The Sightless Social Entrepreneur

China
By:: 
Zhang Xintian

[Simplified Chinese | 简体中文]

Feeling frustrated with not able to use smart phones, Cao Jun (himself visually challenged) decided to develop an app to bridge the gap between the blind and those who can see. In 2008, he established his very own social enterprise Beijing Bao yi InteractiveThe app they developed, Bao yi Yue ting (‘a delight to hear’) allows the visually challenged to interact with their smart phones through a gesture detecting system and audio guidance. It now has 200,000 users. And Cao Jun's social enterprise has more than 40 employees, of which 28 are blind. 

Here, he tells us about his life as a sightless social entrepreneur.

Cao Jun is the founder of Beijing Baoyi Interactive

Cao Jun, Founder of Bao yi YueTing.

What was it like when you first set about to create Bao yi Yueting?

There were many difficulties indeed! In the beginning, it was such a struggle to find a programmer who was willing to take up the challenge to develop apps for us. After being refused by 17 programmers, we finally convinced one programmer who reluctantly agreed.

When we started our office, our blind employees always bumped into each other! Realising that most of us couldn’t see, we rearranged the office to make it more blind friendly.

They also found it difficult to commute between their homes and the office. Instead of providing accommodation for them, I thought it was better for them to get used to the environment in Beijing. We arrange sighted people to guide new blind employees to navigate around. They soon remember the route and with time they come to the office independently.

During work, the mainstream customer relationship management  (CRM) operating system did not suit the needs of the visually challenged. Our programmers developed a new audio-based CRM system so that we can work more efficiently.

How is life as a visually challenged social entrepreneur? What’s your typical day?

After getting up at around 7:30am, I read the news first, especially the technology-related ones.  I have simple breakfast at random street stalls. Then my wife drives me to work. I usually arrive at 9am while the rest come in at 9:30am. At work, my focus is product design. As a sightless person, I am able to provide in-depth feedback after testing our own apps. It is indeed challenging for programmers to develop apps to meet our needs. So sometimes, I have our programmers blindfolded to experience life as a blind person. When they see that their efforts could make a real difference to the life of the visually challenged, they are even more motivated. Another part of my job is marketing and sales, mostly media relations. Half of the time I am not in the office. I participate in activities as diverse as public speaking, documentary filming and business meetings – all which help in business development. I also hope my presence in many of the public activities helps bring awareness to the physically challenged population. At noon, we use our own app to order take-aways. During lunch, we gather and chat about the customers we’ve talked to.

My working hours end at 6:30pm, although I usually leave the office at 7 or 8pm. After dinner, I spend two hours writing business-related documents. At around 10pm, I read again, mostly the articles shared by some of the Chinese Internet gurus, to get a sense of the latest trends.My day ends at around 1 to 1:30am.

Congratulations on wining the DBS Foundation grant! What are you plans for the future of Bao yi Interactive?

We will focus on the education for the visually challenged children next. The education for the visually challenged is very limited in China, especially for the children in the countryside. An online education app will solve the problem by providing a platform for the visually challenged children regardless of their location. The DBS grant will be used to develop this app. The will provide over 10 thousand hours of audio-based books, including textbooks and fairy tales.

This app is more than an educational tool. It also empowers the blind children to use smart phones and Internet just like the rest. From there, they are free to explore the world. With over 200 thousand users currently, we have a strong sense of responsibility. We have to continue

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Beijing Bao Yi Interactive has been recently awarded the DBS Foundation grant which has supported over 100 social enterprises in Asia with grant funding through its annually administered Social Enterprise Grant Programme. 

