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Audrey Tang discusses trends in social innovation with NSYSU students


National Sun Yat-sen University established the Institute of Social Innovation last year. Recently, Audrey Tang, the youngest minister without portfolio in Taiwanese history, visited the University to discuss the development trends in social innovation in Taiwan. Over 100 students attended the event and asked questions via an online platform concerning the recent “salmon chaos”, AI development and jobs of the future; Minister Tang answered all of the questions.

The students asked questions concerning recent events: the phenomenon of the popularity of PUI PUI Guinea Pig Cars, pet insurance, and “salmon chaos” – people rushing to change their names to “Salmon” to get free sushi at a popular Japanese chain restaurant in Taiwan. Tang said that “salmon chaos” is a social phenomenon of a swarm of people taking rapid action to achieve what they find new and interesting. However, she suggested that the employer take into consideration the justness of such actions considering the employees, the overall sustainability of the fishing industry, and the sustainable development of the society.

Minister Tang also emphasized that social innovation is a no-brainer for interdisciplinary professionals. “Only by having diversified viewpoints and seeing things in their entirety can one open up a ‘blue ocean’ and advance social innovation,” she said. A student asked whether it is more important to concentrate on interdisciplinary or professional abilities during one’s studies. Tang said that the conservative viewpoint would be to start with professional skills first to then integrate them with other disciplines, but she believes that “we don’t necessarily have to invest in accumulating professional skills first.” She further explained that the growth of the Internet had a great impact on the way we learn. Back in the days, encyclopedias would be written, edited, and published. Now, we have Wikipedia, written, edited, and corrected by users specializing in different fields who can get to know each other in the process and even go on “writing wars”. Tang emphasized that one can gain a professional skill in just as little as 20 hours. Studying one hour per day for less than one month, we can acquire add a new skill to our interdisciplinary abilities. “This is how I learn.”

Regarding NSYSU’s Institute of Social Innovation, Tang said that if NSYSU has a good idea of social innovation, she hopes that it will be spread to the whole Taiwan or even the whole world, and she welcomed the University to use her image. Minister Tang shared her entrepreneurship experience for those who want to establish a social enterprise. She also mentioned that the Higher Education Sprout Project and University's Social Responsibility Practice Project of the Ministry of Education also concern social innovation and that the participating students will not fail.

The government has also spared no efforts in promoting social innovation. Tang also encouraged students with innovative ideas to participate in the Presidential Hackathon and submit proposals with ideas to reach Sustainable Development Goals. Outstanding proposals will be presented as presidential messages to enhance their visibility and facilitate their subsequent launching to realize the ideals of social innovation.

Tang also discussed the role of the government in social innovation. She said that private social innovation groups are important, but it is also important for the government to reinterpret regulations in line with the trends. She gave some examples: if a drone with medicines has to be deployed to an indigenous village, this has to be done via government organisations. If private social innovation initiatives and the government can complement each other, this would bring significant benefits to the promotion of social innovation in Taiwan in the future.

What new professions will appear in 30 years’ time in Taiwan? Minister Tang said that when she was nine, personal computers appeared on the market and then, machines started to replace humans. Now, thirty years later, the work of “computers” – people performing mathematical calculations – was replaced by electronic computers, however, some of the computing work still has to be done by people, just as editing – there are still many visual designers. Tang also said that with the development of technology, people can use their time to brainstorm for creative ideas and develop interdisciplinary abilities. Besides her responsibilities of the minister without portfolio, Tang holds seven job positions overseas and is snowed under work.

Dean of Si Wan College, Professor Dun-Hou Tsai gave an opening speech. He cited the CEO of Tesla Elon Musk and said that “it is not easy for Taiwan to produce electric cars, because there are not enough interdisciplinary and imaginative professionals”. He said that to encourage students to learn across disciplines, NSYSU has not only expanded its Center for General Education into Si Wan College, but also established the Institute for Social Innovation and invited Audrey Tang to give a speech, hoping that her “comprehensive imagination” will inspire NSYSU students to become social innovators of the future.
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