Travel Diary: Spreading the Good News on Public Private Partnerships in Taiwan

As Acting Special Representative for the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State, I see my job as spreading the gospel of public-private partnerships  and empowering government actors by providing the tools and how-to steps of partnership building.  As my plane landed in Taipei last month, I was taken with the realization that this was a region with an unusual and interesting past. I wondered to myself how this past affects its people and mindset, and by proxy, how it would affect my work throughout the week I spent there.

A view of a bowl of delicious Taiwanese beef noodles. [State Department photo]

Day 1: I learned the sun rises early in Taipei and the government and private sector are actively seeking to remove barriers for innovation.

I woke up early, and to a full schedule. After meeting with the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) and discussing our busy week, we held a roundtable discussion on start-ups co-chaired by Digital Minister Audrey Tang, whose entrepreneurial background is an asset to understanding and responding to Taiwan’s evolving digital economy. I relayed the message that it is key for governments to respond to entrepreneurs with thoughtful policies that inspire innovation in its private sector.  Following the roundtable, our evening was spent with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who graciously hosted a multi-course Taiwanese meal, celebrating the kickoff to Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

Fruit at Taiwan’s Shilin Night Market. [State Department photo] 

Day 2: I learned about Taiwan’s plans forging an Asian Silicon Valley, met with private sector leaders, brainstormed with officials on public-private partnerships, and had bubble tea from the place that invented it!

This morning we met with the heads of Taiwan’s American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei who are looking for ways to engage their American corporate headquarters more fully into the work they do in Taiwan.  We recommended creating public-private partnerships with the American Institute in Taiwan and Taiwanese authorities who support innovation, and “pitching” them back to American corporate headquarters.  After enjoying the original bubble tea (no, it wasn’t invented in Thailand as I had thought), we met with officials to discuss their plans for developing an Asian Silicon Valley. This concept included an ambitious roadmap to bring entrepreneurs to Taiwan with special visas, create spaces for innovation in Taipei, and streamline processes to make entrepreneurial innovation easier.  I stressed that Taiwan has many strengths of its own and that focusing solely on Silicon Valley’s success might exclude Taiwan from finding its own niche.  Our afternoon was then filled with the Joint Committee Meeting of the Global Cooperation and Training Framework where I encouraged Taiwan officials to use public-private partnerships as an effective multiplier for project partners, scope, and ultimately success. They were particularly interested in potentially using our Women in Science (WiSci) program as a model for a program of their own, as women’s empowerment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) fields is at a forefront in their minds.

Day 3: I hosted a seminar for Taiwanese foreign service students, traveled to Kaohsiung- a vibrant, southern port city in Taiwan, and cruised on the Love River.

Meeting with representatives from the American Institute of Taiwan,Kaohsiung and Kaohsiung Marine Bureau Director General Wang Tuan-Jen. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

Sharing words of wisdom about public-private partnerships at Kaohsiung’s interactive training. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

Today, I had the opportunity to give a talk on how to harness the power of public-private partnerships to accomplish domestic and foreign policy objectives.  It is often news to those I meet, but private sector spending in development has far outpaced sole government spending.  It’s time for us to leverage this paradigm shift to accomplish our shared goals.  After our afternoon presentation and roundtable, we explored the port of Kaohsiung and took a quick cruise on the Love River, a wonderful example of a city turning a once polluted river and dismal riverfront area into a beautiful spot for locals and tourists to come and relax.  

Day 4: I spoke at Taiwan’s flagship Global Entrepreneurship Week event Meet Taipei, learned about the many uses of water monitoring technology from our Fishackathon winners, and discovered soup dumplings and other Taiwan delicacies, including Szechuan peppers!

Posing for a photo with other speakers after delivering remarks at Taiwan's flagship Global Entrepreneurship Week event, Meet Taipei, Leading the Future for Startups. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

I had been looking forward to Meet Taipei all week! I loved the opportunity to see innovators and entrepreneurs in action; they generally fill me with a sense of optimism and energy.  During my remarks at Meet Taipei, I encouraged a bottom-up approach to regulation and policy-making, as well as government support through programs, small business loans, streamlined processes, and flexible thinking around regulation. 

Visiting a booth at Taiwan's signature Global Entrepreneurship Week event, Meet Taipei. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

Visiting a booth at Meet Taipei. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

After a traditional Taiwan lunch of soup dumplings (a must-try in Taipei) and spicy Szechuan beef, I had the real pleasure of meeting the winners of this year’s Fishackathon in person and learning more about their inventive solution to identify harmful Asian carp populations in the Great Lakes.  For me, the best part about Team Akubic’s invention is how it clearly harnesses Taiwan’s strengths in hardware development with innovative software development using the cloud -- a decidedly modern approach.

Meeting our 2016 Global Fishackathon winners: Team Akubic. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

Team Akubic with their $10,000 prize from Fishackathon partner, Virgin Group. [American Institute of Taiwan photo]

Day 5: I boarded a plane headed back to the United States but hope that the innovative spirit I saw during my Global Entrepreneurship Week visit continues to live on.

I look forward to continuing to share examples of how public and private sectors can come together to support innovation worldwide.  

About the Author: Thomas Debass serves as Acting Special Representative in the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the Department's Foggy Bottom publication on Medium.com.

For More Information:

A view of Taiwan’s National Concert Hall. [State Department photo]
Posted by Thomas Debass
December 13, 2016

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