Happen Coworking Space: A Social Innovation


2015 / July

Chang Chiung-fang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Scott Williams

In December 2013, two women converted an old building in Taichung’s old downtown area into a coworking space that they hoped would function as a nexus for social innovation and neighborhood transformation. Having prepared the soil, the women, Chiu Chia-yuan and ­Chang Pei-chi, sowed, watered, and waited to see what they might reap from their Happen Coworking Space.

Once every week, Happen Coworking Space hosts an open house and group lunch. The Monday event enables people seeking to work or network to use the space’s first floor free of charge. Those willing to contribute to the cost of ingredients can also share in and socialize over a group lunch.

This week, management intern Liu Nai-hua is taking her turn as “chef.” Liu, a Chinese major at Feng Chia University with an interest in social innovation and social entrepreneurship, says she became aware of and began participating in events at Happen during her sophomore year at Feng Chia. Two years later, she decided that she wanted to better understand the space’s business model and applied to become a management intern.

Neal ­Cheng, a 27-year-old designer attending today’s open house, says that this is his second lunch at Happen and his fourth visit. ­Cheng works in brand design, managing everything from product development, marketing and packaging to graphic and web design at his Ripple Design Studio. “Running your own one-person studio really limits your social circle. Coming here lets me meet people, socialize, and trade information,” he says.

The mother and daughters behind Wang’s Culinary Delight are regulars. Mother Wang Guo­fang says: “We’ve been coming since November of last year. It’s full of ‘hidden dragons’—all kinds of very talented people from a variety of fields.”

Social enterprise

Located on Tai­chung’s ­Minzu Road, Happen occupies a 70-year-old building that has been compared to the Ruins of St. Paul’s in Macao.

Chiu and Chang were drawn to the former law office by its beautiful façade, and were thrilled when they succeeded in leasing it. They were also pleased with the renovations that followed, which preserved the charm of both the façade and the courtyard.

Happen’s first floor houses eight unusually shaped tables, each modeled on one of Tai­chung’s downtown districts, that can be assembled jigsaw fashion into a larger table shaped like the old Tai­chung City (before it was merged with the old Tai­chung County to form today’s Tai­chung City). These “district” tables can be used independently, or grouped together for larger gatherings.

The first floor also has a kitchen, making it a great venue for chatting, sharing information, and holding meetings. The second floor is home to Happen’s long-term “tenants” and provides them with a quieter workspace. As community manager Sandra Jan says: “We’ve created an environment very different from that of the typical office.”

Given that Chiu studied sociology and ­Chang studied finance, it’s hardly surprising that they would develop social enterprise ideas together. Chiu says that she and ­Chang met in a social innovation class taken during the second semester of their senior year. While working together on the class’s final project, they realized they wanted to do more than simply write a report, and spent another year and a half bringing their project to life in the real world.

Jan, a high-school classmate of Chiu’s, originally started at Happen as a volunteer, but ended up giving up her teaching job and taking a paid position on the team at the beginning of this year. “I like the free-flowing interactions. The people at Happen are all either my friends or in the process of becoming my friends, and I appreciate the way their stories have broadened my perspective.”

Who are the clientele?

Happen charges a monthly “rent” of NT$3,500 for unlimited, around-the-clock access to its space, and offers discounts to “tenants” who pay for six or more months in advance. It also offers “roving” ten-day passes for NT$1,800.

Jan says that they currently operate at only 30–40% of their capacity, that their typical “lease” runs three to six months, and that most customers prefer the “roving” option. In fact, they have roughly 30 such “roving” tenants.

She adds that most of their early adopters were young people who wanted to pursue social innovation. However, they came to realize that Taichung was still new to the idea of using social innovation to resolve social issues, and that they needed to start by raising awareness of the concept.

The space’s client base is so small that they rarely turn anyone away, and their tenants have included everyone from photographers and event planners to designers and magazine writers. Currently, their principal clients include a team from ­iCHEF (a vendor of tablet-based ordering systems) and the mother-and-daughters team behind Wang’s Culinary Delight.

Ivy ­Hsueh, the local borough chief, also happens to work out of Happen.

A musician and painter by trade, ­Hsueh moved into Tai­chung’s old downtown area, found it fascinating, and decided to remain. She also decided to run for borough chief, and planned to use art to transform the community.

She started working from Happen after winning the November 2014 election, and went on to lease a space next door for a neighborhood music venue. “The locals coming in every day looking for the borough chief have helped spread understanding of what Happen does. It’s helped build more connections between the coworking space and the community,” says Jan.

Wang’s Culinary Delight

For its part, Wang’s Culinary Delight happens to share Happen’s core values.

Wang Guo­fang and her two homeschooled teenage daughters, ­Xingyi and Pin­jie, founded the business in 2011 following a family misfortune.

“Happen is a very warm place with a family atmosphere, and even has a kitchen. It’s perfect for us.” Wang says they spend an hour and a half getting to Happen every day, then work there until seven in the evening, primarily picking people’s brains. “We know food but don’t understand sales and marketing. Happen provides lots of opportunities to learn.”

