Meaning Creators Self-organization in China

By Anna Betz for Enlivening Edge Magazine

‘What you are seeking is seeking you’ – a community of dedicated people from all walks of life and ages finding each other and creating meaning together, while transforming their lives and inspiring people around them.


‘Meaning Creators’ is a Chinese social enterprise founded by Yuan Cao and Fion in 2017. The group has grown from 2 people into a community of more than 100, meeting fortnightly in cities across China to bring together people with a quest for meaning, in a world hungry for it.

They continue to create unique contributions towards a more beautiful world. Twelve core members meet weekly to hold space for the larger group – and what it could become.

It was a truly special moment for George Pór and myself to meet the two founders of Meaning Creators during the Second China Evolutionary Forum 2018. We felt deeply touched by the sense of service these ladies communicated so beautifully, even beyond their words.

We reflected on how readers of Enlivening Edge Magazine could learn from these pioneers about what is involved in “going Teal”. They have started with learning to show up whole, individually and collectively, and discovering their individual and evolutionary purpose.

This is a great starting point for any Teal organization being really grounded in healthy Green.

It builds a very rich generative foundation for their next stage which is building governance structures.

So far they have met more as members of an informal group to test their ideas. They didn’t jump ahead of themselves. They are also keen to keep evolving themselves and thanks to their solid foundations they have huge potential for becoming a next-stage organization. EE Magazine has so many published articles where people make claims about “going Teal,” but when you look more deeply they are not really Teal. Isn’t healthy Green a precondition for moving to Teal? This report shows that it is.

Their compassion for all those struggling to find meaning in society and in the business world was a sign of their inner strength and authenticity. Their integrity and passion brought tears to our eyes.

Despite the encouragement and gratitude they receive from members, they can feel overwhelmed not being able yet to fully realise what their hearts tell them is possible.

The green shoots they are nurturing need a strong community to grow and strengthen, have a positive impact on a larger scale, when the evolutionary impulse is liberated from each member of the community. By liberating the creative potential of their members, they show what a community of kindred spirits can do, generating so much more energy, inspiration and ideas. These powerful women inspired us to help them build their community.

In the video below, people talk about the changes they have experienced in one year, about their struggles, how this community helps them and how success can be a barrier to finding meaning.

Yuan’s long-term vision is to grow the group into a diverse, international community for people of all ages and professions to unite around leading a meaningful life.

Now their primary purpose is to connect more people who want to create meaning and then to support them to inspire their families, friends, and colleagues.

“We want them to become authentic and be of service to society,” Yuan said.

Here, Yuan tells her story to Enlivening Edge, starting with the proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I spent 12 years working for China’s first international health insurance company, starting with just five people and growing to 400 employees, mostly young women. In 2003, major companies were coming to China and recruiting lots of expats to work for them, but it was hard for them to access healthcare in China. So our task was to build a bridge between the expats and the Chinese medical system that they didn’t know how to navigate.

We had to do a lot of hand-holding with people, many separate from their families elsewhere in the world. At times, we had to be present with a patient in hospital; our staff were their first port of call. We even had nurses and doctors in our office to be with people who needed our emotional support. That support had become our culture.

And this is what inspired Meaning Creating.

Working for this company was my first job. We were all mostly young graduates, finding meaning. The staff didn’t need to be told what to do, just to be allowed to do what they wanted to do. And it was a very profitable business – we sold insurance services to large companies who wanted us to provide the best possible service for their foreign employees.

I learnt how important and impactful it is to just do the right thing. Only 10% of our staff did sales and 90% provided services – the opposite of other insurance companies.

We were also given space to grow, as well as doing our frontline work. I hadn’t been to business school but I was given the opportunity by our founder to grow my own team and build up the company. I felt that this company had a unique culture – and we needed to define what our culture was. We had world café sessions, growing to around 50 employees. Together, we discussed the values we wanted, our mission, and our vision for the company over the next five years.

Love was number one on the list of things people wanted. So love became our core value.

It came from people who became what our mission and our vision was and what kind of company we wanted to be in 5 years. They were all very committed to this culture.

By 2013, when the company had grown to 400 staff, the founding members had become a minority. I was the chief executive, but I was not a shareholder and I felt a lot of inner struggle.

We still had a culture of love but the priority had become growing the business even bigger. I had lost some passion. I tried hard for a year which was very difficult, because I had thought I would stay until I retired.

I thought my struggle was my own problem and that I should learn to adapt and find a better way, so I decided to go to business school to do an MBA at the top university in China. But in business school, most people talk only about business – very few people are thinking about human spirit and culture. I still didn’t find the answer.

I felt it was time for me to change. For 12 years I had been self-learning and I felt I needed to meet more wise people and find out whether there was another way to grow. So I resigned and went travelling, taking on an international coaching programme to continue my executive MBA.

I visited India, the Amazon jungle and also Stamford where I met some professors teaching social psychology, sociology and creative thinking. I felt there was something for me in Stamford, so I stayed six months and there I conceived ‘Meaning Creators.’

I was inspired by global activist Lynn Twist I met who founded an alliance to support indigenous people in the rainforest. I had a very good connection with her and felt inspired and touched by her work as a meaning creator who impacts lots of people.

Once I found clarity about my calling, I returned to China and started the company in 2017.

I knew I wanted to create a community through offering workshops, coaching and creative events to connect people. My co-founder Fion and I had weekly phone calls, starting with a group of friends who formed a mini-community, exchanging ideas and supporting each other.

After a workshop we realised participants enjoyed it but then went home to the usual routine. So we decided to organise more community events, calling it ‘Meaning Launch’ which started at my home in November 2017 once a month. Each meeting had a topic and people told their stories. We encouraged them to keep returning after the workshops and listen to others.

Then we started ‘Meaning Lab’ in order to give people a place to practice while they design their life.

One of our members had graduated from drama school and was now working for HR in a big company. But drama was her dream life because drama allows people to try out new roles and experience something which wouldn’t be possible for them in everyday life and work.

I realized that I had been lucky to have had the space to build a culture with people which gives me a broader and deeper understanding. Most people don’t have that. When they join a big company they just have to fit in.

As I discovered in the business school, people don’t know what they don’t know. So now I have deeper understanding, I have to communicate it to people who cannot change their environment immediately. They can join our community and prototype, become visible to each other.

Our first anniversary is the Meaning Creator festival on 24th November 2018, which is the next big milestone. This will be a prototype, with people using their unique way to show their story and we want to continue doing this every year. Some people will give speeches, others use music, others use drama, art, photography, videos, or other tools.

We are like a small, ideal community: people who are being authentic and telling their own stories. We are a very diverse community supporting each other, creating a shared culture with different skills and passions.

Our members are knowledgeable in different fields and if people are interested in a topic they can group together and work together on issues that are important to them.

One of our members is a police officer who works in prison but who is also a music lover and guitarist. He is trying to make meaning out of the difficult work he is doing and sometimes plays music to comfort prisoners and teach them to design their life before they leave jail. This is something he learned in our community.

曹媛 <[email protected]

3 minutes, English subtitles.