Former Hong Kong lawyer sets up social enterprise gym to help troubled youths

Anne Chen quit her high-paying job to pursue her dream of helping underprivileged youngsters by founding a Thai boxing gym

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 7:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 10:06pm

Former practising lawyer Anne Chen Wai-yui had never heard of social enterprises until she set up a Muay Thai boxing gym in 2015 to help underprivileged youngsters.

Chen has helped more than 50 youths over the past two years, of whom 13 have become associate coaches at her gym, Elite Thai Boxing and Fitness.

Martial arts fitness craze gives Muay Thai a leg up in Hong Kong

She was first introduced to the sport in 2013 by her son. She became healthier, losing about 10kg. She then came up with the idea of helping less fortunate youngsters through the martial art.

She was told by some friends that what she wanted to do sounded like a social enterprise.

“That was the first time I heard the term, and I was thinking it was a great form,” Chen said. “In this way I can combine my business experience with doing charitable work.”

Chen first partnered with Youth Outreach, a charity that has been helping troubled youngsters for over 20 years, to bring in the first batch of trainees.

She also set up special Thai boxing classes for elderly people and those recovering from mental illness.

“Of course it is a huge gap for me to have transformed from a well-paid lawyer to an underpaid social enterprise entrepreneur,” Chen said. “But I want to continue this career as troubled youths deserve another chance.

“Some might think there is no hope for those young people who come from marginalised backgrounds, but I think otherwise,” she said.

“These young people might not be doing well academically but some of them have rather good sporting skills, which could be useful for my company.”

Chen said her company was not profitable even though it received some money from corporate clients. This meant she had to support the gym from her own savings.

Social enterprises have been developing in Hong Kong over the past decade.

The number has grown more than 50 per cent over the past four years to 574. Sixty per cent are profitable.