Telecom firm answers call for the needy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2008, 12:00am

At least 200 underprivileged young people will get the chance to travel overseas this year thanks to a new fund aimed at broadening their horizons and improving their chances amid an increasingly tough job market.

The fund, set up by SmarTone-Vodafone, donates money so that young people with limited means can take part in the international exchange programmes offered by the Hong Kong Award for Young People (AYP). Formerly known as The Duke of Edinburgh's Award, the AYP encourages young people aged 14 to 25 to strive for personal development by doing various tasks that earn them bronze, silver and gold awards.

'Many underprivileged families do not have the resources to send their children on the AYP exchange programmes. We knew the AYP needed funds, so we set up the SmarTone-Vodafone AYP International Exchange Programme Fund so that we could help Hong Kong's younger generation,' said Patrick Chan, executive director of SmarTone-Vodafone.

Investing in the younger generation is an important part of the company's corporate social responsibility programme and Mr Chan said that by doing so, the company was helping to nurture future leaders. With this in mind the company supports research and development at Chinese University, gives career talks to schools and universities and sponsors several competitions for young people.

'Twenty or 30 years ago, jobseekers were competing with just the city's population. Now they have to compete with the millions of people on the mainland. Some 60 to 70 per cent of jobs these days require people to go across the border. The job market has become a lot more competitive and gaining international exposure is the key to a broader international perspective. It will greatly benefit their personal development,' Mr Chan said.

Participating in the AYP programmes would also encourage better interpersonal and leadership skills, and make young people more aware of global and environmental issues.

The fund was set up when the telecommunications firm decided to organise the SmarTone-Vodafone HK Challenge. This 48-hour, corporate team-building event was first held in Hong Kong last year. A percentage of the team entrance fees and charity donations are placed in the fund.

'Last year we raised HK$500,000 for the fund through the Hong Kong Challenge. But we hope to raise more this year, and in the future, as the event grows and there is more awareness among the business community,' Mr Chan said.

Having the extra funds has allowed the AYP to organise more exchange programmes than before, including a 12-day trip to the Netherlands in early August. The theme of the trip is environmental protection and participants will do projects, renovate a school and visit environment protection facilities.

'It's too early to say whether these exchange programmes will make a real difference. But they will certainly plant a seed, which is a starting point,' Mr Chan said.

Other exchange programmes in August include two trips to Britain and one to France and Thailand through various institutions, such as the Sea Cadet Corps, Air Cadet Corps and Outward Bound, which offer the AYP programme. At least 13 exchange programmes have been planned for this year.

To get funding under the SmarTone-Vodafone scheme, applicants need to satisfy several criteria, including a means test.

Mr Chan said many applications had been received and approved since the fund went live in April. 'In the past, the underprivileged would have been discouraged from taking part in something like the AYP programme because they wouldn't have had the means to do so. For example, the airfare for the Netherlands trip alone is more than HK$5,000. The fund means they now have the opportunity to take part and are not deprived of getting some international exposure.'