Online mentoring bridges gap

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 June, 2011, 12:00am


Geographically, the distances are not that great. But all too often, the Hong Kong island offices of the biggest global corporations can seem a world away from the lives of many residents of areas such as Tin Shui Wai or Sham Shui Po.

'It does surprise me how insular you can become in Hong Kong,' says Catherine Husted, a partner with international law firm Allen & Overy.

For several years, Husted has been trying to bridge the divide as deputy chair of the Community Business Leadership Team (CBLT). Comprising senior company executives, CBLT was established in 2005 by Community Business, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO).

'[Our] mission... is to lead, inspire and support businesses to improve their positive impact on people and communities,' says Robin Bishop, the group's chief operating officer.

The NGO aims to achieve its corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals not only by passing on its own knowledge and expertise but also by providing forums - notably the CBLT - in which businesses can come together, share best-practice knowledge and work jointly on projects.

While the CSR policy of most companies once consisted of little more than ad hoc donations, Husted says 'it is now part of our DNA.'

The CBLT's major current initiative, the Engage Journey of Opportunity programme, highlights this shift in attitudes. Launched in 2008, Engage aims to make young people from the poorest communities aware of educational and career opportunities, and to make them better equipped to seize them.

In the programme's first year, 40 corporate volunteers - senior executives from companies such as Standard Chartered Bank and Starbucks - and an equal number of 14-year-olds to 16-year-olds from Tin Shui Wai, met up for a one-day event. Since then, the scale and ambition of the scheme has grown and is now based around an eight-month online mentoring programme.

'Rather than just an email exchange between mentors and mentees, we've set up a social networking site that only the mentors, mentees and Community Business can access,' says Husted.

A series of one-day workshops provided the young people from Tin Shui Wai and Sham Shui Po not only with a chance to learn about CV writing, job applications, and what to expect in their first job, but also with an opportunity to take their high-flying mentors on an eye-opening tour of the areas they live in.

Many of this year's mentees can also get their foot in the door. 'Some of the companies involved will give the kids internships after a mini-job application process,' says Husted, whose company will be accepting two interns in August.

Bishop says the benefits worked both ways. 'Those employees who were able to participate in the programme reported having an increased sense of loyalty to their organisation, an increase in morale. They were able to go back and be more productive,' she says.

Coming together

Founded in 2003, Community Business now works with over 40 groups

To promote CSR, it focuses on four areas: community investment, CSR strategy, diversity and inclusion, and work-life balance

To help run a week-long drive in October to push for work-life balance, it is looking for more corporate members and volunteers