Hours for Impact

Bringing Agile to Rural Startups

Taiwanese volunteers smiling for group photo
Group of students sitting around table with laptops

Yung-Chuan Ko, PMP and the PMI Taipei, Taiwan Chapter

Number of Hours Pledged: 706 

SDG Supported: #4 Quality Education

Country: Taiwan

Summary: About 1 in 5 Taiwan residents live in rural areas, mostly on farms or in rugged mountain communities. And though those townships are sparsely populated, many aren’t lacking in entrepreneurial spirit.

Yung-Chuan Ko, PMP, saw this firsthand as a social impact trainer and government official providing grants to young entrepreneurs. His meetings with Taiwan’s rural business owners confirmed that they shared the drive of their urban counterparts. The problem? They lacked the resources available in cities.

“Although the rural entrepreneurs are very enthusiastic about solving local social problems and working closely with local communities, they need management capability to provide workable solutions effectively,” Ko says.

When he joined the PMI Taipei, Taiwan Chapter board of directors in 2021, Ko saw a chance to bring those resources to remote regions. He was aware that many of his colleagues, some of whom he had met through project management book clubs, were eager to make a bigger impact in their communities, too. 

The chapter pledged over 700 volunteer hours to the PMI Hours for Impact program to launch ChangeMakers, a business coaching program to benefit rural entrepreneurs and support UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, Quality Education. And the team knew it wanted the training to focus on agile. 

“Agile management is about collaboration, where people develop a common goal to solve problems together,” Ko says. “This is not simply a tool but a mindset.” 

Project Manager Pairings 

The team developed the agile empowerment program with three overarching objectives: 

  • Establish workable coaching and training modules for rural youth entrepreneurship and social innovation teams.
  • Provide opportunities for success in rural startups and on social innovation teams.
  • Expand the influence of the PMI Taipei, Taiwan Chapter.

In February 2022, the chapter recruited 15 volunteer coaches. A month later, they brought aboard a similar number of rural startups. The startups, which were all led by entrepreneurs under 40, had between three and 10 employees. And while their organizations aim to solve a wide range of societal issues, none of the teams had any prior experience in agile.

The startup teams completed two agile training sessions before being paired with volunteers for individual coaching. 

“There was a huge amount of enthusiasm from the beginning,” Ko says. “Many of the managers had had no exposure to young entrepreneurs in rural areas, so they were eager to find out how their practical experience could be applied to a new situation.” 

One common challenge for the rural startups was resource management. To serve their communities and make an impact, many of the teams needed to hire and manage local people—and foster relationships with key stakeholders.  

“The entrepreneurs are busy,” Ko says. “When working in a rural community with local leaders, there are a lot of stakeholders to deal with and manage, including people who don’t have a fixed schedule.” 

Ko finds that applying an agile methodology, which involves continuous collaboration, can help leaders navigate that complexity. “If people have different ways of working, you have to find ways to compromise. Agile teaches people how to prioritize, talk to others and lead with empathy.” 

Women working together
Group of students listening to teacher in classroom
Three smiling people

Productivity Soars 

At the end of the ChangeMakers program, 57 percent of the rural startups reported an increase in productivity. More than one-third (36 percent) saw a rise in team autonomy. And 14 percent indicated a decrease in their failure rate. 

“Our contributions have helped 14 entrepreneurial teams increase productivity, reduce meeting time, reduce errors, and increase team control and autonomy,” Ko says. “At the same time, for participating volunteers, it also increases a sense of achievement, practical leadership experience, and enhances interpersonal relationships.” 

Indeed, half of the volunteers said the project educated them on how to be good coaches. And 3 out of 10 said they gained new knowledge, such as how to run a business and work with startups.

Local universities and entrepreneurs took notice of those impressive results. “At the end of October, we had a kickoff for the second year of the ChangeMakers program, and over 100 small- and medium-sized companies said they would like to join us,” says Chih Chung “Erik” Kao, president of PMI Taiwan. “Next year, the program will be even bigger and stronger.” 

Organizers also see broader applications for their work. Ko and some of his colleagues hope to encourage all of Taiwanese society to embrace an agile mindset for problem-solving. 

“Due to my long-term investment in rural development and youth entrepreneurship, I know the difficulties faced by entrepreneurial teams,” Ko says. “The status quo will stay in place until someone pushes it, and social transformation projects like ChangeMakers can certainly push people beyond the status quo to a powerful new way of working.”