ASU student fosters connections with Taiwan Pilot Tour and International Forum project

By

Heather Beshears

Doctoral student Chia-Mei Hsia had a vision of connecting her native Taiwan to the United States around the theme of community development. That dream is coming to life as she launches the Global Community Development Partnership — a collaboration between Arizona State University’s Partnership for Community Development (PCD) and Feng Chia University.

The initiative started with her research data collection in summer 2016 when she interviewed people in Taiwan and noticed the need for community collaboration.

“Numerous communities have attained incredible achievement and made great progress in enhancing well-being and quality of life, but they are confronted with larger issues and challenges, particularly from globalization and urbanization,” Hsia said. “Coincidently, these communities seek sustainable solutions for various issues they are tackling. This motivated me to think of ways in which my skills as a community organizer could help them.”

When Hsia traveled back to Arizona from Taiwan, she recruited two volunteers from ASU to launch an “idea think tank” through which resources and ideas could be shared and collaborations formed among various communities.

“We knew we had the right direction but needed to find funding,” she said.

Hsia connected with her colleagues at ASU’s PCD and shared the idea with her mentor, Richard Knopf, professor in the School of Community Resources and Development. At the same time, Hsia reached out to Chieh-Ying Chen, director of the Center for Studies of Everyday Life at Feng Chia University and found he shared her vision. A new partnership was formed.

Chen, with a background in sociology and years of experience in fieldwork with communities, sees community development as the potential solution for social change.

“I witnessed some amazing community development cases and believe they have influential roles in a bigger society structure. The key issue is how we can leverage an individual community’s influence to amplify its strength and impacts,” he said.

A forum to open collaboration

The idea of creating a platform for international community collaboration and partnership formation became a reality when Hsia and her colleagues launched the Taiwan Pilot Tour and International Forum project in summer 2017.   

The trip featured visits to communites and an academic forum that focused on eco-tourism, community culture exploration and participatory art activities. The forum also included a professional symposium for the communities to collaboratively brainstorm on community issues. Scholars and representatives from ASU’s PCD and Arizona nonprofit organizations visited nine Taiwanese communities and learned about their culture and history. A community development forum was held on the last day of the trip at Feng Chia University as the capstone event. It served to incubate community innovation and to facilitate a comfortable environment for honest and open-minded dialogue among members from the various communities.  

“Community development is all about facilitation and dialogue,” said Knopf. “One fundamental thing we added is what we call listening conversations. We start not with a premise that there is a problem to be solved and we bring in the experts. Instead, we just open conversations in which community members can discover their gifts and build a collective vision for change.”

Hsia’s understanding of Asian culture has been a key element in fostering open dialogue.

“There were great conversation dynamics happening in the forum. Even in the midst of occasional disagreement, people listened to each other and began to understand the perspectives of others. I think that is a big step,” she said.

The forum participants included community members and practitioners, professionals and government officers together with ASU scholars who collaboratively examined insights gathered during the site visits. They shared challenges, successes and issues present in the various communities visited. The topics ranged from youth community engagement to tribal culture preservation. Also, the discussions explored how to boost community economic viability without compromising local traditions and cultural heritage.

“There was lots of spirited conversation,” Knopf said. “They shared opinions, then listened, and we co-discussed a way to draw the community together for forward movement.”

Aiming to scale up 

The pilot tour to Taiwan was the first step in a larger goal to provide a global platform to incubate creative ideas, reciprocal networking, exchange of resources, and facilitate international partnerships to increase community capacity building.

To continue the collaboration between ASU’s PCD and Feng Chia University, Hsia plans to launch a community participatory tour program aiming to send a team to Taiwan in the summer of 2019. The tour will identify and more deeply explore select communities and building partnership with locals in those communities.

“The destination for future tours is not limited to Taiwan,” Hsia explained. “Any country with unique community development cases would be in our visiting destination list.”

To extend the partnership network, Rodney Machokoto, a current ASU doctoral student and Zimbabwean financial professional, and Ethan Hsu, a former ASU student and Taiwanese travel professional, are helping to contribute their connections and expertise to broaden the scope of the GCDP collaboration. The ultimate aim of the collaboration is to expand the concept to other parts of Asia, Europe, South America and Africa.

“It is a big dream, but we start where we are, leverage what we have, and achieve what we can,” Hsia said.