Have you ever heard of Taiwan? It's a 40,000 km2 territory, a group of islands in East Asia where the most important pages of modern history might soon be written. And this is not only because the country offers the perfect stage for a showdown between authoritarianism and freedoms, but also for the fantastic innovation that Taiwanese people are bringing to democracy.
In this newsletter, read about the impressive story of this island nation and how it could play a significant role in making our societies more equitable and free!
In short, Taiwan is a 23-million strong country off the coast of China, where anti-communist forces settled in 1949 after being defeated by Mao's army. Seen by mainland China as a breakaway province destined to be reunited to the motherland, the Taiwanese have a very different perspective: they have developed their own society, government and proudly defended their independence for many decades. Until 1971, Taiwan - officially the Republic of China - even held the permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council, before being sidelined by world leaders and given to Communist China.
In recent years, Taiwan has been mentioned more and more in the news as the growth of China's assertiveness on the international stage directly correlates with the boldness of its claims (and actions) aimed at re-unifying the island with the mainland. Last month, China sent over 150 warplanes over the Taiwanese air defense zone, triggering international reactions of support to the island. Even if Taiwan is not officially recognized by most western powers (!!) the U.S. provides weapons and holds promises of protection to the island.
IS TAIWAN JUST ANOTHER FREEDOM STRUGGLE TO SUPPORT?
Yes, but no, it's more than that. Taiwan might have unlocked the secret to making democracy thrive in this century, and very few people know about this.
Despite removing martial law only in 1987 and holding its first direct presidential election in 1996, the country’s democracy skyrocketed: it's the 11th “best” democracy in the world (in comparison, the UK is 16th). How did a democracy younger than most of my readers achieve that?
It turned what many see as a threat to democracy - technology - into an opportunity. It all started back in 2014 when the Sunflower Student Movement arose. Fed up by the inability of the ruling political party to listen to the needs of the people of Taiwan and inflamed by a new trade bill with China perceived as a step toward reunification, the students occupied the Parliament in Taipei. The bill was finally derailed, but - contrary to what has happened in other democracies - the government understood this was part of a wider malaise and a missed opportunity. It chose to embrace change and reached out to G0v - the group of civic hackers behind the protests - and asked for help. This is when and where history was made in Taiwan.
Leveraging the online world as a positive force instead of a polarizing nightmare, the government, civil society & hackers from G0v re-invented the political process, using tech to find consensus around tough and polarizing questions instead of widening the gap between people of “opposite sides.” This was done through various tools, such as introducing an open process on vTaiwan, that gamified consensus-building by pushing participants to come up with nuanced statements that most people could get behind. Leveraging both online and offline (but streamed) participation, they achieved outstanding results on a wide range of issues.
The rest is history: one of the hackers, Audrey Tang, became Digital Minister of Taiwan. And - surprise surprise - problems get solved. For example:
- Uber's introduction to Taiwan's economy was almost painless, while countries like Italy still virtually do not have the service for taxi unions' oppositions.
- COVID-19 test and trace effort was outstanding as citizens trusted the government with their data, and less than 900 death have been recorded since the beginning of the pandemic
- High-school-student-led fact-checking during presidential debate created the basis for a healthier political landscape
… and while much more should be done to improve Taiwanese society, we can confidently say: wow!
SO WHAT'S IN FOR ALL THOSE DREAMING OF AN EQUITIST WORLD?
If we want to give equitable rights and opportunities to everyone, we must learn how to give people a voice. We must learn how to understand each other, discuss, and come up with the best solutions we can find. We must learn how to track, reassess, and improve public policy to radically & gradually move to a place where shared well-being is achieved across all sectors of society.
Deploying smart, digital democracy tools to harness the power of collective wisdom and ensure that no one is left behind is the way forward, and the Taiwanese people seem to have a great hold of it. So, as an equitist, I believe our role is to engage and spread best practices while looking beyond: much can be achieved by using these methodologies to find effective solutions to new challenges such as the emergence of cryptocurrencies, as well as tackling issues even Taiwan is struggling with such as climate change.
And while doing all of this, we must ensure that the beautiful democratic experiment of Taiwan does not remain a brief paragraph in history when China decides to extend its fingers over the island.
- Ways to contribute: join our Democracy Team, spread the hashtag #TaiwanCanHelp on social media, support the work of the Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association
- Interesting sources: a virtual town wall we hosted with minister Audrey Tang, a very comprehensive piece on Taiwan Democracy by Brookings
THE EQUITIST CORNER
From our Equitist manifesto: "An Equitist state must regulate and steer society to achieve the closest result to an equitable status, as to bring the maximum level of happiness and welfare to its people. The role of the state as a fair arbiter among different groups with competing priorities can only be achieved with the highest level of participation possible by its citizens, thus by implementing systems of direct or semi-direct democracy. "
In our quest to create an equitable society, we produce this daily newsletter, a weekly podcast, and every month together with our 20,000+ members, and we launch campaigns to turn words into action. Please support our work!
The world will not be changed by those who smile and carry on but by those standing tall and acting in the face of adversities. For Equity.
Andrea Venzon (he/him)
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