By I-TING SHIH（施怡婷）, HUI-YU CHENG（張惠瑜）, WANG-LING TSAI （蔡宛玲）, YUN-CHEN YANG（楊昀蓁）
A Born Leader of Sympathy
Some 24 years ago, in an assignment for a home economics course, 13-year-old Wan-Ru Yu cordially reached out and invited a handful of outcast peers to join her team. Yu and her newfound friends handmade hamburgers whose taste still remained fresh in her mind. Most influentially, she learned from that experience the importance and courage of showing sympathies to the others in need.
Yu, now 37, is a legislator for the Democratic Progressive Party. She also is the cofounder of the first fair trade company—OKOGREEN— established in 2007 in Taiwan. “I had used to stand in the opposite side of the mainstream to help the disadvantaged when I was just a young girl,” said Yu.
Yu contributed her accomplishment thus far to a former teacher in primary school, recalling that her fourth-grader teacher encouraged students to speak out their minds. Yu said she was nicknamed by this life-influencing mentor as “Qiang Bang,” meaning that she excelled in learning and was a born leader.
Reared up by a stern veteran father, who had a high bar on her academic performance, Yu was indeed quite rebellious during her childhood. However, she has always tried her best to reach every goal she sets up for herself, nurturing herself to become a self-disciplined individual and professional.
“I usually ask myself to do more and set up a lofty goal because I always try to surpass myself,” Yu said, referring to how she prepared for her college entrance examination. “I spent 12 hours studying almost every day and my hard work paid off when I entered the National Taiwan University, majoring in economics.”
Yu said she was propelled to enter politics as a result of her working experience and relationship with Zhan-Gjie Xie, a former People First Party’s legislator and county council member of Chang Hua “For me, who was new to politics, Xie is a lenient and open-minded boss when I was working for him,” Yu said, adding that she regards him as a role model.
Xie said he sees the similar personality traits in Yu, who worked for him as a congressional assistant for years. “I am a highly self-disciplined person, caring about my reputation and performance, and so does Yu. “
Xie said that his office had to answer hundreds of phone calls from his constituents and he participated in many press conferences everyday. “But Yu always dealt with it well, keeping everything in good pace. She had been very outstanding,” Xie said. “I trusted her very much, giving her a lot of opportunities to carry out every task independently.”
Xie recalled that Yu once organized a project that aimed to promote low-priced flowers sales for local farmers in Changhua to Taipei’s markets all by herself. She spent many days to call the growers and other organizations.
“It was not easy, and she really did a good job. I found that Yu not only have strong public relations skills but truly care about Taiwan’s agriculture development,” Xie added. So, he said, when he learned that Yu is determined to run a fair-trade company, he was not surprised at all.
Endeavors In Fair Trade Promotion
Immediately graduating from the NTU, Yu worked as a marketing manager for Jurlique, an Australian company providing natural skin care products. She said her later engagement in the fair trade movement was inspired by her working experience in Adelaide, Australia.
She said Australian government and people dedicate themselves to protect their natural environment. People there normally take public transportation, cutting carbon dioxide emissions, and prefer locally-grown organic food and bio-friendly products. “I was wondering why they can have such a high quality of life. As a human being, we should be delighted to coexist with the circumstances,” Yu emphasized.
Since then, Yu came to realize that many social or environmental issues can be solved with a right business strategy. And fair trade in conjunction with wise consumption can facilitate the needed change in consumer behavior around the world.
When first promoting the fair-trade idea in Taiwan, Yu went through some tough time in that many Taiwanese saw it as “a flash the a pan.” But the hardship she had encountered was softened with the strong support of Yu’s husband, Wen-Yen Hsu, who has worked for the green organization for years and is specializing in environmental sociology.
Putting their catchphrase into practice, during the start-up period, Yu had tactically shared their ideals in more than 700 speeches. “Seeking people to take action with us is kind of like a missionary!” Yu explained, adding that she has turned to countless real-life stories to vividly explaining this otherwise boring new economic concept of fair trade.
Yu also mentioned her some crazy adventures in the past. She said, in order to visit and learn more about the plight of coffee farmers, she flew over half of the earth to South America and trekked across the Mountain Andes. Oddly enough, she was caught up in Sri Lanka’s civil war in its capital; drove almost six hours to the so-called “the end of the world” in Aceh, Indonesia. All barriers in her long journey, she said, did not stand in her way to pursue and complete the adventure of fair trade.
“Yu is a diligent lady dedicating herself to promote fair trade,” said Man-Li Chen, also a lawmaker. Chen advocates for sustainable development, women’s right, and so on. Although Chen and Yu were members of Green Party, they did not know each other until they joined the Legislative Yuan together, both representing the DPP.
“Although I’m in the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee and Yu is in the Finance Committee, we pay close attention to some same issues, such as girls’ social power and ecology. Thus, we would propose the bills together sometimes,” Chen added. For example, in May 2017,Chen, Yu and other members of proposed “Social Enterprise Development Regulations” initiative that aimed the development of social enterprise in Taiwan.
Among the better known such entities are One-Forty, YUAN Soap, and Children Are Us Shelter Factory. Yu explained why they decided to propose this bill on her personal website. The present political and economic situations in Taiwan are very unfriendly to the development of social enterprises, lacking governmental support. Yu urges the government to assist them with a specialized public foundation and so on.
Broadening The Horizon By Traveling As a Backpacker
In 2010, to fulfill her dream of studying abroad, pursuing her interest in research on healthy food and fair trade, Yu attended the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, specializing in food anthropology.
Yu said she enjoyed the program and learning environment because her peers came from all over the world, and most of them had ever worked at a non-governmental organization. “I find the enthusiasm to make the world better here,” Yu said.
Yu persists in voicing for underprivileged, minority groups of people simply because this is the core value of anthropology, Yu said, adding that life should not be drifted apart and that she has to fight for something meaningful.
To set aside more time for traveling, Yu finished her master’s thesis ahead of schedule. To her, each city in Europe has its unique style. She was fascinated by the culture on the one hand and humbled on the other. She remains awed since her previous European travel experiences as a backpacker.
She said European governments focus more on humanistic spirit and cultural variety of every attraction. Taking the Spanish cuisine trip as an example, she explained that tourists who join this one-day trip can freely enjoy the local dishes and simultaneously learn its history.
These invaluable experiences, Yu said, have led her to become more concerned about Taiwan’s new wave of tourism effort. She describes the tourism industry as a filmmaking team with a colorful script, attractive actors and fascinating scenes, which taken together would enable tourists to take vicarious pleasure in their traveling.
Mother, Wife, Legislator, Entrepreneur: the Multiple Roles of Yu
When it comes to how to release the pressure in such a busy life, Yu said, “I have never been knocked down by any pressure because I always keep my faith to create a better society for Taiwan’s young generation.”
She added that leaders are not supposed to do everything all by themselves; they need to learn how to put the right person in a right position. So, Yu is able to play the roles of a mother, a wife, a legislator and an entrepreneur at more ease.