Business Solutions to Social Issues
Hong Kong has a relatively high per capita GDP but amongst the greatest income inequalities in the world. Around 1.3 million of the city’s 7.2 million people live in poverty. This includes a large number of children and elderly persons. The HKUST Business School’s Social Entrepreneurship and Venture Philanthropy (SEVP) course gives students a chance to use their skills to help social enterprises develop growth plans and secure funding for innovative solutions to local social issues.
The SEVP course combines lectures, case studies and guest speakers with project work for established social enterprises in Hong Kong. Students work in multi-disciplinary teams with social venture partner organizations to help develop business plans to scale up their work, as well as funding pitches and proposals.
At the end of the semester, the Yeh Family Philanthropy foundation (YFP) awards grant funding of HK$250,000 to one of the social venture partners that have worked with the student teams. Which social enterprise to receive the funding is determined during a Funding Committee Meeting by votes from a professional judging panel, as well as the students themselves, to score which team has made the most compelling grant proposal. The teams’ pitches are assessed on five criteria: concept, market readiness, team composition, impact and sustainability.
Professor Marie Rosencrantz, who teaches the course, aims for the students to gain an understanding of opportunities and challenges for social entrepreneurship to address pressing global and local issues, as well as to develop practical consulting skills through the project work with the social venture partner organizations. “The students will both learn to think like venture philanthropists by analyzing the social value proposition and business model of their social enterprise partners and provide valuable assistance to these organizations through their collaboration throughout the course”, she explains.
The HKUST Business School launched the SEVP course in 2013 with the support of the Yeh Family Philanthropy. Professor Rosencrantz acknowledges this unique collaboration. "We are very grateful for the support from the Yeh Family Philanthropy foundation and the HKSAR government's Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SIE) Fund for their generous support for our students and their social venture partners.”
In Spring 2017, Longevity Design House won the funding. Given that mobility and agility decreases with age, this social enterprise aims to adapt the homes of Hong Kong’s elderly so they remain safe and suitable while aging at home. An example of such a modification is the installation of shower cubicles in place of bath tubs.
Julian Wong and Rachel Than, both studying at HKUST’s MBA program at the time, were members of the seven student-strong SEVP course team that worked with Longevity Design House.
“We spent a lot of time trying to understand Longevity Design House’s current challenges, opportunities and organizational structure,” Rachel explains. “We only had three months for the project so we couldn’t work on everything. We narrowed down the scope and found the areas in which we could deliver the greatest impact.”
Creating a business model
Julian identifies the three stages his team went through in order to formulate their funding pitch. First was the framing of the problem, then came the creation of a business model, which would enable Longevity Design House to reach even those populations that could not afford their offerings. “We tried to build a model through which they could serve not only the wealthy, but also people living in public housing. Our plan was basically to use the profit from servicing the rich to subsidize services also for the poor.”
Finally, the team interviewed some elderly to understand their needs and fine-tune the model. “We worked together to create a very nice pitch to help Longevity Design House make the business idea a reality.”
Putting the grant to use
Lawrence Lui, co-founder of Longevity Design House, says that Hong Kong’s elderly are already benefiting from the HK$250,000 social impact grant from the Yeh Family Philanthropy and the student team’s work. Thanks to this support, his organization has been able to deliver free occupational therapy services for a number of poorer clients.
“What’s more, through our collaboration with the occupational therapists, we’ve developed a home assessment check list, trained internal staff to handle minor medical cases, and we can now deploy our staff to assess the condition of elderly peoples’ households and make an assessment of them.”
After winning the course competition, Longevity Design House also secured HK$3 million additional sponsorship funding from the Li Ka Shing foundation to improve the quality and safety standards of elderly peoples’ homes over a 12 month period.
“The work done by the team at HKUST has allowed us to conduct market research and collect medical data to establish the impact of home modifications,” Lawrence says. “It has also provided us with a good business plan template we can modify for other funding opportunities.”
Impact beyond HKUST
The enthusiasm of the SEVP students for social impact pro bono work clearly continues after graduation. Julian is currently assisting a US social enterprise, while Rachel and two fellow alumni have set up the NSM (Nurturing Social Minds) Alumni Association, with the support of the Yeh Family Philanthropy.
“We are now working on a pro bono consulting project for which we have gained support from KPMG, whose partners and consultants work alongside alumni from the course,” Rachel explains. “This project aims to use consultancy skills and social innovation knowledge to help social enterprises tackle their challenges and plan for different scenarios as they scale up their businesses.”