We must encourage more for-profit companies to run social businesses

I read with interest two articles on social enterprises by Lana Lam in Postmagazine ('Down to business' November 27) and Jake van der Kamp's ('Faint scent of snobbery behind social enterprise', November 29). The issues stem from three conceptual ambiguities regarding what social enterprises are or should be.

First, the definition of a social enterprise is contextual. It is difficult to come to a universal consensus on what a social enterprise is. Creating job opportunities in rural India is a social enterprise, but it may not be perceived as such in Hong Kong.

Second, the Home Affairs Bureau has policy responsibility for social enterprises. But they should not be the monopoly of non-governmental organisations and should not be run as charities. We should encourage more for-profit companies to run social businesses to ensure that people with business skills can build and grow the enterprises on a sustainable basis.

Third, many people assume that enterprises can only do good by benefiting the 'bottom of the pyramid'. But the reality is that challenges in health care, environment, education and many other social issues are as relevant to other segments of society as to the underprivileged.

The November issue of the Harvard Business Review carried a feature on great companies that 'create value for society, solve the world's problems, and still make money'. They can be big multinational firms as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. Whether they are social enterprises or not is beside the point. My favourite example is Google. Is Google a social enterprise? Probably not, but it has created enormous value for the world.

Policy priority should therefore be directed at encouraging and supporting the development of 'great companies' that can create economic, social and/or environmental value in a profitable (and sustainable) manner. Government funding support should favour entrepreneurs who aspire to do good and do well. The annual Make a Difference Award, which champions young and innovative change makers, is a case in point.

We have selected three finalists for the 2012 Make a Difference Award, and not all of them are the classic social enterprises. But they are definitely great companies creating a positive impact. Readers can check them out ( and find out about voting procedures for the Grand Award winner.

Rachel Chan, convenor, Make a Difference Award