Kindling The Fire Of Hope
In China, Social Enterprise (SE) is an emerging concept though traditionally, agricultural development has always been of paramount importance.
Enter Xingeng Workshop, a social enterprise under Zhu Bingzhao’s leadership which connects both principles of agriculture and enterprise.
Zhu, a Singaporean Chinese has placed efforts offering succor to the less fortunate Chinese communities in innovative ways.
"I enjoy the process of venturing while offering a helping hand; The result doesn’t really matter to me."
- Zhu Bingzhao
Ranging from village handicraft workshops in Henan for HIV positive women, a knitting Studio operated by the disabled in Shanghai, a soap-making workshop for the marginalised, the making of MuMuCoCo organic fertilisers using coffee grounds, to an Ecological Cultural Programme in a village, the ethos of providing sustainable aid, improving living standards and spiritual encouragement are embedded in all these activities.
Zhu mentioned that the initial aim of the organisation was to provide guidance for the ones who were lost in the social challenges of rural areas. He claimed that migrant workers were common in rural areas of China, as many young adults from the villages prefer to earn a living in the urban areas without having any direction in mind. This phenomenon led to loss of interest in engaging in agricultural activities as youngsters were less willing to take on farming-related careers. At a time like this, he realised that arranging various activities and setting up small businesses would provide a perfect opportunity for them to stay on and get comfortable in the countryside.
Moreover, by organising free summer camps for local kids, the curiosity of agricultural life was piqued. Apart from getting to know more about the lives of their dear grandparents, a serendipitous surprise was when their views towards farming had changed. Interactions with farmers made him realise that the experiences shared were not only inspiring but rewarding.
Zhu wished for more focus to be placed on organic farming, by not using chemical agents and promoting food safety. However, old farmers were reluctant to do so and he was almost considered ‘foolish’ to reduce crop yield that way. But the children persuaded and Zhu could sense that the elderly farmers were touched by their genuineness. Soon enough the unwillingness dissolved and the will to maintain a natural environment prevailed. To resolve the financial matter, Zhu understood that merely crop-growing tasks may be of low-profit, but when added with processing and marketing of produce, the value can be enhanced multifold.
Another emphasis of Xingeng Workshop was to enhance self-confidence of the workers who come from low-income families and disabled individuals. These parties face tremendous social pressure struggling to make end meet and also lack any work skills.
Hence, to provide for the ones with special needs, Zhu had a plan. Mentally challenged workers were introduced to the Xingeng social enterprise to work on simple jobs. A young lady, in particular, found working at the SE a natural remedy because her health conditions miraculously stabilised! Being able to earn her own pocket money also meant that the burden on her family was alleviated, and her mom could seek work elsewhere with her daughter now taken good care of.
The idea of social acceptance really depends on one’s attitude, explains Zhu while talking about his work centered on providing stepping-stones towards re-integration, such as teaching beneficiaries on how to greet strangers and explain misconceptions concerning HIV+/AIDs transmission etc.
Also apart from providing job opportunities, he thought that new ‘Lohas ways of farming’ comprising health, eco-friendliness and nature restoration should be taught to farmers. The DBS Foundation provided them with a grant to aid their expansion by bringing more land under this farming. Also the MuMuCoCo scheme of making organic fertiliser using coffee grounds was made possible.
In an interview, after noticing that Zhu himself is a foreigner working in China, he was asked what inspired him to start this work away from home.
"I believe every place has its breath-taking elements and beauty. In terms of my SE work, even my mom sometimes fails to understand the whole concept. It is true that the society needs to know more and do more about this contemporary idea"
"I think helping the ones who are in my living environment allows me to enjoy my life a bit better."
[Photo Courtesy: Xingeng Workshop]
If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.
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