I am passionate about social innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, coworking, learning, creativity, the future of everything and development and changes happening in China, I write about them to capture and share my thoughts. Your comments and feedback are highly appreciated ;)
The Short Story about me
Learn to dance in the rain!
I have been working as a social entrepreneur for a decade. I started the first coworking space in China – Xindanwei, with the ambition to mingle people from different disciplines in China, and the curiosity to see what they would come up with by challenging each other and working together. My entrepreneurial journey began with my strong belief that co-creation is the most exciting and effective way to solve the most complex problems in the world and my drive to make it happen in China.
In 2013, I graduated from THNK founding class and started Ask Lab and Loving the Crowd because I came to realize that the desire of co-creation among the community I serve was already there and people were looking for tools, talents, methodologies, mentorship, channels and funding to make the co-creation work for them, I decided to close the coworking space and set up new initiatives to fully focus on the cultivation and facilitation of learning, co-creation and accelerating great people and great projects.
In September 2014, I was invited to work as the co-founder and chief curator of China Australian Millennium project, aka, CAMP, a 100 day part-time incubator program including (12-week online plus the 5 day Summit in Sydney), designed to train, mentor and empower emerging young Australian and Chinese leaders and entrepreneurs to first collaborate online and then unite in Sydney to tackle 20 most important societal challenges faced by both nations.
Next to my endeavor at CAMP and a few other social ventures, I also work with top executives learning organizations such as Duke CE, WDHB and Thnk and provide co-creation, experiential learning and innovation training solutions to a number of multinational, government agencies and social enterprises to help individual and business with an increased capacity for creative problem solving and an understanding of innovation processes. My clients include Audi, British government, Kempinski, Schneider Electric, Carrefour, Standard bank, Google, L'Oreal, BP, Wipro, Nudge Foundation and Transist.
In August 2016, I moved to Singapore with my family. The transition has provided me a different dimension and plenty of headspace to reflect on the work I have been doing and how I could focus even more on my personal value and creating positive impact to the world with the best of my strengths.
My new year's resolution for 2017 is to build the first prototype for the empathy-based learning program and toolkits for organisations and individuals and test it. Meanwhile, I am volunteering at BoP Hub to create strategies on how to catalyse cross-sector collaboration and strengthen participation in social entrepreneurship to "Transform Poverty into a Vibrant Marketplace at the Base of Pyramid".
My super power is being resilient to changes and able to find a sense of belonging almost everywhere. :) Because:
" Once we realize the change is the norm of our life, the best thing we could do is to be grounded like a tree, build our inner clarity and confidence, open up to anything unknown, tune in, and learn to dance in the rain!"
What I believe in
Through empathy, we can move mountains
We are dealing with a world that is changing rapidly. I believe that complex problem in our society can only be solved through collaborative efforts. And everyone can be part of the solutions once they have great level of empathy and are empowered with creative tools.
On the inter-personal side, empathy simply makes us happier. It not only helps to forge and navigate relationships in family, work and community; It is the foundation for good communication, teamwork, strong leadership and a more resilient culture; And it also provides opportunity for creativity and innovation, which begins with inclusivity and diversity of thought and attitude: the opposite of conformity and standardisation.
In a time of super connectivity and rapid change, empathy also allows us to connect with our inner self in the deep level and "embrace courageously every problem and challenge with the gift of not knowing.” Not knowing used to be something to be ashamed of or even a taboo, but it has turned to become the most normal thing in our workplace in the future while the knowledge is being updated with the speed of light. While the problems we are facing are becoming super complex, to turn your fear of not knowing into curiosity and the openness to work with others enables us to work through a problem without being limited to an assumed answer or limited resources. We don’t take a “no” for “no”, we ask “Why not?” and “What if?” to envision the new possibility and a better future.
"Our world is full of complex challenges, where the decision of one person can have ripple effects through communities and cultures. Empathy gives us the will and the tools to be effective change-makers. Today’s complex challenges cannot be solved by one person or one organization. Empathy motivates us to build something better together and helps us do so with imagination and respect—guided by a deep understanding for the people and the world around us. ( ASHOKA and StartEmpathy.org, 2015 )"
What keeps me busy right now
This is my new startup with the other cofounder of CAMP - Vivien Sung. At this moment we are still going through the ideation phase to come up learning programs or tools facing general public as well as supporting corporate and school learning. The basic idea is to
match entrepreneur, maker, corporate executives, students with nonprofit organizations with related missions. Through these partnerships, nonprofit organisations receive not only idea’s and funding, but also increased awareness and visibility. We design tools and process for people to gain empathy and insights by visiting and immerse in the environment of the users the selected non-profit is serving; and we facilitate them to come up with ideas and build something for this audience.
