Social enterprises are a new phenomenon in China, but they are helping the poor regain theirdignity. Jiang Xueqing reports from Chengdu and Qionglai in Sichuan province.
Yan Junhui was visiting Wenchuan in Sichuan province in 2008, when she first hit on the ideaof turning traditional Qiang-style embroidery into a prosperous business. However, she hardlyexpected that she would eventually give up her work in the cultural and creative industries tobecome a social entrepreneur.
Yan Junhui, who founded the Employment Help Center for Qiang Women in Aba Tibetan and Qiangautonomous prefecture, displays lifestyle products embroidered by Qiang women from Sichuanprovince.
At the time, Yan had not even heard of social enterprises, businesses that address socialneeds and apply commercial strategies to help those in need rather than simply maximizingshareholder profits. Her ignorance of the subject was excusable, though: It's only recently thata growing number of people involved in NGOs and researchers have realized that socialenterprises can provide more efficient models to solve social problems than traditional nonprofitorganizations.
Yan's life as a social entrepreneur started with the Qiang ethnic group in Sichuan, often knownas "the people above the clouds". By the end of 2010, about 166,000 of them were living in themountains that rise more than 2,000 meters above sea level in the Aba Tibetan and Qiangautonomous prefecture of northwestern Sichuan, and almost every woman aged 40 or olderwas skilled in the art of brightly colored embroidery.
Following the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake in May 2008, Yan founded anindependent nonprofit organization called the Employment Help Center for Qiang Women inAba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture with the help of the One Foundation, aphilanthropic organization established by the movie star Jet Li.
The foundation used its connections to find group-purchase orders while the center hireddesigners to produce patterns that were sent on to the Qiang women to embroider. Thefinished articles were then sent to partner factories for manufacture.
At the beginning, the women could only make low-end products such as wallets for bank cards, but customers rarely complained about the poor quality because they considered theirpurchases acts of charity. However, the lack of quality control meant that 30 percent of thepieces were deemed unsellable and thrown away.
To improve the women's skills, the center opened a training school in 2009. The teachers - usually experts in Qiang-style embroidery - began with the basics, instructing the students towash their hands before work, and gradually progressed to teaching 16 different styles ofneedlework, pattern design and color arrangement. Roughly 10,000 women have been trainedso far, greatly improving the quality of the work and resulting in a dramatic decline in the failurerate, with only around 1 percent of the finished articles now being discarded.
Women from the Qiang ethnic group attend an embroidery workshop in Muti village, Nanbao township inQionglai, Sichuan province. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily