How the creativity of Hong Kong’s social entrepreneurs can bring hope to those in need

A sharing kitchen that helps the grass roots and middle-aged feel useful while serving a community need is one example of the co-creation our society needs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 7:46pm

We visited HOPEmade last week, a sharing kitchen project in Tsuen Wan that’s supported by the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund.

It recruits grass roots or middle-aged people to prepare food in kitchens during non-peak hours (e.g. 7am and 2pm) and sell the food on site. This not only alleviates labour shortages in the restaurant sector and helps them develop new products and increase revenue, it also boosts the confidence of the grass roots and motivates them to work and earn a living. It also promotes local food production and the development of a Hong Kong brand.

Social innovation the key to tackling society’s problems, academic says

However, the venture is only possible with the support of restaurant owners who are willing to share their kitchen facilities and make satisfactory insurance arrangements. Certainly they enjoy some reward for their help by sharing in the sale of goods produced using their kitchens.

We met the restaurant owner, Mr Cheung, who see himself as part of the community. He likes to give back to the community by providing space and utilities for this venture. He shared with us the difficulties in running a catering business in Hong Kong, with the very small profit margins and high rental costs among his greatest concerns.

The grass roots women working for this venture are mostly migrants from mainland China, but they have been in Hong Kong for 15 years. They need to look after their children and families. However, they have seized the opportunity to become producers rather than just consumers.

The success of the project not only has a direct impact on poverty alleviation but also provides a viable model for a community economy

They told us that getting involved in such activities had broadened their horizons by increasing their family earnings and, most importantly, their lives had become more fulfilling. Subsequently, their family life and relationships had improved as they were no longer dependants and their products were appreciated by the customers. As a matter of fact, the restaurant business has also been enhanced due to the unique traditional Chinese drinks these women prepared.

It is welcoming to see how this project addresses a social need with an innovative approach by identifying and better utilising community resources (idle kitchen space and the labour force). The success of the project not only has a direct impact on poverty alleviation but also provides a viable model for a community economy. It thoroughly demonstrates a win-win situation for all sides.

We hope these projects can be reproduced and replicated in different forms to make good use of community resources and connect the community for the betterment of each other.

It is pleasing to see this project by the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund as a catalyst for social innovation in Hong Kong, connecting our community with different sectors, including businesses, NGOs, academics and philanthropies to create a social impact through innovative solutions that address poverty and social exclusion.

The ultimate goal should be to foster an ecosystem where social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas can thrive by creating products and services that benefit society by meeting underserved needs, unleashing underutilised talents and more.

Social innovation is still in its infancy in Hong Kong and we all need to work hard and contribute in our own way in cultivating a conducive environment for young social entrepreneurs to help those who are in need. Co-creation in the community would definitely be beneficial to all.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong