USC Price signs three MOUs in China to study local tech innovation, poverty alleviation

August 28, 2018

Professor Eric Heikkila at the Danzhai Wanda Village MOU signing ceremony (Photo courtesy of Eric Heikkila)

By Matthew Kredell

The USC Price School of Public Policy recently signed three memoranda of understanding to establish new research opportunities and international exchanges in China.

Professor Eric Heikkila, director of the Price School’s Office of Global Engagement, attended a conference in April hosted by the USC U.S.-China Institute and connected with representatives from the Shenzhen Lianshuo Education Investment Management Co. and Dalian Wanda Group, who spoke on the panels.

Those introductions led to USC Price forming agreements in July with the Shenzhen Lianshuo Education Investment Management Co., as well as the Development Research Center (DRC) of Shenzhen Municipality, which is responsible for policy advice and implementation in one of the leading cities in China for technological innovation.

In June, after Heikkila traveled to the Guizhou province in China to learn more about the region firsthand, the Price School added a third MOU with Danzhai Wanda Village.

“Shenzhen is a thriving area of technological innovation, and they go about it in slightly different ways than we do, so there’s opportunity for both sides to learn from each other,” Heikkila said. “In the case of Wanda Village, it’s an opportunity for us as a case study for poverty alleviation, but also to focus on how public-private partnerships have been effective in achieving these kinds of social goals.”

Each of the MOUs – signed by Heikkila, USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott, and USC Vice President for Strategic and Global Initiatives Anthony Bailey – is valid for five years.

Examining innovation

Heikkila tours batik fabric in Guizhou Province. (Photo courtesy of Eric Heikkila)

The Shenzhen agreements will prompt a comparative study of how local governments (the DRC), leading private sector companies (Lianshuo) and universities can collaborate to foster technological innovation in their localities.

The intent of the participating institutions is to promote exchanges and visits, hold joint international forums and seminars, and cooperate to carry out research projects around economic policy, technological innovation, public policy and urban planning.

Wu Sikang, director of the DRC, will be among approximately 20 senior government officials from the Shenzhen Municipality coming to USC Price this fall to participate in a training program, organized by the Price School’s International Public Policy and Management (IPPAM) master’s program. The USC Center for Economic Development will help provide content for the training focused on the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership for Southern California (AMP SoCal).

Reducing poverty

Danzhai Village (Photo courtesy of Eric Heikkila)

Wanda Village is a targeted poverty alleviation program sponsored by the Dalian Wanda Group in Danzhai County, one of the most poverty-stricken provinces in China. With an investment of $237 million, the program includes a three-pronged approach: a relief fund for short-term poverty alleviation, a tourism resort village for the medium term and a vocational school for the long term.

Heikkila had the opportunity to experience the program in a unique way as rotating mayor of Wanda Village. His visit and the MOU were featured in China Daily, the country’s English-language daily newspaper.

“The rotating mayor position was fun, though it’s a purely honorific title,” Heikkila said. “It’s a smart marketing strategy to generate publicity locally, making a big deal about noteworthy visitors.”

Heikkila noted that there are tentative plans to use the Danzhai Wanda Village as a host location for next year’s USC Price international lab for graduate students. He also expects to soon begin producing a research paper, with the assistance of Price doctoral students, on poverty alleviation in a global context, using Wanda Village as a case study and point of reference.

“We are very glad to have this opportunity to work with a world-class research institution on poverty alleviation,” said Chen Wanyong, general manager of Wanda Village. “We welcome advice and insights from the USC Price School of Public Policy to help enhance our capability and effectiveness in poverty alleviation and bring a better life to the people in Danzhai. We look forward to working with the students and faculty members from USC.”

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