Problems in our societies are complex and multi-layered and those aiming to meet development challenges must carry with them the necessary humility to listen for solutions within their target communities, recognising that no single solution will ever solve these challenges. Caroline Watson, Paragon Fellow 2009, has worked tiredless to meet the challenges of migrant workers in China, building their self- awarness and confidence through theatre workshop.
i-genius: Could you tell us a bit more about yourself, who is Caroline Watson?
Caroline: I am a Hong Kong-born Brit who came to China 7 years ago with a vision to develop participatory theatre as a tool for empowerment amongst women’s issues. I studied theatre in the UK at Lancaster University. When I arrived in China, I ended up learning a lot about the migrant worker population in Beijing and have since become passionate about harnessing the potential of this population as a tool for the success of emerging economies.
i-genius: You are using theatre to empower people. How did you develop your venture program and how did you get started?
Caroline: I started off running workshops with the Rural Women Knowing All school in Changping, and their centre in Xicheng in downtown Beijing. From this, I started to develop a small group of migrant participants and university volunteers and started to apply for funding. As someone with no formal business experience, never having worked in an NGO or managerial position, I learnt from the ground up about leadership! Lots of great learnings and a situation that forced me to be entrepreneurial and develop stamina!You have worked with hundreds of migrant workers in the past 4 years.
i-genius: What change do you see in participants after your program?
Caroline: The most significant change that we notice in participants is a transformed view of their own potential. We like to demonstrate that, by taking part in a theatre workshop, you come to learn of inherent creative capacities that lie within you. Many people tend to believe that being creative is about being a good painter or musician, but actually creativity is broader than this, and encompasses the skills of empathy, compassion, lateral thinking, making links between seemingly unrelated ideas and developing leadership. When you start to discover these skills inside you, you start to realize that achieving your dreams and living the life you were born to live is possible. And you can make an extraordinary contribution by doing this.
i-genius: What has been your impact so far?
Caroline: Since we started our organization, we have worked with several thousand migrant women and children and victims of the Sichuan earthquake in programs and performances that inspire, teach and empower. Our projects have ranged from psychosocial rehabilitation programmes for earthquake-affected children, life skills training programmes for migrant women, creativity training for migrant children, teacher training for teaching artists and migrant teachers, trainings for international CEOs on the migrant issue – and we’ve even staged an alien invasion at the Great Wall for a law firm! Additionally, and one of the things of which I am most proud, is that we have recruited, trained and employed young migrant women to work with us as facilitators within the organization. This recruitment is a core component of our vision and one that I want to develop more of in our work, helping low-income people to be full-time arts practitioners, workshop facilitators and community leaders.
i-genius: You are just back from a trip to South America to explore business opportunities for Hua Dan there. Where do you want to take Hua Dan?
Caroline: Hua Dan is my first entrepreneurial venture and doing this in China has been the most extraordinary learning experience. What a place to learn about business and social change! I would now like to spend a period of time reflecting on what we have done with Hua Dan, to enable me to develop a scaleable model for arts-based approaches to change on a more global scale.
i-genius: What would you advise other young social entrepreneurs who want to start their ventures?
Caroline: Just do it!
i-genius: What is the question noone ever ask you but you wish they would have?
Caroline: ‘Can I support your salary?!?’ It’s rarely talked about but there is a real challenge in how a start-up social entrepreneur can hold their own self together to enable the venture to be up and running. If there were more opportunities for this it would enable many ventures to get off the ground more quickly.