Taiwan environmental group showcases role of NGOs as social change agents

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The Society of Wilderness organizes field trips to strengthen children’s love of Mother Nature. (Courtesy of SW)

The Society of Wilderness organizes field trips to strengthen children’s love of Mother Nature. (Courtesy of SW)

Taiwan's modern development can be categorized into three periods: centralized government oversight from 1945 to 1970, private sector focus from 1970 to the late 1980s and the socially responsible entrepreneurship of today.

Hsiao Hsin-huang, a distinguished research fellow with the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, the nation’s foremost research organization, said the third period is defined by reform-minded intellectuals and professionals responsible for establishing the bulk of Taiwan’s nongovernmental organizations. “These groups advocate, educate and focus attention around important public issues, as well as monitor the conduct of the government and private enterprises.”

Statistics compiled by the Ministry of the Interior reveal there were more than 60,000 nongovernmental organizations operating at national and local levels in Taiwan by the end of 2018. About 90 percent function as service providers, with the remainder mainly engaged in advocacy work.

“Service NGOs do benevolent things to improve social well-being, while advocacy NGOs do courageous things to influence public policy,” Hsiao said. “Together, they’ve helped build a democratic, inclusive and vibrant society.”

Taipei City-based Society of Wilderness is a leading nongovernmental organization helping reshape government policies, business practices and public attitudes in Taiwan. Since establishment in 1995, the group has dedicated itself to environmental protection and conservation by hosting a variety of training courses, exhibitions, lectures and observation activities. Other endeavors include promoting animal conservation and eco-friendly farming.

SW Chairperson Liu Yueh-mei said the group’s mission is to reconnect people with Mother Nature so they can better appreciate its beauty and richness. One way of achieving this goal is establishing wildlife preserves on land acquired via donations, entrustments, long-term leases and purchases.

A Society of Wilderness instructor teaches children the importance of environmental protection. (Courtesy of SW)

According to Liu, the group’s 11 branches nationwide coordinate about 6,000 paid-up members and 3,000 volunteers, giving real heft to related campaigns and initiatives. This reach is illustrated by partnerships on projects pertaining to energy, flora and fauna, oceans and wetlands with central government agencies like the Construction and Planning Agency under the MOI, the Council of Agriculture and the Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration, as well as local governments and communities.

“Over the years, our various actions and initiatives have prompted the government and public to pay more attention to environmental problems and join efforts to adopt sustainable practices,” Liu said. “By soliciting widespread support for environmental protection, hopefully someday we can be assured that the air we breathe is fresh, the food we eat is safe, the water we drink is clean.” (E) (By Kelly Her)

Refuse scoured from the sea is assembled in the shape of a turtle by Society of Wilderness members. (Courtesy of SW)