In a nutshell, our product/service is to provide processes and tools to enable people to increase their empathetic capacity and gain insights for idea generation. The empathy-building models are inspired by the 6 habits of Empathetic People by Roman Krznaric and StartEmpathy toolkits developed by ASHOKA.
Here is our manifesto:
"We live intellectually, morally and physically in the present. We value the wellness of our own as well as others. We accept the dynamic fact that the human community and the planet are interdependent and a whole, that humankind is essentially one. We are mindful about co-existence and we celebrate diversity, both in daily life and contacts with others. We make this world a better place to live in harmoniously by studying and respecting the viewpoints of others from any cultures or disciplines in the world. Mutual trust is basic to our lifestyle."
Transforming Poverty into a Vibrant Marketplace at the Base of Pyramid
At the BoP convention in Sep 2016, I met the organiser and long time friend Jack Sim. Aside being a legendary humanitarian who started the World Toilet Organization, he is envisioning a new future: a future with more abundant opportunity for different sectors to collaborate and co-create product and services for the poor. Since then, I started to work as a volunteer to give professional support to his new initiative BoP hub and some of the amazing projects such as School of Gumption - a school that transforms every student into a Social Entrepreneur with a registered and funded social business which is sustainable with powerful social impact, by unleashing their inner resource and creating an ecosystem of holistic support for each.
Dhamma Learning and being mindful
A few years ago, I joined a two-day-meditation retreat guided by Ajahn Jayasaro, one of the most respected monks and meditation teachers in Thailand. I was awed and deeply inspired by the Dhamma talk given by Ajahn Jayasaro, who has become the guide and teacher of my Dhamma learning ever since. Buddism provides me different ways of living my life and comprehensive tools to grow and cultivate my inner peace, compassion and love for the world. I have become a better leader, entrepreneur, facilitator, mother, friend and citizen because of the clarity and inner strength I have forged through meditation, daily mindfulness and dhamma learning.
Companies I have founded and Projects I am most proud of
XINDANWEI: A NEW WAY OF WORKING
Listed as FastCompany’s “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in China”, Xindanwei was the first and the most multidisciplinary coworking community and one of the most important grass-root creative centers in China. We mingle, catalyze and support creative leaders, startups and innovators locally and around the world. We create community workspaces, accelerate serendipity, facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration, showcase and co-develop new models and projects with world-changing potential.
Xindanwei combines the best elements of a workspace (productive, functional) with a social media platform (hybrid, real-time, efficient) and a creative hub (social, energetic, creative). This gives people their own workspace in a community, while also providing opportunities to share knowledge and get inspired face-to-face and succeed through collaboration with other members.
Ask Lab Challenge
In April 2013, I founded Ask Lab as, a social enterprise deeply rooted in a community of change agents large and small who believe that co-creation empowered by open culture and technology may be the most powerful and profitable way to improve global sustainability, economic prosperity and human well being.
Ask Lab Challenge helps large organisations create value by innovating with startups. We catalyze new business opportunities and innovation solutions for business and industry through Ask Lab co-creation and learning programs participated by startups, talents and innovation resources inside and outside of the organisations.
By bringing these two parties together, Ask Lab Challenge provides great talents access to inspiring business challenges and business gains access to a vast amount of talents. Ask Lab Challenge ignites that infectious energy and come up with new thoughts and actions, everyone can benefit from conscious cross-pollination of idea’s and insights by remaining open to entirely different disciplines and sectors.
Every Ask Lab Challenge is described and sponsored by a local/global organisation or business who knows about the issue and cares about its solution.
NUDGE SUSTAINABILITY LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: REDUCING THE FOOD WASTAGE
About 90 million tons of food is wasted in Europe annually. Rice, pasta and bread are the most likely to end in the bin. No less than 38% of all rice is thrown away unused in the Netherlands. That takes it to the top of the list of wasted food.
The 5 winners of the Nudge Leadership Challenge 2013, the ‘Best Young Leaders in Sustainability’, won a trip to China with a mission to work on a solution to reduce food wastage in the Netherlands. I am their coach, learning facilitator and guide during the learning journey and mission.
