How a key shop owner inspired ElderTreks and the use of AI to help HK's elderly

BY Valent Cheung, Year 4, BBA Global Business Systems Management, Department of Information Systems, City University of Hong Kong

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BY Valent Cheung, Year 4, BBA Global Business Systems Management, Department of Information Systems, City University of Hong Kong |

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Everyone, regardless of age, deserves a full and happy life.

Whenever I’m walking along a street, I like to observe my surroundings and think about what I could make better. I often see elderly people pushing carts or carrying piles of cardboard in the hope of getting a few dollars. 

Mr Ng, the owner of a 30-year-old key shop in To Kwa Wan, told me: “Those elderly people had good jobs before retirement, but as time goes by, their skills are no longer applicable in society and they become physically weaker. What do you expect them to do?”

His words stuck with me. My grandmother is also retired. She is now more than 80 years old and rarely leaves her home. She cannot integrate into society. Nevertheless, she talks a lot when she sees my younger cousin and me. That’s when I imagined having a platform that would allow elderly people to integrate and promote active retirement. 

My schoolmates and I co-founded ElderTreks, a social enterprise promoting local tours, which I left in October 2017.  Elderly people are trained to become tour guides and partnered up with youth facilitators. The project enables interaction and understanding across generations.

We were fortunate to be named champions in the 2016 Hong Kong Social Enterprise competition, and received HK$170,000 from the government to start the project. 

My experience at CityU helped me to start ElderTreks. The idea is linked to my training in the department of information systems (IS), where we learned the skills needed to achieve amazing things using IS/IT.

CityU always encourages students to try new things. Our professors provide resources and guidance whenever we ask. IS in particular supports social enterprise development. In addition to normal studies, social impact work and industry experience is very important for this generation of university students.

I used to think that a university education would give me only textbook knowledge, but I have learned practical concepts, and how to use modern internet technology for business, such as social media, big data management and cloud services. 

ElderTreks is one of the first social enterprises in Hong Kong to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to solve big data problems in customer services and digital marketing. We use AI to find keywords in customers’ messages, then process them, and provide personalised responses. 

AI also helps us to analyse our demographics to enhance customer experience. This results in greater service responsiveness and efficiency, and reduces our workload so that we can focus on other important areas of the company. 

My message is: don’t limit yourself to studying; try new things! Knowledge from both studies and real-life experience will make you much more adaptable.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

Valent Cheung with his team at the HK Entrepreneurship Awards.
Photo: Valent Cheung