Sienna Zhiwen Xu: Bringing tools to support youth’s mental health and well-being

August 16, 2023


Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your experience.

I was born and raised in a small village in China. In public schools, there was no mental health support for students. My sense of purpose was shrouded deeply in darkness while pleasing people became my protection. I understood the lack of resources, education inequality, and depression rate damage thousands of children’s well-being and future. After working as a school teacher, team leader, and program coordinator, I have seen young people suffer without purpose and passion. As I braved difficult times, I decided to build my own startup to help teenagers to use tools like design thinking and positive psychology to take responsibility for their future.


Please describe your company story. What led you to start your social business? How did you come up with the idea to start your social business? 

The way I was being educated planted the seed of being independent and finding the answers myself. Having depression and being able to overcome it allowed me to build strong connections and develop empathy toward anyone I meet. I want to be that person who creates a positive change in mental health support for all public school students in China. It’s not only for me but for every family behind each student who is experiencing the same as me 10 years ago. 

Within 2 years after I quit my job in 2021, I founded a life design academy and empowered more than 15,000 young people to design their lives. I trained teachers globally for UNESCO. Today, I am still on the road. But I am so clear about who I want to become and I truly believe any teenager can do the same with the right tool and resources. 

Flourish Life Design Academy offers mental health immersive education to teenagers from underrepresented backgrounds in China to nurture their social-emotional coping skills and well-being. 


What is the main challenge you want to solve?

Children in China are facing increasing stress and competition at school, high parental expectations, and rapidly changing socio-economic conditions. Mental health conditions are a major burden of disease for adolescents in China. According to a recent national study of mental health, almost 25 percent of adolescents reported feeling mild or severe depression. It is estimated that at least 30 million children and adolescents under 17 years of age in China struggle with emotional or behavioral problems.

The COVID-19 epidemic has also led to adolescents and young adults feeling more isolated, anxious, and concerned about their schooling and career prospects. Most public schools only focus on preparing students for the college entrance exam and neglect emotional support. Thus, most schools omit a counseling department, not to mention providing a mental health support curriculum. Missing mental and emotional guidance makes students in public schools feel high pressure and lose their life purpose.

Without well-being education and guidance, they lose self-worth and hope and squander their potential.


How did you first hear about the social business concept? When did you realize you were leading a social business?

I heard about this concept through the Y&Y platform. I am solving a societal problem related to SDG17.


What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? And the least?

I have the chance to learn from same-minded people and solve problems for others. I love helping people and making people happy and free from suffering. 


What is the most important lesson you learned in your journey as a social entrepreneur so far?

Love ourselves before we love others. Change ourselves first before we change the world. 


How did you hear about the Y&Y Fellowship Program?



What motivated you to apply?

The people and learning opportunities.


How has your journey as a Y&Y Fellow been so far?

It has been great and nurturing. 


Why is it important to have the support of a mentor?

To learn knowledge and wisdom from the best. 


What advice would you give to a young person that is starting a social business?

Understand and fall in love with the problem 


What advice would you give to someone considering applying to the Y&Y Fellowship Program?

Be yourself.

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