• Have you met with Alex Hannant already?

  • Yeah, and I just published it on YouTube.

  • Cool. Alex is a board member of B Lab Australia as well, so Australia-New Zealand, and then Mele-Ane’s the chairman for B Lab Australia and New Zealand, so they work with each other. [laughs]

  • That’s great. We were just going through the slides. Thanks for providing slides. We made copious annotations on it, and it’s been very fruitful.

  • Great. That’s wonderful.

  • Thank you for arranging the conversation. Let’s start a new page. How can I help you?

  • I had a chance to share with them what you do, and what you did before coming to the office, and what you’re doing right now with the benefit corporation, and to drive transparency and digital within the government.

  • We’re just all very keen to learn what you’re bringing to the government, and what kind of changes that’s happening. They’ll each have different kind of questions about what you do, and then later, Mele-Ane will stay with you to do an interview for the magazine in Australia.

  • I read the briefing. It’s a very interesting magazine. Cool.

  • It would be wonderful if you can share with us what you discover when you come into the office, and what initiative that you’re trying to drive.

  • I went into the cabinet last October, so it’s almost a year now, as a conservative anarchist.

  • (laughter)

  • It’s actually very unusual, because I went into the government in a working relationship with the Premier, with the Prime Minister, saying that I would continue doing whatever I was already doing. It’s just now it’s full time instead of part time, and that I will not take commands, nor will I give commands.

  • I basically enter as an independent person, and still maintain this kind of way working here. For example, this office as well as another space on the third floor in this building, called a Public Digital Innovation Space, is literally a space, not a minister’s office. In a minister’s office, you have minions, underlings, staffs...

  • (laughter)

  • ...taking orders from minister, but that’s because the digital minister, there is no digital ministry. It’s a minister without portfolio. While we do have around 20 or more people now working in PDIS. Everything is in PDIS, the TW, everything that we do here.

  • Although there are folks in this space, they’re autonomous in the sense that I don’t give any of them commands and that we meet every Monday to have lunch together and to post on a comment board, which you actually passed through. The paper board with a lot of Post-It notes of whatever people want to work on this particular week, and then we just volunteer to do things.

  • If there are things that needs to be done where nobody volunteered for it and I end up doing it myself.

  • (laughter)

  • It’s a traditionally autonomous kind of organization. Which historically doesn’t really scale very well, but now we have a lot of information technology tools that we’re introducing here.

  • We ended up localizing and introducing folks onto the Sandstorm productivity suite, which -- Sandstorm -- which roughly speaking is what you would expect from the Microsoft Office 365 or Google apps, or whatever.

  • It’s all free, as in freedom software. It’s also audited independently by our Cybersecurity Department so that all the government people, if they have an email address ending in gov.tw, they can automatically get an account, and not just using the apps that we curated but they could also write and upload their own apps, because it’s all Sandbox.

  • It’s a app ecosystem internally in the enterprise, which includes all the share document and spreadsheet and whatever. We try to scale our way of working, not just with the PDIS people, but also to all the different ministries.

  • There’s 32 ministries in the central government here, and we ask each of them to appoint one person -- now maybe two or three per ministry now. There are 40 people now called participation officers or POs.

  • The PO network are literally a network, because they’re networked together through shared chat rooms, shared working boards, and things like that while belonging still to their respective ministries.

  • It’s a virtual horizontal network. Each of them, regardless of where they worked with or their original rank, now reports directly to their ministry CIO, that is just the deputy minister. This basically is the outer ring of PDIS.

  • They work together in a cross-ministerial way, for people proposing petitions, for example, or any other way to participate or engage the parliament, the POs worked reliably as a network to resolve...

  • For example, just last Friday, we had 5,000 people petitioning, saying Facebook is now full of advertisement that are AI-generated, perhaps, with AI checkbox, playing customer service.

