Family tragedy turned journalist into social entrepreneur
Diamond Cab service offers mobility and freedom to wheelchair users
As a reporter and producer in a previous life, Doris Leung Shuk-yi enjoyed producing community television about issues affecting Hongkongers.
With a confident and vivacious personality, Leung enthusiastically recalls the community news she used to do for “Eye on Community” - an evening news programme which she presented for Cable TV.
“We would follow some agenda at the District Council or maybe look at some traffic danger problem. Then each day we had a different topic, ‘’ Leung says.
"So Mondays would be entrepreneurial stories. Tuesdays were ‘reasonable complaints’ - so social topics and issues within the community; Wednesdays was health news - so interviews with doctors and patients; Thursdays were people profiles - maybe a lawyer; and Fridays were my favourite - talking about lifestyle, so I would go hiking or mountain climbing, or abseiling. I’d even get to go travelling and do an adventure race outside Hong Kong.”
Leung worked for Cable TV for 16 years, following a degree in languages and communications at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. But it was in 2006 that an event would change her life from journalist to social entrepreneur.
“In September 2006 my mother suddenly fell down in the kitchen,” she says. Later medical tests showed her mother had a brain tumour, which affected her speech and mobility on her right side.
Leung was shocked when a nurse took her aside at the hospital and said she should prepare for her mother being in a wheelchair. “This was heartbreaking news,” she says.
Her parents were pork sellers at a wet market in Lok Fu until they retired. Leung said her mother assisted her father after they were married, but was always a bit too glamorous and wore diamond earrings. Leung had grown up with her two brothers in a public housing estate in Ho Man Tin. The friendly and supportive neighbourhood culture had an early influence on her.
After the community news programme, Leung joined Allen Lee Peng-fei, the former talkshow host and founding member of the Liberal Party, on a talkshow for Cable TV “where we would find heavyweight guests and so I met Dr Leong Che-hung”.
Leung says she approached the doctor after the show. She told him about her plan to create taxis specifically geared for people in wheelchairs. That was in 2007. “Dr Leong became my first honorary adviser for this project,” she says. “I wanted to see changes. I’d done my research. No existing taxi operator had this service; they were too worried about making it sustainable.”
Leung set about finding funding and by 2011 she was able to launch Diamond Cab, named after her mother’s love of diamond earrings, with five taxis. There was an urgency for Leung to get the project started. She wanted her mother to be the officiating guest at the launch in February 2011. “I did it!” says Leung. “I had no regrets, and that was very important. I made it before she died. That’s my gift to her and me. She was there. She passed away in June last year.”
Leung chose a vehicle used to support nursing care in Japan - the Toyota Noah Welcab, specially designed for wheelchair accessibility with a mechanical ramp at the back. Two wheelchair users, plus their carers, can be accommodated on a single trip.
“Nearly half of Diamond Cab bookings are to and from hospital,” says Leung. Diamond Cab is used by the Hospital Authority as well as private nursing homes.
For Leung it is a chance for wheelchair users, often elderly, not to be trapped inside their flats. It’s also a chance for them to pay independently, so they are not always feeling reliant on their relatives.
Leung says Diamond Cab has many daytime customers, but she struggles to find clients for the evenings. So she is keen to promote the taxis as taxis for all - not just for wheelchair users. Savvy with the media, Leung has found a variety of ways to promote her social enterprise. “Last year and this year at [The Matilda Charity] Sedan Chair Race we raced with a sedan chair, which was made out of bamboo but was for a wheelchair user. It even had a seatbelt.”