When you walk into the Victory Handmade Glass Art Studio, you will see a dazzling assortment of glass art displayed in showcases hung on the wall. These artworks are created by people who are physically challenged, either congenitally, or who have become so later in life. Instead of succumbing to their intellectual and physical disabilities, they undertake all sorts of vocational training at Victory Potential Development Centre for the Disabled, where they find the opportunity to shine as bright as their glass art.
The founder of Victory Potential Development Centre for the Disabled, Ying-shu Zhang, is a polio survivor. Because he was always educated in mainstream schools, he rarely had the opportunity to meet people with similar physical conditions. When he attended university, he started to volunteer at the Eden Social Welfare Foundation, where he got to know many physically challenged people and realised people’s lives could be very varied and different. Deeply inspired by this experience, he left the securities industry and fully devoted himself to working at Pingtung Victory Christian Home. From there, he gradually came to the realisation that, apart from using his own skills to write computer programs for children and assist their learning process, he could further adopt the framework of “vocational training” in helping these kids cope with the waves of unknown future awaiting them after graduation.
Later, in 2000, Ying-shu Zhang set up the Victory Potential Development Centre for the Disabled. He aimed to gather people with different types of disabilities and provide them a platform where they could enjoy diversified and creative employment opportunities.
The “keyboard revolution” targeting market demand
The first type of work developed by Victory was typing. From 1991, Ying-shu Zhang opened training courses to help people with disabilities learn how to type using the Cangjie input method. He even took his trainees to join competitions around Taiwan, where they won many medals. Many physically challenged children successfully found a job after leaving school because they had learned how to type. Later, Victory started to incorporate other services requiring typing, such as typesetting and document editing, into its service catalogue. However, Victory’s business soon started to face decline because software technology at the time was not advanced enough and market demand appeared to be inadequate.
As typing skills gradually became more common, Ying-shu Zhang learned from the failure of his typing business and adjusted his strategy to serve “corporate clients”. Victory then started to undertake services for banks and telecommunications companies, including data entry of handwritten application forms for credit cards or mobile phone plans. However, the fact that data accuracy is strictly required in this market posed a tremendous challenge to disabled people, who tend to be physically challenged and relatively slow at learning.
In response to this challenge, Ying-shu Zhang meticulously divided the typing work into many small tasks, developing a system of division of labour, and greatly improving the input accuracy rate among physically challenged colleagues. The standard operating procedure that was developed for smoothing the learning experience and employment of people with disabilities was also applied to other business units run by Victory. In the case of handmade glass art, Victory forwent complex production procedures and adopted the fusion and cryogenic engineering method instead, which made it easier for the physically challenged to make refined glass artworks with relatively smooth surfaces using simpler sandblasting, cutting and kiln burning techniques.
Ying-shu Zhang also pointed out that apart from “accuracy”, another strength that Victory has is “safety”. The honest and risk-averse attitudes of many physically challenged people mean that moral hazard is significantly reduced, making other companies more willing to outsource their work to Victory. Therefore, Victory did not wait a long time before accumulating its first barrel of “gold”, laying the foundation for the further development of other types of vocations.
Astute observation of market opportunities led to the model of business diversification
The first ten years of entrepreneurship taught Ying-shu Zhang to be cautious about the “market” element when developing new types of vocations. “Physically challenged people can be very capable after training, but their newly-acquired skills would be of no use if there was no corresponding market demand,” believes Ying-shu Zhang. The failure of the expansion of his typing business gave him a chance for reflection. He understands that training the physically challenged is not a big issue when starting a business. The key question is instead whether he can bring forward a healthy business model and place the right products in the right market.
In terms of business positioning, Victory is characterized by its “diversification”. If we take a close look at the occupation categories provided by Victory, including web design, data entry, petrol stations, restaurants, handmade glass art, and another seven types of commercial services, we can see that all of them operate steadily and are financially self-sufficient, which shows Victory’s ambition to develop a variety of business units, its good adaptability, and correct choice of market.
According to Ying-shu Zhang, Victory has two types of clients: “external clients”, those who buy products or services from any of its business units; and “internal clients”, the physically challenged people employed by Victory. When it comes to the development or management of external and internal clients, he always pursues diversification, which is also one of four core principles of the organisation. “What I want to do is to make Victory the biggest contractor of the biggest bank in Taiwan. Creating more opportunities for the physically challenged to work in different industries was my original intention in starting a business like this.”
Ying-shu Zhang pointed out that many of the employment opportunities provided by non-profit organisations in Taiwan are available to people with only certain kinds of disabilities. This makes it easier for the general public to form a stereotype that disabled people can only do certain jobs. Labels like this result in a far worse environment for physically challenged people who are seeking independence in society. He believes that every working environment consists of different kinds of people and that there is no need to treat people differently. Ying-shu Zhang is pleased that, by providing a variety of career options for people with different types of disabilities, Victory has created a harmonious and cooperative working environment in which everyone treats each other like family, showing tolerance and cooperation in the workplace.
How can creativity be turned into a good business?
As a pioneer dedicated to developing the potential of physically and mentally challenged people and creating job opportunities for them, Ying-shu Zhang believes that entrepreneurs must possess two characteristics: “a curious mind” and “an adventurous spirit”. The former shows an eagerness to understand new things and a desire to figure out why something is done a certain way. To have a curious mind is to sharpen one’s acuity towards new things, new products and new markets. The latter means the bravery to challenge anything that one is not sure of and to nurture the ability to solve problems. “An entrepreneurial spirit is in my DNA!” said Ying-shu Zhang. Because he has a rebellious personality, he can constantly bring new ideas to difficult situations.
In the future, Victory intends to actively explore valuable markets and continue with its policy of not accepting donations, in order to inspire the life potential of physically and mentally challenged people. It will remain a financially self-sufficient business model, hoping to equip the disabled with the ability to integrate into society, and eliminate the stigmatisation and inequality that disabled people might experience in society by providing them employment opportunities and vocational training.