  • When people try to order from those advertisements, and they pay on delivery, they often order an iPhone, but get sent a brick or something like that. There’s a lot of scam going on, because just like in the earlier email scam days, it’s costless to post those advertisements now.

  • Facebook allows for everything to tailor-made and select people who are prone to this kind of advertisement and so on. It’s a multi-pronged problem that needs to be solved both at importing, which is Ministry of Finance, and also the advertisement, and also the delivery, and also all the different stages of those things.

  • We have representative POs of each ministry taking over the parts that are considered their ministries, and we hold a five-hour collaborative meeting with the stakeholders, that is just with people doing the deliver, with people organizing those self-help groups on Facebook, and so on.

  • We do that every week. This is now like the eleventeenth or the eighteenth time that we’re doing this now. We tackle one cross-ministerial issue every week. It may be national. It may be regional. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s cross-ministerial, we do it this way. This is the PO network. There are the larger outer network, the social enterprises.

  • I’m also working with the Youth Council members, which are people 35 years old or younger, and they are also in an official capacity here to advise and also prepares radical new ideas, like universal basic income.

  • Their proposals gets reviewed quarterly by the Premier and also work with the POs in every ministries to evaluate the viability of the ideas and their concerns.

  • That’s the general picture of how I’m working here, so feel free to ask me any questions.

  • These concerns to any social enterprise, not only like technology or/and other stuff?

  • Yeah, this whole way of doing what we call a multi-stakeholder policy-making, I use this to apply to digital economy issues, which is a collaborative project built with the g0v movement.

  • It’s called the vTaiwan process, where we use machine learning to get at people’s inputs and visualize everybody’s sentiments around things like Uber, and get people to converge, instead of diverge, over about three weeks’ time, into a set of general agreements online.

  • Then we use those agenda to talk with the stakeholders, the taxi companies, Uber, and all the different ministries, and work out consensus items. We can then translate them to legalese.

  • That’s how we solved the Uber problem. Here, they are now legal, operating under a set of regulations that are collaboratively determined by stakeholders.

  • We’re basically taking this process and seeing that it did only apply traditional accounting issues, because the stakeholders are assumed to have online additional literacy and capability. If you can call an Uber, of course you can use a phone.

  • In social enterprise, it’s not like that. Every people working on social innovation have a very different way. We’re now bringing this process to the people, not asking people to come to our websites.

  • We’re holding, for example, office hours starting October, every Wednesday now, we just go to a community center, the social innovation lab here in the Taiwan Air Force ground, to have an office hour. Basically, anyone working on social innovation can just come to me and talk to me, and I will make sure that the relevant ministry is on board to solve their issues or to listen to the ideas.

  • We’re not just doing this in Taipei, but we’re also organizing biweekly visits to all the regional centers -- to the middle Taiwan, to the Southern Taiwan, to the Eastern, and to the Yun-Jia region. Basically, meeting the communities at their grounds with their local networkers.

  • I bring with me seven or eight different ministries. Each have something to do with social enterprise, but not all. It used to be that local social innovators would ask problems or questions to their local agencies, but each agency takes forever to travel the bureaucracy.

  • By bringing this kind of cross-ministerial network, where a subset of it, maybe nine of them, to each of those SE meeting, it is a learning study group-like thing where each ministry answers the part they can answer, but every other minister also listen in to the answer and contribute as they can.

  • Everybody gradually builds a collective understanding of how their business in the ministry actually interacts with the social enterprise sector. We also learn, first, that every different regional cities have very different social issue to solve, and hence different social enterprises.

  • Also, that each enterprise, working in different regions, have something in common. We can also do the peer network of people doing the same thing, but feeling very lonely because they are doing the only person doing that in their region.

  • It not only networks the ministries, but also the networks the SEs across the different regions in Taiwan. We’re also now experimenting teleconferencing, like this kind of projection that brings two rooms together so that we can bring two regions face-to-face in this kind of meetings.

  • That’s a very long answer to this simple question.

