By Martin Hiesboeck/Digital Marketing Director, Geber Consulting
Dear Madam President,
Technology pundits are rarely in a position to comment on the future of a whole country. But Taiwan is a country of technology. Therefore, your inauguration on May 20 gives me an opportunity to throw caution to the wind and speak up. Congratulations on your landslide victory, and here are five bold ideas on how to make Taiwan great again.
1. Ditch the plans to launch another "Move South" policy encouraging Taiwanese businesses to invest in South East Asia. The extended workbench model is already irrelevant. Labor costs no longer matter. That is exactly why Taiwanese firms are moving back home from China. Instead of fretting over where to go, think about what to do. Invest in the development of the latest technologies in automation, additive manufacturing, and robotics. Taiwan has the best scientists and engineers in the world: make them work for the future, not the status quo.
2. Stop hoarding foreign reserves. The idea that they are essential in case of war with China or a hypothetical financial crisis is beginning to sound quixotic. The more than US$400 billion should instead be used create the world's most innovative venture capital fund. Existing Taiwanese VC is conservative, risk-averse and dominated by vested interests. It is high time to fund the future of the country on a big scale. Taiwan will never rival America's Silicon Valley VC landscape, but small countries like Estonia have shown what can be done by offering generous grants to entrepreneurs. Taipei City's startup program and "Branding Taiwan" are a start, but far too stingy. It's time to think bigger, much bigger.
Existing Taiwanese VC is conservative, risk-averse and dominated by vested interests. It is high time to fund the future of the country on a big scale.
3. Use part of the idle reserves to support existing ventures and new startups in the area of manufacturing technology. Taiwan is the undisputed king of manufacturing - but its companies are held behind by lack of talent and access to funding. Most machinery manufacturers keep making machines based on outdated technology in the hope to dominate the markets of developing countries. Innovation and marketing skills are woefully inadequate throughout the industry. While institutions like Academia Sinica or ITRI house some of the brightest minds on the planet, their ideas are more often than not monetized by innovative companies in the US instead of local firms. It need not be that way. Offering tax rebates to innovative companies and topping up salaries of professionals to attract better talent should be the first steps.
4. Throw money at Taiwan's healthcare providers in exchange of massive investments in medical technologies and biotechnology. Taiwan's hyper-efficient healthcare system is one of the best in the world. The country owns valuable patient data, but the IT infrastructure of hospitals is stuck in the 1990s. Hospitals are run inefficiently and doctors waste valuable time doing repetitive tasks. Without massive investment in state-of-the-art medical technology, Taiwan will never be a healthcare destination for foreigners. Giving money directly to hospitals to encourage adoption of big data, AI, modern imaging and diagnostic systems is the only way to keep the National Health Insurance solvent, its healthcare top notch, and its biotech sector relevant. Systematic investment in big data can bring down the cost of care significantly, and give Taiwan's excellent doctors more time to focus on innovation and learning. It will also give then more time to become entrepreneurs and serve on the boards of innovative medtech companies.
5. Last but certainly not least, swing open the gates and welcome international talent. Everyone with a science degree, some achievement in business, or money to invest, should be given free work permits and unlimited visas. If they have worked and paid taxes for five years, they should automatically be eligible to apply for a Taiwanese passport. It is a farce that 90-year-old retired professors have to leave the country in which they have spent their entire lives every three months just because of antiquated immigration laws. Taiwan is not a Han-Chinese nation. It has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. The only way to keep up with your neighbors economically is by building the most diverse workforce in Asia. Taiwan's leading companies are stifled by lack of international talent, just ask their marketing teams. Foreigners meet unnecessary obstacles every step of the way, from work permits to access bank credit. Taiwan's universities cannot find good teaching staff, because salaries are ridiculously low and restrictions on hiring foreigners extremely cumbersome. Learn from Sweden, which welcomes talented people from around the world with open arms and therefore has the most vibrant tech sector outside the US.
The incoming government has already adopted a consultative process that is both innovative and admirable. However, please don't just listen to the advice of local business owners in their 70s whose main preoccupations are China and their own profit margins. Listen and learn instead from young entrepreneurs, innovators, industry experts and professionals from around the world. They hold the real keys to Taiwan's future.
Best regards and good luck!
PS. While you are at it, here's another bold move: make English the second official language. Otherwise Singapore and Hong Kong will always be decades ahead.
Martin Hiesboeck is an international branding and corporate strategy consultant with a focus on Asia. He is currently the director of digital marketing at Taiwan's leading brand internationalization agency, Geber Consulting (Twitter| LinkedIn | Facebook) He works mainly with companies developing international brands and guides multinational companies on their journey in the Asian marketplace. A sought-after keynote speaker in both Chinese and English, he also teaches university courses in branding and digital marketing.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White
The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original piece was published on LinkedIn here.