Into Countryside, Two Foreign Entrepreneurs Aim to Reform Taiwan’s Youth Education

“I looked into the kids’ shining eyes. Unbelievably, their confidence in themselves increases one day after another,” said David Willson, who has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years. His sincere green eyes were beaming behind the rimless glasses.

Saturday morning, 9 a.m., the Beyonder Times (BT) team met up with the members of Foundation for Talented Youth (FTY) in Touwu, Miaoli County. FTY was founded in Taiwan by David Willson from Australia, and Austin Yoder from the U.S., both of whom have been taking entrepreneurship as their lifelong career. With business experiences ranging from software development to high-end tea, now they are bringing the entrepreneurial thinking to youths in the countryside, assisting them to learn to think independently, work as a team, and carry out their creative ideas.

 

“Give us ten years, we will share entrepreneurial spirits with a million youths.”

 

Why teach youths about entrepreneurship?

In it’s recent coverage, Financial Times reveals that the most popular courses in today’s business schools are those around entrepreneurship, and “learning by doing” has become even more well-received than “the case study discussions popularized a century ago by Harvard Business School”. More importantly, entrepreneurship is not an elite privilege; it creates opportunities for everyone.

According to the International Labour Organisation, in the near future, automation will increase unemployment to upwards of 73 million young people, 90% of them in developing countries. It is also estimated that from 2016 to 2030, there will be 425 million young people in the workforce in need of jobs.

In response to the imminent imbalance between supply and demand in the employment market, David and Austin, who are entrepreneurs themselves, both see entrepreneurship as a path forward, a way for many youths to survive and take control of their own futures.

In 2011, David moved to Taiwan with his family to provide his Korean-Australian son with a Chinese-speaking environment. At the same time, Austin, majored in Chinese in the university, came to Taiwan for study. During the past four years, David and Austin noticed that the younger generation of Taiwan tended to follow orders rather than giving their own opinions. After gaining further insights, they thought the problem might have been caused by the flawed educational system. Ever since they met each other, they have been discussing this issue, and decided to establish FTY in 2014, aiming to reform youth education.

Since August 2014, FTY has been teaching entrepreneurship in Shinchu. As Taiwan’s current educational system is still examination-oriented, and entrepreneurial thinking doesn’t directly relate to the national entrance examination, it is never an easy job to persuade teachers and parents to accept teaching methods other than those helping students prepare for tests. Despite facing challenges along the way, David and Austin always felt it was the “right” thing to do, so persisted.

Luckily, the “right” ideas eventually attracted the right people. With friends’ recommendations, the revenue they earned within a year allowed them to provide entrepreneurship education in countryside schools, the Taipei Juvenile Detention House, other places lacking educational resources, and even other South Asian countries such as Myanmar. Responses from both the authorities and students have been encouraging.

Right after the first lecture in the Detention House, the authority showed interest in further cooperation, hoping that FTY could assist the teenagers to integrate back to the society after they were released, and guide them if they really start their own businesses in the future.

“The students in the Detention House were so eager and engaged. They weren’t afraid to ask questions at all. Even after class was officially finished for the day, they continued to sit around in their groups and work on their entrepreneurial plans. They have an enormous amount of talent, creativity, and potential,” Austin recalled.

Ting, Pei-Ju, Assistant Professor of Department of Business Administration, National Taipei University, is one of the right people. Graduated from Manchester Business School with a PhD degree in Marketing, Prof. Ting now endeavors to reform traditional rote learning methods. Since April this year, she and her assistants started to bring entrepreneurial thinking into the campus, guiding college students to review and re-explore the education they had been receiving. When she first learned about FTY, she was more than exited to find “comrades-in-arms”.

“Both David and Austin are very self-motivated. They never stop learning, and never stop moving towards their goals. We could see this kind of entrepreneurial attitude in Taiwan’s SMEs before as well, but somehow it has been lost gradually within our outmoded educational system. I really hope that people like David and Austin could help us bring back the spirit of entrepreneurship,” said Prof. Ting hopefully.

Having succeeded in their first step, FTY has been recognized by more and more local talents, who also volunteer to play a role in FTY’s lectures. David and Austin now aim to share the entrepreneurial thinking with 1 million youths, within the next ten years.

 

“Give children some time to challenge themselves. Their progress will surprise you.”

