Game Changers

Corporate responsibility programmes can be lucrative, Hong Kong executives argue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 7:01pm

Companies can focus on the impact they have on society and remain profit-driven without losing value, a group of panellists said Thursday in Hong Kong.

“Apart from talking about how much we earn in the last quarter, it will be more important [to talk about] how much impact we have created”, said Francis Ngai, founder and CEO of Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVhk), a venture philanthropy organisation.

With 1.3 million people living under the poverty line, Hong Kong has a huge need for social innovation, Ngai said.

“Business interests and social needs are not mutually exclusive,” said Donald Choi, managing director of Nan Fung Development, a Hong Kong conglomerate.

The two executives were among a panel of speakers discussing the topic “Creating shared value for both business and society through social innovation", part of the second South China Morning Post Game Changers forum.

Both companies collaborated on Green Monday, a project featuring over 1,000 restaurants, hotels and caterers that encourages people to avoid meat one day a week.

The pair used it to illustrate their argument that corporations can make environmentally friendly, even radical, changes without losing money. Among the perks, the project has helped smaller food suppliers establish their brands, they said.

Choi described projects like this as healthy social “software” it is trying to download to improve people’s lives, which is also fully compatible with the company's “hardware”, or housing development projects. 

Whereas Nan Fung has strayed from its roots as a textile company, and subsequently diversified, Esquel Group has stayed in the textile and apparel industry while also embracing social innovation projects.

One of these, a micro-financing programme it launched in China’s restless Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, sees it lend money to local cotton farmers so they can upgrade their equipment and harvest better quality cotton.

Esquel CFO Wilkie Wong described this as a win-win proposal, adding that he wants to see similar changes invoked throughout the group.

Ngai said he hopes the corporate sector can keep shouldering more responsibility in this field. SVhk has so far incubated about 20 projects but is seeking more, he said.

“I hope one day social enterprises [can] disappear,” as there will be no need for them, he added.

jgriffiths [2:17 PM]