Tò-uat (“Turn Left” in the Taiwanese dialect) is a social movement-themed bookstore in Taiwan. Its main goal is to promote a reading culture surrounding social justice and human rights. Tò-uat hosts events that feature political, social, and cultural books and writings; moreover, it provides a meeting space for civil society organizations to hold public events and to organize private meetings among CSOs. Tò-uat takes an inclusive approach and advances diverse participation in social justice discourse surrounding same-sex marriage, labor rights, and Taiwanese independence advocacy. It began in 2016 as a merger between a bookstore and a café, owned by a group of civic-minded individuals seeking to establish a center for civil society movement building. Tò-uat registered an association as a separate nonprofit entity in 2021 in order to expand the possibilities for its social impact. Tò-uat also introduced a membership model in December 2020 to raise revenue for its activities and to subsidize the convening services it provides to CSOs with similar missions. The revenue provided by membership fees also provides a more consistent cash flow which enabled them to survive even the difficult commercial circumstances of the pandemic. Membership benefits include consumption of two free cups of coffee per month at their café, a 10% discount on books, watching livestream talks and events, and an annual selection of books once a year. About one-third of To-uat’s income comes from membership fees and rental of their space. Another third comes from the sale of food and drink, and the final third comes from the sale of books, t-shirts and other products. In addition, Tò-uat’s nonprofit entity receives grants to support the convening services provided to CSOs.
Theory of Change
Providing a space for free public discussion of social issues, and for NGOs to network and collaborate with each other, strengthens civil society and builds public awareness of human rights.
Tò-uat caters to readers interested in social movement, Taiwanese culture and history as well as advocates of transitional justice and promotes diverse cultures. The books sold at the Tò-uat store predominantly discuss independent thinking and social issues surrounding environmental protection, gender, labor, philosophy, and Taiwanese identity. Many of the books, CDs, magazines and news journals offered are banned by the PRC government. Tò-uat holds discussions, lectures, and meetings on social movement issues at their cafe and bookstore joint location. Tò-uat sponsors four events per month on average for CSOs to discuss any topics and issues freely. By providing meeting space free of charge, Tò-uat supports organizations, movements, and nonprofits that might not have the financial capacity or platform to hold events. Other large events consist of book fairs and book clubs such as the “Must Read for Taipei Mayor Candidates” book fair and the “Taiwan Rebels Series” reading club. These gatherings aim to promote access to diverse books, critical thinking, and free discussion about historical memory. Tò-uat proactively reaches out to its membership, curating content (such as ten exclusive broadcast lectures annually), circulating lecture notes via a monthly newsletter, and providing access to short-video overviews of each event hosted. Members are also invited to special events with human rights organizers and political leaders. By creating a distribution channel and through its promotional activities, Tò-uat also supports small publishing houses in Taiwan that provide a platform for distinctive voices and diverse perspectives, thereby supporting knowledge production and diversity.
During the pandemic, Tò-uat faced a financial crisis like other businesses. In order to continue its mission to support CSOs and provide an open space for discussions of social issues, Tò-uat launched a membership drive in December 2020 to reach out to more people and engage them in the collective formation of social impact. Tò-uat currently has over 700 members. Since its founding, Tò-uat has organized a total of over 1,600 events, of which 225 were organized for CSOs free of charge. These free events for CSOs have been steadily increasing over the past two years. Their membership drive has successfully covered the costs for 20 social/cultural lectures, and Tò-uat has committed to holding eight monthly CSO events moving forward.