Design For Change

Design For Change

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Carrie Tang - DFC China
Design for Change Global Catalyst

As told to David Wygant

How do you find a person who wants to bring the I CAN spirit to every kid in China?  One that is willing to do their part in reforming the education process at the same time, thereby bringing basic education to the underprivileged kids, and reformation to a system of public examination that creates great pressure and stress.

NOTE:  While on this search, don’t forget that the “dimensions” of China are almost beyond comprehension.  China is a country with a population 1.356 billion, a land area of 9,569,901 square kilometers, the third largest economy in the world behind the USA and EU, and approximately 211 million children attend school, primary through post secondary. 

Answer:  You let them find you.  Indeed, thank our lucky stars that she found herself for us.  

Let me now introduce Carrie Tang.  

Carrie is the Chairperson of the Design For Child Association and Associate Director of Playtao Education.  She publishes a free magazine called DreamMag, and volunteers with Sowergift (to spread seeds of happiness) and “Go Inside Cafe” in Hong Kong (where deaf waiters are hired). Carrie has published two books.  In 2011 she received the ATV Touching Hearts Campaign Award, followed by the Hong Kong Youth Social Entrepreneurs Award in 2013.

Carrie’s first contact with Design for Change (DFC) was at a MAD (Make a Difference) Conference in January of 2012.  Initially, she was interested in what Kiran had to say about Riverside School, but that was soon to change.  

In Carrie’s own words: “Yes, I first heard and met Kiran at the MAD conference in January 2012, but I didn't know anything about DFC. I was just attracted by her concept of Riverside school. At the conference, I didn't chat with her after her talk because of the crowd. However, later, I searched for Riverside School on the internet, and I watched her TED Talk.  At that point, I knew I must spread both her school ideas and DFC in China!”

FEEL - “Think from the heart.”

When I decided to bring DFC to China, several things spoke to me from my heart.  

I’ve always wanted to make a contribution to the birth place (China) of my parents.  We all owe much to our parents and it’s important to give back so that the “chain” isn’t broken.  I also hoped that by catching children in China in the act of doing good I might help change the view of China in other countries.  It is my hope that DFC will help build bridges with the world.  It is also important to me that I fill my life with activities that are consistent with my Christian values.  For me it feels like a “calling.”  

The most important thing is what it does for the children.  DFC builds empathy and teamwork (very weak in China) during the four steps, FEEL-IMAGINE-DO-SHARE.  These are powerful life lessons for the children to learn.

IMAGINE - “Think out of the box.”

From the beginning, using our imaginations has been critical for success.  

In China the education system is very resistant to change.  The children are busy for many hours each day.  It was impossible to add an extra class or find more time at school.  However, because social media is very popular, we used it to reach teachers, social workers and volunteers who in turn brought FEEL-IMAGINE-DO-SHARE to the kids.  Since the DFC program is “open source” and adaptable, we made it work.  It was the virtual world that brought us together.   

The amount of support DFC received from the school authorities depended on the specific cities.  We found that where they might reject a direct approach from us, if we focused on marketing and creating high quality materials, educators and policymakers would approach us instead.  In the end, sometimes there was acceptance and support, and sometimes there wasn’t.  Either way, we just kept moving ahead.  

We “imagined” three steps to help us begin:  First, I designed the DFC China website, and wrote a long “sharing letter” about my feelings toward education.  I wrote that I thought it was important to bring DFC to China.  Second, I published the “sharing letter” in Weibo (which is like Facebook in China) to look for support and connections.  I asked everyone to send me an email, and give me enough support so that I could visit them with a workshop.  Third, I built my core DFC China team.

DO - “Yes we can!”

I always think of “Soup Bowl with a Prayer” when I think of our first story.  It was really called Red Bean Share, and came out of Shanghai.  A bunch of kids thought that if the community would interact more, they would be more loving and caring.  So, they prepared red bean soup and gave it to anyone passing on the street.  When they gave the soup, they included a blessing.  In the beginning, everyone was hesitant to accept the soup, but soon more would accept both the soup and the blessing.  Through this act of giving, new connections were created.  The highlight was when the students gave greetings and love to nearly 400 staff members of Yan Yiu Factory!

The first year, a total of one thousand students became involved and created DFC stories.  We welcomed both schools and individual groups of students.

In the “DOing” we also faced challenges.  The vague and complicated laws and accounting regulations for running non-profit projects in China were the biggest challenges. 

Our first year strategy included several activities beginning with the four step process (FIDS) and a lot of passion.  We trained volunteers and restructured some of the DFC guiding materials.  Our focus was on the internet and social media.  As a result, DFC has spread to the main cities.  Now our attention has turned more toward the rural part of China.  The energy for what we do comes from our sincere and devoted hearts, and from the examples of our actions.  The energy to continue and grow has come from strangers we have met on Weibo during this entire adventure. 

Our DFC China team has eight core members including me.  We’ve recruited key volunteers as local contacts in cities (18+ now).  These volunteers promote and support the DFC tools and coordinate workshops.  One part time staff member, who is a passionate designer, is in charge of video, graphic design and promotion work. We have a bunch of regional volunteers to promote DFC for us too. 

My focus within the team is fundraising and DFC training.  Again, through social media, our story has attracted local organizations to fund and support our annual prize presentation.  Travel costs and expenses for workshops that we give are funded by the interested organizations.

SHARE - “We Can!  Now you can too!”

There have been many ups and downs.  

Looking back now, the first six months of our DFC China effort was a high point.  In spite of the fact that DFC China was new, many still supported me and my dreams.  For example, after my first “sharing letter,” I received emails from over ten cities within a week.  This was the first step in turning my dreams into the dreams of others.  

I also learned that there is a very practical side.  After the first DFC China prize presentation in 2013, we didn’t have enough money to pay all of our expenses.  With big hearts, several of my core team members (adult superheroes) contributed enough to balance our accounts.  It was a moving gesture and it drove my own dedication to new heights.

In the story of DFC China, I feel that only several lessons are most important.  Only several are most basic. It’s important to be passionate and to have faith.  When you are doing something good for society and you work hard on it, support will come.  Your hard work will earn it, and your faith will bring it.  The more you believe in yourself and your team, the more contagious you all become.