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Brave new world

By Huang Yuli | China Daily | Updated: 2012-09-06 08:59

Brave new world

Canyou Group founder Zheng Weining at his office in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Huang Yuli / China Daily

Canyou Group founder and hemophiliac Zheng Weining believes computers and the Internet provide windows of opportunity for those living with disabilities. Huang Yuli reports in Shenzhen.

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Canyou's headquarters is much the same as the other buildings in Shenzhen's Futian district, but it's employees stand out in that 90 percent of them have a disability, such as the loss of a leg or an arm, or a chronic disease.

On the entrance wall there are eight characters forming a slogan: "The more disabled you are, the more beautiful you are."

Back in 1997, when Zheng Weining founded Canyou (literally "Friends of the Disabled"), he never expected it would grow from just a few people into a high-tech group that has tens of millions of yuan in assets, 33 branch offices across the country, involved with software development, cartoons and animation, e-commerce and other ventures.

It has 3,700 employees across the country. Beside offering them jobs, it also takes care of their lives, and above all, it also serves as an incubator for more social enterprises that enable the disabled to make full use of their own special skills and strengths, gain economic independence and realize their self-worth.

Now, Canyou is recognized across the world as a successful enterprise, with its model spreading like wildfire in NGO circles.

Zheng admits that he had no idea of what a social enterprise was when he started the initiative in 1997, after attempting suicide thrice.

Born with hemophilia, he moved from his hometown of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, to ensure that he had an adequate supply of clean blood. He requires a blood transfusion every week.

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Shenzhen was, at the time, the only place in China that derived blood from donations.

Thanks to his family's wealth, Zheng had never had a job before moving to Shenzhen.

Initially he felt lonely as he didn't know anyone in the city and his wife worked late most days, while his daughter went to boarding school.

He became depressed and suicidal. Then Zheng's mother gave him 300,000 yuan ($47,000) as an incentive to do something productive with his life and it was at this point that he had the idea of helping not just himself but other people who had chronic diseases, or were "handicapped" in some way or another.

He thought a computer and Internet company would be ideal.

"With computer programming the disabled have an advantage compared to 'healthy' people," Zheng claims. "For one thing, since it's not convenient for them to walk, there's fewer distractions and they are more focused.

"The computer is their world. When God closes one door he opens a window and the computer is a window for disabled people. It provides an environment in which they are more competent than in the real world."

One of Zheng's first employees was Liu Yong, who is under 1.3 meters tall and didn't finish school because of discrimination and bullying.

Zheng and his company's first employees all lived in his apartment to begin with and studied how to build websites.

In 1999, they launched the website www.2000888.com, which provides useful everyday information and forums for the disabled. It currently has more than 200,000 registered members.

In 2000, Liu Yong won fifth place at an international website making competition in Prague; and in 2003, another employee, Li Hong, won fifth place at a world programming competition in New Delhi, beating engineers from top technology companies.

Their achievements encouraged Zheng in his belief that people with disabilities could excel in the software development business.

The group grew fast and attracted talent from all over the country. In 2008, Canyou gained Capability Maturity Model Integration level-3 certification, an international award that evaluates a software enterprise's ability and maturity. In August, it passed level 5, the highest accolade.

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