  • Do you mind if I take photos while we’re speaking?

  • Not at all. Go ahead.

  • Develop a brand new dialogue with the different stakeholders.

  • That’s right. Here is one of the working schema that I usually use to explain it. Sorry for the Chinese, but I hope the emoji helps. [laughs]

  • One of the things of social enterprise is about definition. Whenever people ask me what is social enterprise, I would answer saying this is about an innovative link between the society, and the trade, and the enterprise world.

  • They may focus on solidarity, on governance. The link may focus on ecology, on SDGs related to environment. It may focus on any of these missions, but as long as it engages with the society and the enterprise in some way, we recognize it as social enterprise.

  • This keeps the tribes from fragmenting, because if you over-focus on any of those dimensions, then people focusing on innovating towards a different solidarity model, like the co-ops people, or people working on the ecology-friendly farming, and things like that will say, "OK, maybe I’m excluded."

  • The point is saying whatever their innovation is, the social innovations, by increasing governance accountability, improves the enterprise awareness in general. Then the enterprise, like taking care of the environment and responsibilities, improves the society, in general. Whatever innovation direction you’re heading, you’re part of this social innovation ecosystem.

  • Can you talk to us about the benefit company work? How does the benefit company fit into this?

  • The benefit company is a legal framework. As you can understand, I use the camp for enterprise because it’s really a large camp. In Taiwan, of course, we have NPOs, we have co-ops, and then we have companies.

  • Of the companies, of course we have different sets of companies. One of the company forms that the vTaiwan process, the digital economy, deliberation helped establishing was the so-called closely held companies, which is like Delaware companies.

  • It basically says that the limited amount of shareholders, maybe 50 people or less, get to determine how they would want to run the company. They are exempt from many of the company law clauses that restricts how it should be run.

  • For a closely held company, the charter outlining the formation of the company does not need to be disclosed publicly. When a closely held company says, "I align my mission to one of the social innovations," of course the shareholders know it, but not anybody else.

  • That is a problem, because whether you’re a closely held company or not, you’re ultimately governed by the company law, and then how the company is chartered.

  • If this part is not transparent or accountable, then you can end up advertising a lot of social purpose, or mission, or whatever, but without an independent auditing, there really is no way to hold this kind of company to account, other than becoming their shareholder. That’s not a scalable way.

  • As part of the company law reform, which we’re aiming to propose in the next session of the legislation, we’re now changing the Company Act to do two very key things. One is the first clause of the Company Act, saying a company exists to earn profit for its shareholders, which is very unusual. You don’t find that in many company laws.

  • We’re relaxing that. We’re saying, in addition to this, you can also tackle of any of these things. It’s also permitted, too, without getting sued by your shareholders. That’s the first clause.

  • Then we’re getting on the transparency clause, basically saying if you want to advertise yourself with a fixed social mission, or whatever, there’s better a way for you to register it electronically, to publish it publicly, and then for people to independently audit.

  • Therefore, the Ministry of Economic Affairs needs to hold the company into account if it’s not actually how the company is chartered, because the MOEA, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, is the registry. It can’t really fake a registry there. If you allow them to advertise on their own website, there really is no legal repercussions.

  • People are already declaring this on their own website. We’re saying now the MOEA has to hold them into account and maintain a registry for doing so.

  • Exactly how the MOEA’s doing this may not be spelled out in the Act, but through a follow-up act or regulation. That needs to be passed after the Company Act is passed. That’s where we’re at.

  • With the profit motive, the first part that he’s talking about, are you trying to relax that for all companies, or just creating a new corporate forum where it’s relaxed more?

  • That’s a great question. We look at how other nations and countries are doing this. One way is to add a thing that it can take care of constituents that’s not necessarily shareholders. The other way is to say it can fulfill a social responsibility or environmental responsibility as part of its company mission. There’s many different ways to phrase that clause.

  • I think we ended up being very inclusive, saying all the companies, while they seek profit as part of their mission, they may also fulfill their responsibility to the environment or the society. That’s the more broad way we ended up doing.

  • It’s not a different class of companies. It applies to everyone.

  • Right, but if a company says, "I exist to fulfill a certain social mission," and declare that in the founding documents of the company, then we need to have a way for them to publish it for people to hold them to account. That’s the idea.

  • It’s slightly different from the US.

  • It’s great, because you stop greenwashing or whatever.

  • It’s also more inclusive that it’s clear that all companies can be both profit and conscious, meaning...

  • Can contribute to social responsibility. It’s just that for some company that are not social enterprises, they may consider doing this only when they are profitable, right? When next year, they are not profitable, they may stop doing this.

  • But if they publicize that mission, they may not stop.

  • Of course. We’re hoping that.

  • Exactly. Good move. Is it going to pass, that you believe so?

  • It depends on the Legislative Yuan, of course. Taiwan’s constitution has the administration proposing this entire law modification, but for the legislation to deliberate it line by line. Many times, during the legislation, they can keep the clause, but change the key wordings and so on. I really don’t know at this moment.

  • Just throw it into the middle and see what happens?

  • Yeah. I think because particularly these different clauses has been widely discussed, and also with participation from legislators from various parties. [laughs] I think they have a better understanding of this landscape now.

  • Whether they agree with this particular wording is, of course, up to the legislators, but I think everybody recognized this is something beneficial.

  • I don’t want to take up too much else of your time. You also have an interview with Mele-Ane as well, but do you guys have anything that you like to ask?

  • What kind of the impact it will be having in this market once the new corporate law is enforced?

  • First, there will be a more assurance in the sense that if a company does declare publicly its mission, it is locked into its mission. There will be investors specifically aiming to invest these companies even though maybe they’re returning slower, but it ends up doing more good. That’s the first thing.

  • The other thing is that the government itself is an investor. We also have a National Development Council investment fund that’s created specifically to encourage social enterprises. Even though the return may be slow, we still recycle the funds so that it can invest more social enterprise in the future.

  • This is basically creating a way for the government, basically saying if you can find a certain amount of investment, then we can do a matching fund, or we can do any of those leverages that are amplifying this fund that is coming out of taxpayers’ money.

  • We are also growing as a sector or defining the sector in this kind of way, whereas before it is largely depending on the individual investor’s criteria, because there really is no certain way to be assured that this enterprise...There is, but they’re all very costly.

  • What we’re doing is basically simplifying the cost of doing due diligence of what the company’s social mission is, and how it’s been performing.

  • What do you expect the consumer behave that once this social business is expanding into Taiwan?

  • I think 60% of consumers at this point, according to a survey, already is willing to pay extra if they know that the brand is a social enterprise, and the profit is going to a specific social mission.

  • Now, I expect this rate to be even higher if they can be even more assured that this is not just a marketing slang, marketing trend, or a marketing invention, and that this is not just about green washing or social washing. This is about people having the technology to see the transactions that their money is going toward.

  • I think one of the things in Taiwan is that we have a lot of interest in the public audit, in not just government spending, but also NGO spending and things like that. I expect this data-driven trend to continue to the social enterprise sector, so people can also hold all the social enterprises to the same standard or even better standard than the NGOs or the governments not engaging in trading.

  • I think this will create an awareness where the consumer instead of boycotting certain brands, actively selecting certain brands.

  • To what extent are you hoping that this will be a model for other Asian governments?

  • Not at all. [laughs]

  • (laughter)

  • I am joking. At some point, I think -- I was just talking with Alex Hannant -- in addition to the SDGs, which is what everybody is talking about nowadays, we’re also identifying the ways that we’re doing policymaking toward the cooperative economy.

  • Which is not strictly speaking a SDG, it’s more like solidarity movement, and also indigenous people relations. How do we present this, not as a semi-colonized idea to indigenous people, but to learn from their worldview, their own interpretation of this kind of link between the society and -- maybe foreign to their culture -- enterprises?

