s the greatest challenge you have to deal with in your work or as a changemaker?
The biggest challenge is definitely the lack of awareness in the local society. Lack of knowledge leads to fear of the unfamiliar.
Most people have never seen a person with intellectual disability, not even on TV. So imagine going to companies and offering our services – high-quality work which is performed by people with disabilities.
It takes effort but after the customers see our factory, our high-quality tools and custom-made machinery we work with, they understand that we are a supplier like any other, but with better end-results and added value.
However, it is not only our potential customers that we are aiming at. It is also the person on the street. It is very challenging to convince them that our employees are people who can and want to be productive members of their families, community, workforce etc. Maybe they are a bit different and unique, but aren’t we all? Or at least we wish to be?
For you, what’s the biggest change that the world needs today?
I think the biggest change the world needs is being more accepting and tolerant towards the different, towards the “other”.
In Hebrew, we have a saying “the other is me”. And it is true, we are more alike than different. We should start seeing the society as a whole, see ourselves as a part of something bigger and valuable. This will allow us to create a much more tolerant and inclusive society.
We are all human beings. We all wish to be healthy and happy, so why does skin color, sexual orientation, intellectual ability, religion or any other difference set us – human beings apart?
We need to be united, to be able to enjoy, appreciate and learn from the differences. That’s what makes this journey so interesting.
What’s the one thing that makes you really optimistic and keeps you going every day?
The change that I see in our employees. Their smiles, their ability to open up to the world, to make friends, to help their families morally and financially.
The love I feel for all our guys and the ability to be a part of a place which contributes not only to make a change in their lives, but also in a much broader sense, to the change in the mindset of the local society.
Which person or project has been or is a great source of inspiration in your job or in your life?
Camp Huntington in High Falls, NY. It’s a great source of inspiration due to their major contribution to the life quality and to the development of the talents, abilities, and aspirations of people of difference.
Diakoniewerk in upper Austria is an amazing organization which focuses on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the society. They also work on improving the lives of elderly people and provide living and education solutions for refugees.
They operate sheltered factories, housing, therapy centres, community living, and integrative workplaces. They develop computer-aided communication for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. And they do all of these in the most innovative, groundbreaking and inspiring way. They are constantly striving for improvement and development of the existing. They are our role model for the future development of our workshop.
Do you have someone you would like to connect with us to be one of our next inspiring changemakers?
- Shanghai young bakers – an organization which provides free high-quality professional training in French bakery and pastry to underprivileged Chinese youth.
- Amity Foundation – Nanjing based organization, which among other wonderful things operates a bakery which employs individuals with Down syndrome.
Companies like Taicang Inclusion Factory are making social entrepreneurship in China more vibrant and meaningful. Because of their passion, creativity, and hunger for change, the future is definitely brighter.
This article was originally written by Pauline, founder of Feiy.co
Feiy.co is the first China-based international platform that connects and inspires a new generation of social dreamers. It’s a hub for high-impact initiatives to share their initiatives, events, and jobs.
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