 

“We run into situations like this all the time: we ask students ‘what are you passionate about?’

The answer, which usually comes after a long wait, is ‘I don’t know.’

Students are always so focused on preparing for tests, and they are used to finding an answer that is 100% correct from a textbook. They tend to tell us what their parents want them to be when they grow up, not what they personally have passion for.

We listen to them attentively, and tell them we aren’t there to scold them if their answer is ‘wrong’,” Austin smiled and continued, “even if they tell us they are passionate about playing video games or sleeping. Those are great answers, and a great point to begin the process of entrepreneurial exploration.”

During the few days in the Touwu entrepreneurship workshop, the BT team joined FTY members to work with the students, ranging from grade four to the second year of high school. Many of them didn’t have smartphones, never used PowerPoint before, and naturally didn’t know how to propose their own entrepreneurial business ideas.

During the introductory lectures and team discussions, the distracted kids kept playing with each other, messing around instead of focusing. It wasn’t until the time the first presentation was announced that every student in the room really realized they were going to have to present a fully-formed, highly creative idea in front of all of their peers, and parents. The first time the students rehearsed their presentations, they often stammered, fidgeted, and tried to hide behind each other to avoid being the presenter.

After each presentation, however, David gave all of them encouraging feedback, “You’ve done a great job for your first rehearsal. I believe your ideas can sell, but could you make the background story more relatable to consumers?”

Through his guidance, and by going through a process of entrepreneurial discovery, the students have actually learned the concept of marketing.

“Trust me. Give them some time to challenge themselves, and their progress in the final presentation will surprise you,” said David convincingly to the BT team.

David was right.

These kids who had only wanted to have fun, soon learned that the responsibility of teamwork was heavy on their shoulders.

Bringing the judges’ feedback back to their seats, together they reviewed their proposal, practiced their presentation as a team, edited their slides until late night, and came back for more rehearsals.

Were they motivated by the rewards of winning the presentation competition?

Or were they so eager to make their parents feel proud of them in the final presentation?

 

“All of you can be entrepreneurs. You are as brave as any entrepreneur!”

 

We didn’t find the answer, but we were sure about what we witnessed.

The second, third, fourth time the students rehearsed, they stood a little straighter each time. They held the microphone in their hands, even though their hands still shook a little out of nervousness. After much practice until late in the night, the students became well prepared, confident, and even highly persuasive when presenting their business ideas.

“I see that all of you have an entrepreneurial spirit, and can all be entrepreneurs. You are as brave, hard-working, and creative as any entrepreneur!” said Austin firmly to the students.

When taking photos together in the end of the workshop, the students were laughing and causing a ruckus, some climbing up onto David and Austin’s backs. I recalled what Austin told me once before, “moving on from other work that we’ve done in the past and throwing ourselves completely into entrepreneurship education wasn’t something we planned on doing at first.

But, after beginning to work with these amazingly creative young students and seeing them learn something they are passionate about, seeing the way they view the world begin to change, we knew we couldn’t stop.

Every time I get to see someone young become an entrepreneurial thinker, I get a deep sense of hope for the future, and for Taiwan. It’s the most rewarding and meaningful way to spend my time I could possibly imagine.”

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Austin Yoder:

Austin Yoder believes that the best way to create a better world is to empower more people to lead entrepreneurial lives. He founded his first nonprofit at the age of 17, and is currently serves as the Founder of FTY, President of the Georgetown Club of Taiwan, Curator for the Global Shapers Taipei Hub (2015 – 2016), is a member of the United Nations – Global Shapers Joint Global Taskforce on Sustainable Development Goals & Education, and mentors young entrepreneurs from top ranked colleges and graduate programs all over Taiwan through the Epoch Foundation’s outstanding Young Entrepreneurs of the Future program.

David Willson: 

David Willson has always been an entrepreneur at heart, starting at the age of eighteen when he launched his first formal business. David has owned a technology company for more than twenty years, holds six graduate degrees, is a lifetime learner, holds three black belts, was an advisor to the Australian Government on technology entrepreneurship, is Founder of the Foundation for Talented Youth, and mentors young entrepreneurs from top ranked colleges and graduate programs all over Taiwan through the Epoch Foundation’s outstanding Young Entrepreneurs of the Future program.

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