Audi App Jam
In April 2013, I curated Ask Lab's first design challenge - Audi App Jam, a program of interactive workshops intended to stimulate and deepen the design-led and crowd-shared innovation among startup’s in China to help Audi to envision the future of automotive in China. Here is how our partner Audi Tongji Joint Lab says about this project:
"Audi is exploring new ways towards innovation and customer insight. Liu Yan greatly helped us with this. Using elements from crowdsourcing, open innovation and design thinking, their unique open approach made sure we met amazingly talented people from different industries and sectors. They teamed up and were able to build their ideas on top of each other. The energy during the challenge was amazing and very inspiring to us. Many colleagues form all hierarchy levels, including board members, are impressed by the result, so we are currently preparing our next steps." (by Juergen Bauer, the head of Audi Tongji Joint Lab)
Coding for Climate Change
Partnered with Adapting to Climate Change in China (ACCC), I have designed and hosted a startup competition entitled “Coding for Climate Change” on Aug.31 and Sept.1, 2014
The event brings together designers, big-data researchers, and technologist to make an impact towards climate change with technology. Government sponsored researchers are involved to help the entrepreneurs to co-create amazing startups.
Here are the six projects that demoed at the final pitch of this competition: Crazy Baby,Nostalgia,GreenTransportation, Weather Nurse, Grassland Tourism, Farmer Market
A panel of judges including officials from the British and Swiss government, as well as investors focused on social-entrepreneurship granted 100,000 yuan ($16,200) seed-funding to the first two teams, respectively.
Climate change is a problem often ignored by us, but it is indeed a factor closely related to every people’s lives. While most of the events related to this theme are held by governments, “Coding for Climate Change” helps those who are passionate about the subject to distill the massive obstacle of climate change into a personal and solvable challenge.
SMART URBAN MOBILITY IN A HYPERCONNECTED WORLD
What are transit friction points? How can we innovate around connected users?
On August 27, 20114, with the support of Transist, 15 participants from various of industry throughout the ecosystem of connected goods are invited to dive into this world: better understand the friction points in current transit patterns of the goods; explore how the lorry drivers will be loading, unloading, resting and moving around between these spaces in 2025; what disruptive examples are emerging; what this means for your business; and share learnings as experts and peers.
During this workshop, I have partnered with Patrick Leenheers, the co-founder of City Data Institute, a venture with focus on big data and solutions for city livability and urban mobility established by THNK Amsterdam Creative Leadership school, as the keynote to share their recent research findings on the emerging landscape of ‘smart urban mobility’ and the potential for new business opportunities which could be enabled via the capture and processing of complex (‘Big’) data (people + vehicles + infrastructure). This was followed up by an four-hour-action-based workshop facilitated by Patrick and myself, to propose a robust roadmap to material value, and work out the scope of special trials and local partnerships in Shanghai and other regions in China.
DUKE CE: The Retail Executive Program for Standard Bank Talent Journey
Co-designing and delivering an immersive 5 days learning program throughout China for these young bank execs from Africa and the UK
Global Learning Alliance (GLA): Shaping the Business of the Future
Under the guidance and facilitation of Duke Corporate Education and WDHB, 33 top executives from BP, Google, L'Oréal, Schneider Electric, and Wipro engage on a learning Expedition in Chengdu, China during the first week of February 2015. The group will be exploring collaboration, customer centricity and innovation. I am invited to facilitate a design thinking workshop to help the group better understand and practice customer centricity.
CAMP: Build Learning Program to Empower the Young Global Leaders
In Oct 2014, I joined the China Australia Millennial Project (CAMP) as the co-founder and chief curator, being responsible for designing and building every nitty-gritty bit of the 12-week-online CAMP learning program and the CAMP Summit. I was one of master facilitators during the CAMP summit in June 2015. Here I explain the core concepts guiding the CAMP learning experience: peer-to-peer learning, action-based learning, design thinking, self reflection, and cross-cultural problem solving.
There is no receiving without giving
There is no receiving without giving
“We believe nowadays the value of any knowledge can not last and old knowledge can only generate new knowledge through the process of sharing, and that there is no receiving without giving.”
“We also believe good ideas can only be valuable, implemented and expanded upon when shared with others.”
“We hope ‘Coworking Communities’ can actually change our working style in China, along with the way we think and the way we innovate. However, such change can not solely be achieved by ‘Xindanwei’. Hence we hope more and more people and resources will join in the momentum of change.”
These are the sentences I have written at the preface of Coworking Manuel, a book I have written in 2012 in order to help others who are interested in establishing coworking communities, I was hoping more coworking communities will rise up because of this little book, which later became THE inspiration for many coworking pioneers in China and the world including the vibrant Yi-gether space.
Some of the talks and interview I have given.
From Profession to Vision, From Creation to Co-creation
I am invited as the keynote speaker of the innovation mixer event attended by 33 top executives from BP, Google, L'Oréal, Schneider Electric, and Wipro globally to share my personal journey and learning as an innovator and a leader and my insights about innovation in China.
Entrepreneurship in China
Invited by Osher Gunsberg, a one-and-half hour podcast on co-creation, coworking, entrepreneurship in China