[This article was originally published on Pioneers Post]
Taiwanese social enterprise OurCityLove is allowing less mobile people to participate in society as much as able bodied citizens do.
It pained Professor Dr. Lin Chong-Wey to watch his energetic grandmother, once an active patron of her neighbourhood’s restaurants, become more isolated as she grew older and became less mobile. He then observed that this was a common trend among senior citizens who lived in Taiwan’s cities.
With these issues in mind, the visionary Dr. Lin decided to put his training in information and data sciences to work. In 2014, he founded social enterprise OurCityLove, to solve accessibility issues with technology.
The 26 full-time staff at OurCityLove collect accessibility information from restaurants and have created a suite of apps and websites to allow less mobile citizens to plan visits to accommodating venues. The social enterprise also certifies accessible restaurants, and provides training and consultancy services to help organisations that serve the public to improve their accessibility infrastructure.
Since winning the jury prize (and SGD30, 000) in the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia 2016, an Asia-wide competition for social ventures, OurCityLove has launched a new online platform – Friendly Hotel that expands the idea to accessible hotels.
The website includes detailed photos and descriptions of accessible facilities, services and amenities. One of the website’s main features is its use of virtual reality which allows users to tour the hotel’s accessible spaces. Less mobile citizens can now travel knowing what to expect before they check in.
At present, OurCityLove is looking for new local and overseas hotel partners to join its growing “Friendly Hotel” listing to further its mission of promoting social inclusion. An English version of the website, due to launch this summer, is in the works, to make such information available to international travellers.
Empowering those with different abilities
As well as providing information to people with limited mobility on accessible restaurants, transportation, hotels, and relevant services Our City Love users are uniquely empowered to co-create the data on the platform by sharing their photos and feedback.
To date, OurCityLove has hired over 400 people with disabilities as part-time staff to work as “friendly surveyors”. They have assessed more than 3000 facilities and their services, providing feedback on ways to improve their services and create a more inclusive environment. Some of these individuals are also employed as “friendly consultants” to advise larger organisations on how to develop more accessible solutions.
OurCityLove’s unique career opportunities for people with disabilities have helped them redefine their “disability” as “a different ability”. This enables them to be confident, productive citizens who fully participate in society.
As first-hand users of accessible design, these people are, in Dr. Lin’s words, the social enterprise’s “most important co-designers and the best advocates of friendly businesses”. OurCityLove’s close collaboration with its users allows it to earn the trust of its target customers.
OurCityLove’s target clients – governments, NGOs, and businesses that serve the public – benefit from the social enterprise’s training, consultancy, and certifications, which enable them to better improve their accessibility solutions. 50% of the annual revenue generated from OurCityLove’s customers is ploughed back into the community to support other programs and organizations for people with disabilities.
Scaling across Asia and driving systems-level change requires a synergy of interest and timing across multiple stakeholders. For governments, NGOs, and businesses in Taiwan and key cities in Asia, it seems that the time is ripe for accessible design.
Since 2015, OurCityLove has secured long-term IT service contracts with companies across a wide range of industries, including major telecommunications companies, transportation networks, and Taiwan’s city governments. These organisations recognised that OurCityLove’s solution tackled an issue of emerging significance – allocating, identifying, and delivering resources to seniors and disabled citizens, and their families.
OurCityLove’s use of technology, and its replicable service model, has enabled it to be successfully implemented in 12 cities across Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines in under three years. Today,
OurCityLove is the leading accessibility mobile information service provider in the Chinese speaking markets, with approximately 500,000 downloads of its mobile application on the App Store.
It has helped over 3000 restaurants improved their services, in collaboration with 45 disability organisations. Dr. Lin can now enjoy the satisfaction of watching his 92-year-old grandmother using OurCityLove’s mobile application to confidently choose her favourite restaurants for her birthday celebration.
With its newly launched “Friendly Hotel” website, Dr. Lin hopes to continue his mission of creating an inclusive, convenient and friendly environment and encourage more people with disabilities and seniors to explore new places more confidently.
OurCityLove is an example of a social enterprise that fosters multi-stakeholder collaboration for exponential impact. Said the visionary Dr. Lin, “Social enterprise has to go beyond solving social problems with business approaches to creating a new social framework.”
The DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia is an Asia-wide competition for social enterprises organised by NUS Enterprise in partnership with the DBS Foundation. This competition identifies and supports innovative social enterprises that have the potential to generate positive, scalable and sustainable social impact. The 2017 edition of the Challenge is now open for applications till 14 May 2017.