 

保益科技:盲人的科技之光

今天这个信息时代,手机已经成为我们与世界联接不可或缺的工具。可是,你有没有想过,对于盲人来说,手机却是可望而不可及的。目前,中国有一千三百万盲人。曹军也是其中的一员。

作为一个盲人,不能跟上时代的步伐使用手机曾经困扰着曹军。他希望通过自己的努力让盲人和普通人一样自由交流,享受手机和网络带来的便利。于是, 在2008年,他创建了属于自己的社会企业,保益互动有限公司。

现在,曹军的社会企业有超过四十名员工,其中二十八位为盲人。他所开发的手机应用程序“保益悦听”让盲人通过手势控制和语音播放使用手机。这个程序已经吸引了20万用户。保益互动的实力受到了星展基金会的认可,刚刚荣获种子基金。而保益互动的下一个目标,是用这部分资金研发应用程序来解决盲人小朋友的教育问题。

曹先生虽然是一位让人敬佩的社会企业家,但他仍然很谦虚。他说自己的成功和动力源于自己作为一位盲人的生活经历,“所以我最理解盲人的需求。”

我们有幸和曹先生进行了一场对话,他与我们分享了当初团队经历过的困难,他的社会企业家生活,和如何利用星展种子基金来实现他的下一个创新计划。

 

您能和我们分享一下团队经历过的困难吗?您又是如何克服这些困难的呢?

困难确实是不少啊!刚开始,找到愿意和我们一同研发应用程序的程序员都是个不小的难题。在找到第十八个程序员的时候,才遇到第一个愿意和我们一同尝试的人。

创办公司初期,盲人员工经常在办公室撞到一块儿,因为大家看不见嘛。所以我们重新整理安排办公室,尽量做到真正的“无障碍”。

盲人员工上下班又是个困难。我想,与其为他们提供住所,不如让大家真正适应环境。于是,我们为新员工安排明眼人带路。不久,他们就能自己来公司了。

工作的时候,普通的客户关系管理软件无法满足盲人的操作需求。于是,我们自己的团队设计了有语音支持的管理系统,更加符合盲人的使用习惯。

 

作为盲人社会企业家,您的生活是什么样的呢?您的一天是怎样度过的呢?

在七点起床之后,我做的第一件事就是读新闻,尤其是科技类的讯息,来了解最新的动向,和大家最近都对什么事情感兴趣。

我的早餐就随便在街上解决。之后,我的爱人会开车送我去上班。正式的工作九点半开始,但我会在九点到达办公室。

我的工作重点是产品设计。我们盲人团队自己测验产品,并且将使用经验回馈给我们的程序员。当然,为盲人设计应用非常具有挑战性。所以有时候,我会让程序遮住眼睛,体验一下盲人的生活。这样的切身体验能够让他们体会到自己的努力能够为盲人的生活带来多大的改变。

我的工作还包括市场营销,有很多与媒体打交道的机会。有一半的时间我都不在办公室。我参加很多不同的活动,包括演讲,参与纪录片的拍摄,和商业洽谈。其中很多活动并没有商业效益,但我希望自己能传播一些“正能量”,让大家有机会接触到残疾人群体。

中午的时候,我们就用自己的手机应用叫外卖,然后一边吃午餐一边聊天。

正式的工作在六点半就结束了,但我通常待到七八点,经常是因为中途的活动打断了我的行程。如果没有完成文档和测试,就得做完。

晚餐之后,我会花两个小时写文档。在十点左右,我开始阅读,通常是一些网络大家分享的文章。

我一天在一点或者一点半的时候就结束了。

 

祝贺您获得星展基金会种子基金!您准备如何运用这笔资金呢?

我们的下一个发展方向是盲人儿童的教育。中国的盲人教育并不完善,尤其是在偏远山村的孩子,很难获取知识。

我们会将星展基金会种子基金投入到教育应用软件的研发中去,让盲人孩子无论身处何处,只要有手机,就能得到应有的教育。这个应用程序将提供超过一万小时的语音书籍,包括教材和童话故事。

这个应用软件提供的不只是教育,更是一个让盲人孩子能和普通孩子站在同一起跑线的机会。盲人孩子能够通过它,掌握使用手机和网络的方法,从这里开始,自由的探索知识和信息的海洋。

“千里之行,始于足下”,老子的名言正是曹军这位盲人社会企业家的真实写照。从最初想要让盲人用上手机的简单想法,到今天不断改进的针对盲人使用的应用程序,曹先生已经走了很远。他说:“现在我们有二十万用户,我们有使命感和责任,不能倒闭,只能继续。”

我们相信,有了星展基金会的种子基金的支持,保益互动将通过科技为盲人孩子带来触手可及的知识,为更多的盲人朋友带来光明。

 

 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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