Written by Patricia Lau
In 2012/13, I was tasked to help establish a whole new government funding scheme, namely the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (SIE) Fund, with an aim to provide impetus to propel the development of social entrepreneurs and build the local social innovation ecosystem. At the time, the government had been providing resources to fund and support the development of the social enterprise sector for almost a decade. The staunch support from the government had already enabled the social enterprise sector to flourish and gain recognition generally in Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, whilst the government’s efforts facilitated the birth of many meaningful social enterprises, almost all of these were spun off from non-profit organisations (NGOs). Only a few were founded by leaders who not only had business experience or commercial background but also a passion to tackle social issues. After all, for a social enterprise to be sustainable, it must run its operation with a business mindset and be commercially competitive. And many have also asked whether or how social enterprises could be ‘mainstreamed’ so that a bigger impact could be achieved. Therefore, one of the desires of the SIE Fund was to bring in more business expertise or to engage the business corporates.
Many Hong Kong businesses have long recognised that they are part of the society fabric and have a natural role to play in supporting and contributing back to the community. Typically, they commit resources to worthwhile causes mainly through their corporate social responsibilities (CSR) or charity efforts. The question which I pondered was how businesses could help to create a bigger impact, systemic change and a sustainable future.
Incidentally, the highly acclaimed business academic Professor Michael Porter and Mark Kramer of the Harvard Business School published an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2011 introducing the Shared Value concept. The article was very timely and I interpreted Shared Value as a form of social innovation in the business sector. I was determined to bring it to Hong Kong. My dream was to inspire Hong Kong businesses, whether they were multi-nationals or local, conglomerates or small to medium enterprises (SMEs), to invest resources into uncovering business opportunities for the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and developing a profitable business model that also addressed social issues and considered the consequences which their actions/ decisions would bring to the society.
Through consultants, we were lucky enough to be able to link up with Mark Kramer. With his support, the SIE Fund hosted Hong Kong’s first ever Shared Value Forum in 2015 together with a series of workshops for about 160 business executives. My Shared Value journey has thus started. I clearly understood that the government should focus on advocacy and play the facilitator role. For Shared Value to become part of a business strategy, it must be driven by the business sector. As a result of the first Forum, some business corporates and industry bodies have rallied to support the Shared Value concept. They rolled out their own initiatives, created platforms to build capacity or embedded the concept into their work.
Shared Value Initiative Hong Kong, strongly supported by its sister organisation in Australia and the Harvard Professors, was notably a platform which provided advocacy, systematic support and coordination across interested parties. Five years since my journey started, I am glad to see that the general awareness on Shared Value has increased. Embracing the Shared Value concept is even more important in a global crisis such as Covid-19, and indeed, some businesses have stepped up to the challenge to identify gaps and business opportunities to help the society.
I continue to dream that Shared Value will become ‘business-as-usual’ for corporates. To achieve this dream, my humble view is that we need people with a sense of purpose and be socially conscious alongside the necessary business skills, commercial acumen and technical skills. We need business executives or professionals to be daring enough to change course and gain a breadth of experience in order to be able to ‘connect the dots’ across the social, business, academic and public sectors. We need business owners/ leaders to wave the flag and empower their teams to innovate and uncover untapped business opportunities around sticky social issues. We need customers to adopt buying behaviours which favour businesses which focus on Shared Value. We need government policies that reward, facilitate and provide platforms for cross sector collaborations to tackle its high priority issues. We also need schools that inspire children and young students to have compassion and cultivate a value of giving at early ages.
May I invite you to come and dream with me too?
About Patricia Lau
Patricia Lau is an Advisor at Shared Value Initiative Hong Kong and she is currently the Director of the Alumni Affairs and Development Office at The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK).
Her major responsibilities are to set strategic priorities, manage and deliver EdUHK’s fundraising and alumni engagement programmes. She is also the Secretary-General of The EdUHK Foundation.