Written by Andrew Huang from Solerico Foundation

Social Impact in its Various Forms

Changemakers exist everywhere. It is no longer the case that creators of social impact are exclusively volunteers or charity workers. Today, increasing numbers of MNCs recognise a need to support the social values of their stakeholders. At the same time, more people are challenging the idea that profit maximisation is the be-all and end-all of companies. As a result, opportunities for people to create change are flourishing.

We see this in the growing importance of CSR in companies. We see this in the rise of social entrepreneurship from being on the fringes into business relevance. We see this in the growing number of companies embracing corporate social innovation (CSI) to create shared value.

On Tuesday evening, I had the privilege to attend – let alone speak at –an event that recognised these various forms of social impact, featuring panelists who were changemakers across these disciplines. The event, organised by Jessie Huang of Hong Kong Social Entrepreneurs Meetup, sought to shine light on the following questions: One, why and how should corporations adopt a Shared Value strategy; and two, how can corporations, social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and individual changemakers work with each other to generate social benefit.

HK Social Entrepreneurs Meetup

The Limitations of CSR

It was enlightening to understand the benefits of Shared Value as being in contrast to the challenges traditionally faced by CSR programs. Certainly, while CSR creates a wealth of social good, too often their effectiveness is constrained. A major constraint is, often, companies’ CSR activities are not aligned with their business purpose and performance. This creates challenges. A lack of convergence between a company’s CSR initiatives and its core strengths may result in the company not deploying the necessary resources, funding, and coordination to sustain these initiatives. CSR may thus become labelled as a “side gig” – one that relies heavily on employee volunteerism and sacrifice, but is rarely a priority.

Strengths of Shared Value

Creating Shared Value, on the other hand, is a strategy that seeks to create business value for the company whilst also addressing societal needs. It does not view the latter as a chore, but as an opportunity to generate revenue or reduce costs.

Martina Mok, Head of Programmes & Partnerships at SVIHK, pointed out several use cases of how corporations have adopted a Shared Value strategy. As an example, she talked about AIA, the insurance company, which offers in many countries a health and wellness insurance program called Vitality with the purpose of incentivising people to undertake and track healthier activities and, in doing so, reducing the level and frequency of health insurance claims. AIA benefits from reduced payouts whilst also positively impacting customer lifestyles.

HK Social Entrepreneurs Meetup

Social Enterprises on Tackling Local Issues and Working with Corporations

While most businesses may consider meeting social needs to be an important albeit peripheral activity, we know that social enterprises put social value at their core. Gary Fung, co-founder of social enterprise OnBoard under New World Development, and Andrew Tsui, co-founder of Rooftop Republic, are testament to that. Both spoke about their experiences in attracting corporate partners, and the importance of positioning their ventures as a “win-win-win” for all stakeholders.

Gary, co-founder of the social enterprise OnBoard, identified commercial and social value in linking professional athletes with post-retirement career opportunities. The commercial value is that companies can benefit greatly from hiring more athletes, as athletes may possess certain valuable qualities in outsized ways (e.g. specialised networks, discipline, drive to succeed). The social value is that athletes often face difficulties finding jobs outside of the sports industry, and can benefit from career support.

Andrew, co-founder of the urban farming Rooftop Republic, emphasised the importance of defining a strong business case for your social venture in order to secure corporate clients. As a social enterprise, it often requires companies to undergo a shift in thinking to see the business value in them purchasing your product or service. This was definitely his lived experience, as he worked with property developers and property management firms to see the value in integrating urban farms into their projects. Being able to define and defend a strong business case facilitates that shift.

It was a pleasure to attend this wonderful and insightful event – to listen to veterans in their fields, and to speak about my experiences working in CSR and in the nonprofit space. There are several opportunities for corporations, social enterprises, and social innovators to pursue strategic partnerships to create Shared Value together, and discussions like these are such an important first step. Here’s to more!

About Andrew Huang

Andrew Huang
Project Manager, Solerico Foundation

Andrew Huang works as a management consultant at a global consulting firm, where he also co-leads their Corporate Social Responsibility team in Hong Kong. Outside of work, he drives project development for Solerico Foundation, a local charity that fundraises projects that cut out fossil fuels, protect the environment, and boost socioeconomic development in Asia.