Hua Dan is a China-based social enterprise that uses the unique power of participation in theatre and other creative arts as a tool for personal and social transformation. Hua Dan was founded by Hong Kong-born British national, Caroline Watson in Autumn 2004. It is China’s first organisation dedicated to using its expertise in participatory theatre as a tool for developing human potential. Specifically, it develops “soft skills” as a tool for dealing with change, transition and stress.
The Goals of Hua Dan
China is changing rapidly and with it there are increasing opportunities in for individuals to take part its role in the global marketplace. However, as we are now seeing, such periods of transition and transformation are often accompanied by substantial risks; risks that place the most vulnerable in greatest jeopardy. This is particularly true among China’s large internal migrant population.
In all cases, workers and their families are far better able to manage these opportunities and risks if they are equipped with skills that will enable them to adapt. To help Chinese companies, their employees, the broader group of internal migrants and others under stress overcome these challenges Hua Dan has developed a series of stimulating, out-of-the-box training workshops, short courses and away-days. In each, those attending are encouraged to participate in improvisation and theatre activities.
Complimenting traditional training techniques, Hua Dan's workshops focus on building and enhancing employees 'soft' skills in:
- cross-cultural communication
- conflict resolution
- problem solving
- self expression
In China, education and training is traditionally very 'top-down', leaving little room for a 'student-centred', whole-person approach for the true development of individual that give them the skills to embark on their own life-long learning journey. Hua Dan has an important role to play in the future of the country as a leading exponent of genuinely empowering approaches to personal and social development.
Hua Dan's Vision and Mission
Hua Dan empowers a more equitable society, enables personal, social and economic empowerment to China’s migrant workers through participation in, and leadership of, inspirational arts-based projects.
Main objectives of Hua Dan are to:
- Lift migrant workers out of poverty and enabling them to participate equally in mainstream society
- Empower individuals from all classes of society with skills that improve their employability, social mobility and the quality of their life
- Achieve personal and social transformation
- Become a leading Chinese social enterprise and create a scalable model that could be applied in emerging economies around the world
The organisation believes that each individual holds the key to unlocking their own potential within them. Whilst traditional educational processes go someway in helping people to become self-actualised, Hua Dan seeks to inspire individuals to 'think out of the box', about their future and the future of the world around them by proposing participatory theatre workshops. Though Hua Dan’s innovative programme, articipants are equiped with a key to unlock all the potential they have within them, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.
A variety of applied theatre techniques are used in the workshops, namely advanced role-play, improvisation, creative games and exercises, storytelling, and other participatory training techniques. The workshops act as a way to educate and inspire participants on a range of issues essential to their well-being. The excercises also provide a forum for participants to come together and contribute to solutions for a better future. A key aspect of Hua Dan's workshops is the way in which they 'process' each game and activity to help participants make the connection between these activities and their everyday lives.
Students who participate in these workshops designed to help them develop confidence, teamwork and problem solving skills. The workshops also help to develop abilities in other areas including: a space for building relationships, intercultural skills, conflict resolution skills, creative thinking skills, leadership skills, team-building skills, self-awareness, confidence, empathy, presentation skills, communication skills, self-expression, and self-esteem.
“Simply generating revenue through our corporate side is not enough”, explains Caroline. “There needs to be a visionary connection between recruiting and employing migrants and generating revenue".
When asked to describe Hua Dan’s greatest innovation, Caroline points to the way in which Hua Dan recruits and trains migrant workers to work across both the for-profit and non-profit side of their work and how this overturns the commonly-held view that migrant workers couldn’t possibly assume a role in training corporate executives.
Hua Dan’s approach is as much about empowering the workers as it is about identifying a market opportunity for corporations to get an insight into the lives of real Chinese. Hua Dan enables personal, social and economic empowerment to China’s migrant workers through participation in, and leadership of it programmes. For example, Hua Dan is currently working on a project with LeaderQuest for an empathy-building workshop about China’s internal migrants. It is designed to highlight the social and economic challenges faced by migrants who have left their rural villages to find work in China’s cities. This project will not only generating profit, but it helps to keep Hua Dan’s core vision and mission to empower a more equitable society. Other innovations, such as the Beansprouts project use theatre to teach science in schools. They also use their techniques to teach soft skills for migrant workers working in restaurants on their adult projects etc.
Hua Dan believes it is vital for all sectors of society to be engaged in addressing the inequalities of wealth and opportunity in China. Through these projects, Hua Dan seeks to build bridges between migrant workers, the communities in which they live and key stakeholders able to make an difference on the issues that affect their lives.
Hua Dan Participates in INSEAD’s MBA Field Project Course
Hua Dan has participated in INSEAD’s International Development Field Projects Course twice. On both it has received top-tier business advice that have enabled it to grow and take advantage of new strategic opportunities.
The objective of the course is to offer participants an opportunity to undertake a real 16-week consulting project for a client organization whose work benefits promotes a social objective, often in a new or unfamiliar setting.
Both field projects sought to position Hua Dan on a strategic growth path. The first focused on providing the organization with a thorough overview of the market potential for its corporate training services, a pricing analysis and identify potential partnerships and alliances that might be used too facilitate its expansion plans. The IDFP team studied opportunities in Beijing and Guangzhou over a three-year timeframe with the objective of building a revenue generating enterprise to support its non-profit activities. The team members visited Hua Dan offices in Beijing, carried out desktop research on training, targeted segments and foreign business in China.
A second IDFP carried out a complex business activity modelling project to provide Hau Dan with a tool to determine the cost and revenue generated through various combinations of its products. The tool is designed for use in Hau Dan’s human resource planning, revenue projections as well as managing a systematic growth strategy.