They created the Wang’s Culinary Delight brand in April 2015, and built its product line around healthy versions of prepared foods such as lu­wei (items simmered in soy sauce), braised tofu, oat cakes, and sweet red beans.

“The kids’ cooking skills improved once they started helping. Now they cook better than I do!” Wang says that her younger daughter Pin­jie’s specialty is braised stinky tofu.

Xingyi, their “sales director,” often cooks in Happen’s downstairs kitchen, using her food as an icebreaker. “One time, [author] Liu Ka-­shiang happened to be having a meeting here while I was cooking,” recalls ­Xingyi, “so I offered him some of the soy-simmered dried tofu I’d just made. He liked it and kept going back for more, so I decided to tell him the story of Wang’s Culinary Delight. I didn’t expect him to write a piece about us, publish it in the newspaper, and even include it his most recent book. I was surprised and very moved.”

Old town reborn

Beyond operating their coworking space, Chiu and ­Chang are deeply committed to promoting the concept of social innovation and the revitalization of Tai­chung’s old downtown.

Jan explains that Tai­chung originated on the site of the old downtown, but the area went into decline when the business community followed City Hall to the Xi­tun District. Residents moved away and shops closed. Though the renovation of the old Mi­ya­hara building succeeded in creating buzz, it has so far proved to be a one-off that has yet to spark a broader revitalization. The 20-story residential and commercial tower across the street, for example, currently houses only four families.

What needs to be done to rejuvenate the area? And what exactly is Happen’s social innovation?

In the year and a bit since its establishment, Happen has hosted a variety of events aimed at reintroducing people to the area.

“We’ve learned that the neighborhood is still home to many artisans and many old buildings. We’ve also learned that Tai­chung was Taiwan’s first planned city.” Jan says that under Japanese colonial rule the city’s urban planning was modeled on that of Kyoto, with bridges ­every few paces to enable traffic to cross its many rivers and streams. Unfortunately, few people in modern Tai­chung know its history and stories.

They therefore created their “Life in the Old Town for 30 Days” event, stitching together a variety of venues and activities, including tree planting, dance, movie theaters, citizen forums, photography exhibits, reading clubs, and the Mi­dori-kawa Market, into an experience highlighting the area’s unique culture and value. The Mi­dori-kawa Market, an open-air market consisting of stands run by invited downtown businesses, has proved especially popular. A feature of three consecutive “30 Days” events, the market has grown rapidly, from just eight vendors at the first in the summer of 2014, to 50 at the most recent in the spring of 2015.

Happen also organizes occasional walking tours that it calls “Little Tours of the Old Town.” Although the stalls, shops, and restaurants catering to the community of Southeast-Asian laborers that live in the First Plaza neighborhood make it a fascinating stop on the tour, Happen recognizes that some people aren’t comfortable visiting immigrant neighborhoods.

“But the place is just brimming with life.” Jan says that Happen surveyed the area’s shops, planned a new route focused exclusively on the neighborhood, and launched it in April 2015.

The entrepreneurial path

Every coworking space has its own unique character. In Happen’s case, this character stems from its connections to the community and its social-innovation approach to community work.

Jan says that although Happen isn’t currently drawing many social innovators to its workspace, working here provides people with a better understanding of the Old Town and greater capability to do things on its behalf. For example, a photographer who used to work here photographed the neighborhood’s elderly craftspeople, then raised awareness by exhibiting their photos at Happen.

Since May, Happen has been hosting “Speak Your Dreams Aloud” gatherings every Saturday. The subject matter is wide open, and to date has covered topics as varied as Malaysian ethnic diversity, volunteering in the Indonesian rainforest coffee industry, and good posture and etiquette. In addition to giving ordinary people the chance to voice their dreams, it also provides them with opportunities to engage with professionals in a wide variety of fields.

Jan reveals that Happen will also be participating in a Tai­chung City Government effort to build an entrepreneurship platform for young people. She says that Happen is now working intensively on preparing resources and developing partnerships with industry to support the project.

In the future, they also plan to move beyond simply providing a warm and open working environment. Chiu and ­Chang’s vision for Happen is to have it connect people to the kinds of resources and professional communities that will enable them to “happen” onto the entrepreneurial path.


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文‧張瓊方 圖‧莊坤儒

























由於客群不多,這裡幾乎是來者不拒,先後曾有攝影師、活動企畫師、設計師、雜誌作家進駐工作。目前好伴駐創主要進駐者有專營平板點餐系統的I CHEF 團隊,以及單親媽媽王國芳帶著一雙女兒馨儀、品潔共同創業的妞妞小鋪。
























「其實那裡是一個充滿生命力的地方。」詹怡嘉說,好伴進去做田野調查,訪問店家,並規劃出一條路線,在 4月中舉辦一場「舊城小旅行──一廣漫遊記」,帶領大家走進一廣,當天晚上還邀請在一廣開餐廳的菲律賓籍老闆娘,來好伴教大家做菲律賓菜。








文・張瓊方 写真・荘坤儒






















利用者が多くはないので来る者は拒まない。カメラマン、イベントプランナー、デザイナー、ライターといった職業の人も利用している。現在の主な入居者は、レストラン用タブレットメニュー注文システムを開発するI CHEFのチームだ。


























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