When she was young, Angela Chen wanted to do something to help the stray dogs in her native Taiwan. “I volunteered to train helper dogs when I was in high school, and I was fascinated by the way dogs can help people,” she recalls. Inspired by a Miami, Florida, program that taught prison inmates to train service dogs, Chen decided to start a similar program in Taiwan. With help from her father, a diplomat, and participation from the Soi Dog Association, Chen launched an inmate dog training program, which has since expanded.
“It’s an example of how a simple innovation can help so many groups,” Chen says.
It’s also an example of her ability to bring groups together for a common good and her own entrepreneurial spirit—which she shares with others. Operating out of EDC’s Bangkok office, Chen oversees work and livelihood programs in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, China, Taiwan, and India.
One of these, the HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (HP LIFE), trains migrant and factory workers in China and other countries in the technologies and business skills they need to start micro-enterprises of their own. “It’s exciting to see entrepreneurs rising up in Asia and all over the world, thanks to this program,” says Chen.
What inspired you to work in global development?
My parents sent me to school in the UK when I was 10 because they believed it would provide me with a better education. Friends who I grew up with were not so fortunate. I became aware of the importance of quality education and its role in the society.
I became very interested in development economics in the university and later had the opportunity to intern for UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] when I was in graduate school. UNDP is the United Nations’ global development network, which strives to reduce poverty, increase literacy, create jobs, and enhance technical cooperation between industrialized and non-industrialized nations. I worked for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., for four years, and I’ve been with EDC for seven years.
HIV/AIDS prevention and education is a major part of EDC’s global work. Can you tell us about some of this work in Asia?
For five years, we managed a regional program for Deutsche Bank that reached more than 15,000 orphans, vulnerable children, and families affected and infected by HIV/AIDS across five Asian countries. The activities were quite comprehensive and were tailored to each community’s needs for care, support, prevention education, financial and in-kind assistance for education, vocational training, micro-finance training, or peer education training.
One girl we met in India, Durga Bhavani, was orphaned by HIV/AIDS at the age of six. Our program provided basic school supplies—which allowed her to return to school—and trained her to become a peer educator. At first, she didn’t even know what HIV meant. Now she teaches her friends about how the virus is transmitted and visits HIV-positive children in neighboring villages to check up on them.
EDC’s work with the HP LIFE project trains people who are struggling financially to become entrepreneurs. Could you tell us about an entrepreneur you worked with?
One success story is that of Mr. Xiao Shengzhang from China. After he was trained by HP LIFE, Mr. Xiao created a website for his new medicine business, accessed market information online, and managed his finances electronically. Today, his business employs 2,120 people, his profits have more than tripled, and he’s increased the size of his herbal plantation tenfold.
Our work with Hewlett-Packard over the last three years has reached more than 20,000 micro-entrepreneurs and youth in Asia Pacific with IT and business skills.
What qualities does it take to be a successful entrepreneur, particularly in an impoverished area?
It takes persistence, openness to learning new things, and a willingness to put aside differences to work with others. It takes a desire to be part of building something that goes beyond ego and money. We see this quality in people around the world.
What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
EDC has expanded the HP LIFE program to the United States, and we plan to manage similar activities in Brazil this year. Our work at EDC to empower people who are disadvantaged to become successful in their own businesses is just so rewarding.