How Hong Kong’s MTR Corp and other companies can profit from meeting a social need
Stephen Cheung says companies that proactively look to create solutions to Hong Kong’s social ills end up making money for themselves and creating solutions for us
Hong Kong has more than its fair share of pressing social problems. Issues from income inequality to rapid ageing to air pollution are so far-reaching that solutions are virtually impossible for a government to fix alone. While Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s maiden policy address included a raft of measures, including initiatives to cool down the property market, alleviate poverty and improve elderly care services, she said the government has “no magic wands”. So what’s the answer?
To address Hong Kong’s problems, we need the expertise and acumen of the private sector. We need businesses to apply their skills and expertise to help solve social problems in a way that generates profit. This is not “doing good” for the sake of it; companies that embrace this approach deliver economic value for shareholders and social value for the rest of us – it’s creating shared value.
A small but growing number of businesses in Hong Kong, from large corporations to start-ups, realise that tackling problems can be lucrative in more ways than one.
The workforce of labour-intensive industries is ageing, and so is the MTR Corporation’s. Therefore the company has started programmes to stir student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The benefits are twofold: MTR gains from a pipeline of potential employees, while young people in Hong Kong gain better access to technical and professional careers.
It’s increasingly common for the elderly to go into institutional care, yet many seniors would be happier if they could stay in their own homes. Bamboos Professional Nursing Services provides nurses to the elderly at their addresses, with 80 per cent of its workforce being new to health care and predominantly from low-income backgrounds. Bamboos’ training enables them to find better-paid jobs as they improve patients’ quality of life and alleviate staff shortages in public health care.
These are just two examples where companies reaped benefits and profit while helping with a critical social problem.
Hong Kong has traditionally been a place where you had to fend for yourself, but as we face a rapidly ageing society, we need ways to ensure that the elderly are not left behind. We also need to empower youths in Hong Kong to pursue careers with relevant training opportunities, and in turn try our best to diminish the trajectory where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. The business world here is full of sharp minds; we need them to realise there is profit in solving problems while creating shared value for the community and shareholders.
Professor Stephen Cheung is chairperson of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Task Force