Privately run social enterprise a cut above the rest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 2012, 12:00am


'YC' was just 15 when she had her first taste of ketamine. Within weeks she was hooked, her life spiralling into a drug-dependent haze that only ended when she was arrested by police.

Now 21, the young, bright-eyed woman working at the Fullness hairdressing salon in Sai Wan Ho is quietly spoken and talks openly about her troubled past.

The salon is a privately funded social enterprise run by the Fullness Christian Vocational Training Centre Limited.

'YC' started working at the salon, which has two branches in the district, last year after a one-year stint in a drug rehabilitation centre on Lamma Island.

'People seduced me to take the drug and then I couldn't escape,' she said, recalling her four years of addiction when she would spend HK$6,000 a month on the drug.

At the age of 19, she was arrested for drug possession and sent for rehabilitation.

Six months ago she was offered a job at the salon, which trains young former addicts and ex-offenders to be hairdressers.

'I wanted to change and I wanted to give up,' she said. 'But I feel warm here. I didn't know how to deal with other people before but they really trust me here and I'm comfortable.'

'YC' now lives at home in Ap Lei Chau with her parents and works full-time at the salon, earning HK$7,000 a month.

'I want to be a top stylist. I'm happy that I can leave those days behind,' she said.

This is an example of a successful social enterprise in Hong Kong. Only a few succeed, and even fewer are privately funded.

According to a 2010 survey by the General Chamber of Social Enterprises, most social enterprises struggle to break even, but the government-funded ones are the least profitable.

At the Fullness Salon, the management team has steered clear of government help and last year made a HK$4,000 profit.

'It's more flexible if we don't ask for any public money,' salon manager Ted Kwan Chi-hong said.

'There is a catch with public money because there's too much administration and it doesn't carry the sense of urgency to do more promotions or innovation.'

In 2005, private investors bought the salon from a non-government organisation and in 2008 they raised HK$2.9 million by selling shares to 16 investors - most middle-class professionals - and one organisation.

'We used a simple company structure and we brought in people from diverse backgrounds,' Kwan said. 'Because we have the money, the people and the networks, we could expand.'

The two branches pay HK$800,000 in wages a year.