Peter Woo's charity helps equip less academic teens for work and life

Tycoon Peter Woo spearheads drive to give a leg-up to less academic pupils so they can seize opportunities and overcome challenges

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 5:44am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 5:44am

Disadvantaged teenagers struggling with studies are set to be given a leg-up from a charity spearheaded by property tycoon Peter Woo Kwong-ching that seeks to equip them for challenges after leaving school.

The boss of the Wheelock conglomerate is pushing his pet project, an ongoing effort to help pupils for whom higher education is a remote possibility.

Next month, Woo - the 68-year-old son-in-law of late shipping magnate Pao Yue-kong - will launch a fresh round of Project WeCan, which aims to recruit about 5,500 corporate sponsors, professionals and retirees as volunteers to empower 150,000 pupils in about 150 secondary schools. It is estimated that about 95 per cent of those pupils will be unable to get into colleges.

The project costs HK$500 million to operate over eight years from 2011 to 2019.

"The business environment is challenging," Woo said in an interview with the Sunday Morning Post. "Hong Kong needs to expand its service capacity and equip [its people] to seize the opportunities ahead. The same spirit applies to Project WeCan, on which I hope our young people can equip and prepare themselves to face challenges ahead after they leave school."

Woo declined to comment on the participation of young activists in the Occupy Central movement that seeks greater democracy. In June, he said it was not worthwhile for the young to join "an illegal movement to fight for something that they will not achieve by sacrificing their future over the next 30 years".

Woo has assumed the role of senior director at Wheelock, having handed over the baton in January to his son Douglas, who succeeded him as chairman of an empire that is worth at least HK$260 billion. Peter Woo's daughter, Jennifer, leads the luxury retail arm, Lane Crawford, while he remains chairman of the property unit, Wharf.

Project WeCan focuses on character building, developing teenagers' communication skills and competence in areas such as the English language, and fostering creativity through company visits and community work.

"One day, a kid came to me and said, 'I get it'," Woo said. "I said, 'What?' He said, 'I want to have a job with your company, not with McDonald's'.

"That's it. As soon as they get the picture on what they want, they will work towards it."

Corporate Hong Kong contributes to society in different ways. For example, Henderson Land Development chairman Lee Shau-kee has offered to give away sites to build flats, a nursing home and a hostel.