Sunshine Foundation, TaiwanThe Challenge
Aug 31, 2010
The social sector in Taiwan is relatively young, about two – nearing three – decades old. Prior to the 1980s, the Taiwanese government viewed non-profit groups and civil organisations as threats to its authority and imposed great restrictions on the development of civil society. Underground social organisations existed, of course; but it was only with the lifting of martial law in 1987 that the third sector was truly allowed to flourish and grow. Though thousands of socially-motivated groups have emerged since then – with more than 15,000 membership-supported associations and 3,000 endowment-based foundations – many function within the bounds of traditional Taiwanese concepts of public service: that is, fundraising for philanthropic organisations and providing relief to communities affected by natural disasters. Focus as well as a large proportion of funds are directed towards the victims of Taiwan’s occasional earthquakes, leaving the survivors of less-publicised misfortunes – such as burn victims – marginalised and struggling.
The Entrepreneur and Solution
Anticipating this, a group of motivated, public-minded individuals came together to found the non-profit Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation. Through the Sunshine Foundation, they provide support, rehabilitation and employment opportunities to burn victims and people with facial disfigurement, largely by running car wash and gas stations in Taiwan. Since establishing the Foundation in 1981, they have given professional service and support to more than 8,000 of the facially disfigured. In 2009, their client base was 32% burn survivors, 55% oral cancer survivors and 13% people with other causes of facial impairment.
The founding members were inspired to set up the Sunshine Foundation after hearing an episode of a Taiwanese radio show. The radio host Li Win had read selected excerpts from People Who Shun the Sunshine, a book written by burn survivor Shen Xiao-Ya. Xiao-Ya detailed the pain of her burn accident, the challenges of being facially disfigured, and the suffering of unfair treatment from society after the incident. Xiao-Ya urged the public to take action: either to sympathise with burn survivors’ sudden disabilities and provide them with generous benefits, or to treat burn survivors normally and fairly and give them a fighting chance. Sunshine’s founders decided on the latter and from Xiao-Ya’s book derived the Foundation’s name.
Sunshine’s founders hoped to rehabilitate burn survivors, physically, psychologically and socially, doing so through an efficient vocational rehabilitation model. The facially disfigured are trained and employed in the Sunshine Car Wash Centres, so that they may build up their capacities before re-entering the regular job market. They may also take advantage of the range of services offered by Sunshine’s founders, which include physical rehabilitation services, financial aid, short-term housing services and psychological counselling. All employees, disabled or otherwise, receive health, employment and performance benefits, with salaries at or above minimum wage. The Sunshine Foundation has managed to restore a sense of dignity, confidence and independence in their facially impaired clients and Car Wash employees.
In light of the Sunshine Foundation’s overwhelming success, its founders have expanded the Sunshine Car Wash Centres to take on an additional incubator role for disabled aspiring entrepreneurs. Sunshine employees wishing to establish their own businesses will be able to do so under the Sunshine name, accessing business training and resources from the Centres and furthering the enterprising legacy of the founders of the Sunshine Social Welfare.