進階影片跟讀#12: How social enterprises are tackling the profit problem


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Last Sunday we explored the rise of the social enterprise, a new type of company that blends business with charity. But even though Taiwan's social enterprise sector is active and growing, new initiatives go bust all the time. Many social enterprises find it hard to balance their social mission with the imperatives of making a profit. However, through a combination of luck, and trial and error, some start-ups have found ways to thrive. Today, in part 2 of our Sunday special report, we find out how.

This corrugated-steel rooftop addition is crowded with secondhand clothing. A musty smell fills the dusty air. It’s not a glamorous office space, but it holds out exciting possibilities to the people who work here. In 2010, its doors were abruptly shut when government funding ran out.

Liu Hsiu-jung
Founder of The Carpenter’s House
We do sell secondhand goods after all, and all our employees are either old or disabled, so their workload is not massive. We gathered our team together and said, the government is not going to take care of us, and when if this ends, then it is over. Someone said, “Without this place, I wouldn’t be able to work.” So then we reached a consensus that we needed to fight for this place to live.

At the time, The Carpenter’s House had 12 full-time employees. Its budget was stretched thin by the cost of wages, water, electricity, and rent, which was about to go up.

Liu Hsiu-jung
Founder of The Carpenter’s House
In 2014, there were several months in which we could not pay their wages. We told them, everyone who needs to should go find another job. If a chance at a new job comes up, take it. Not one of our partners chose to leave. They all said that it was fine and that they would wait for their wages. They would continue to work hard with us.

Liu and her friends threw themselves into developing new streams of revenue. Some did fundraising. Others worked on attracting a bigger customer base.

The association’s carpentry workshop devised a way to add value to the store catalogue.

Hsu Hsiao-ting
The Carpenter’s House team member
The secondhand shop receives donations of furniture, and only about a third of it is ready for sale after a simple wipe-down. Another third needs to be repaired, and the last third is irreparable. All the wood you see here was recycled from that furniture. There’s no waste. With some ingenuity, the carpenter can create all this.

Tang Shu-chin
This elk-themed cup rack – I drew the design myself. I did the sketch, made my own model and molds, and then put it all together.

Taking old wood and fashioning it into new products for sale helped bring The Carpenter's House back on track. Many customers were drawn into the shop by its one-of-a-kind reclaimed wood furniture.

The team also found a way to add value to the store’s secondhand clothes – by presenting them in ready-to-wear styles.

Lee Ya-li
Taiwanese like jeans. The good ones we put up for sale at the secondhand shop. The ones with deformities or pills or other damage are all thrown out. Later I began to think about how to reuse secondhand clothes that are thrown out, so that we really can realize the goal of zero waste.

Designer Lee Ya-li salvages what materials she can from spoiled secondhand clothing. She pieces them together to make bags and even entirely new garments. With a bit of creativity, the value of the fabric can jump threefold in an instant.

Lee Ya-li
Right now, we have a healthy stream of orders. We are still getting orders from the government to this day. Every week, we get new orders for clothing.

Meanwhile, fundraising efforts brought in hundreds of thousands of Taiwan dollars, solving The Carpenter House’s payroll problems. The association also got a helping hand from a kind property owner who offered a workspace free of charge. Slowly but surely, the team began to turn a profit.

Similarly, Cheng Hui-ju’s restaurant had found itself on the brink of bankruptcy.

Cheng Hui-ju
When we started out at this scenic area, business at our ramen restaurant was very good. Our landlord saw that business was good and wanted to raise the rent. Later, the landlord went ahead and rolled down our steel doors and cut off our water and power. We could no longer do business. At that time, it was a tremendous blow to us.

Cheng and her husband, Yang Po-yu, had a large debt from financing their business. The couple set up shop in their home, having their staff make simple baked goods and selling them over the internet. This went on for several months, until two of Yang’s acquaintances offered to fund the business. Using that money, the couple reopened their restaurant on a bustling street and renewed their dream of building a social enterprise.

Many social enterprises stumble because their funding and other resources are limited. Unlike ordinary enterprises, most social enterprises can’t spend much on marketing. They can’t make decisions based purely on profit, and they can’t recruit talent with high salaries. The ones that have remained solvent say that the key to survival is courage and perseverance.

Liu Hsiu-jung
Founder of The Carpenter’s House
Our employees love to say, “I used to be someone other people helped, but now I help others.”

Cheng Hui-ju
We are only doing what it is our hearts tell us to do.

For these entrepreneurs, government recognition isn’t the Holy Grail for their business. Instead they’re content with keeping their doors open to society and working with purpose to make money while doing good.

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Source article: https://englishnews.ftv.com.tw/read.aspx?sno=7EEB093A3E5C90BB5FC0783085C0E197




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