  • I think it is very important that we can carry those kind of bilateral learnings in this way, but I wouldn’t say that this is something that is necessarily specific to Asia, or that it necessarily really scales to all of Asia. I think this really depends on the specific issues that we discovered that we’re both tackling, and we’ll grow a very fruitful relationship out of.

  • I think my colleagues have asked the...

  • I just have a burning question here, because I saw your first chart describing the whole model. You put there a youth council to advise. I cannot leave the room without saying that I work with seniors, how we can integrate them in society.

  • Not only fulfilling their needs, but how they can fulfill society’s needs. We are preparing them on how they can help the sustainable development goals in particular ways. Have you wondered on having senior councils?

  • Yeah. There’s a cost to perform that, the senior councils, the indigenous ones, and also children, which are not strictly speaking youth council. Respectively, they require very different modes of engagement.

  • Because I start in the digital economy, like almost offline only monthly or bimonthly, but online all the time kind of engagement. It scales very easily to the youth councilors, but with difficulty to the children or the elderly people.

  • Which is why I am now working with the PDIS people and social enterprises to adapt this process first to the regional social enterprises. We already proved that this technology scales vertically very well, meaning that when thousands or tens of thousands of people participate, it still produce useful results.

  • We’ve not yet proven that it scales out well. That is to say, when six different cities deliberate together, they still produce something useful to all the different cities, not just locally. I think we’re going to solve or attempt to solve this first, which will take a couple years, before we then take this to the seniors and to children.

  • One of our active research with virtual reality was to talk, for example, with children on their local issues, but from their perspective. Like taking a building, a park, or whatever, but wearing the VR, and entering this virtual world in the height of a child.

  • I personally had dialogue with six children all around K-12, some of them primary schoolers and some of them high schoolers, but in their height. They don’t see me as an adult minister, but one of their peers, which you can’t really do physically. It has to go through intermediation.

  • We’re actively exploring that. Also, as an animal rights activist, I also want people to look at the streets from the angle of cats and dogs. All these will take technology, and many of them will have to wait until mixed reality technology gets cheap enough so we can readily step into each other’s shoes, which is, I think, coming in two years or so.

  • By that time, I think we can engage much more fruitfully and more usefully to different age groups.

  • I’ll be happy through Corey to share what we are doing. We are engaging more than 7,000 elders to them to improve education, to them to improve climate change and how. I would be glad to show you this.

  • I would be very happy to take a look.

  • I just need advice. [laughs] For I am working on climate change, and we’re having difficulty finding software programmers, front end programmers. We’ve been trying to tackle that. I think that applies to a lot of social enterprise as well, that we’re trying to utilize software to get into it.

  • What would be a way for, because this kind of resource, it is available in Taiwan, but it’s just difficult to...

  • Come to the hackathon.

  • (laughter)

  • It’s in the same place where I have my office hour. It’s the Taiwan Air Force round. It’s, I think, one of the coming Saturdays. It’s 200 people. There’s still 100 slots. Come to the hackathon.

  • There will be, roughly speaking, maybe 50 active programmers, maybe 30-ish designers, but with many other people being just like you, are working on climate change, working on different kind of social issues and things like that.

  • This is an unconference, being there is no agenda. There’s just people pitching their solutions or the problems that they’re looking to solve. People wear badges outlining their expertise. Then there’s open space technology where people still like to go into corners of the project they’re interested in, and just start hacking away.

  • This happens every two months, and it’s been five years. So, you’ve come to the right thing.

  • (laughter)

  • Thank you very much, Audrey. It’s a great pleasure, and an open experience for me, that we are pulling from all the different units. I’m just looking forward to be in their journeys...

  • [laughs] I’ll leave you guys. I’ll leave you guys for the interviews, yeah. Thank you.