It is nearly November and the season of graduation comes again. I still remembered all the joyful and enjoyable moments in HKUST. 3 years in the blink of an eye, the life as a business student made me to rethink my values, the values of future community development, and values of the commercial world where everything is counted in dollars.
Nowadays, society progresses like technology advancement enhance productivity and efficiency dramatically. On the other side, every day in Hong Kong we live with severe social problems: the widening poverty gap, the crowded living conditions, the political and social disputes…not to mention the global issues. Given the complicated context, what role can young business entrepreneurs play? Is it possible for us to generate innovative and practical ideas for the sake of a win-win solution?
Business VS Society?
In 21st century, business is undoubtedly the most powerful force to drive innovations and changes. However, many businesses nowadays have been criticized as a major cause of social, environmental and economic problems. The reason behind is that profit maximization is no longer to key to business sustainability.
The future business leaders should focus on an updated and wider approach to value creation – A shared value approach that can connect business success and sustainability with social progress.
For business to achieve long-term success, innovation is required to take care of the greatest unmet needs in the market, like the well-being of the customers, the productivity in the value chain and even the personal development of the employees.
Social Innovation – The myth and opportunities ahead
How do business drive positive transformation in our society? Social entrepreneurship and social innovation are where the magic happens.
When people talk about social innovation in corporate, the first thing that comes to mind is unprofitable business model that run on support from government or charity organizations. Actually, social businesses are not equal to charities, it is a shared value and winning situation for both of the business and the society.
Nestlé, for example, created shared value for the business and the community by redesigning its coffee procurement processes. Nestlé realized that small farmers in impoverished areas were trapped in a cycle of low productivity, poor quality, and environmental degradation. Therefore, Nestlé paid them a premium and built a closer relationship with them by advising them a more environmentally friendly practices. This all-win practice resulted not only in higher yields and quality for Nestlé’s coffee, but also increased the locals’ incomes and saved the environment.
The Unsung Heroes
While the city is in a tough situation, we are seeing tremendous interests among young business leaders to leverage their skills and creative juices to address social issues by a scalable business model.
1. A young social worker couple founded Doctor BB, a program that allows children to visit the dementia elderly. It enables children to meet strangers and develop their social skills, while their presence helps cheer up senior citizens living in gloomy environments.
2. A elderly-care interested HKUST graduate, who was raised by his grandparents, set up Eldpathy with his fellow students. Their elderly simulation program is properly the most innovative way to change people’s thinking towards the concept of “aging” in Hong Kong.
These young social entrepreneurs are the pioneers in the business and social sectors in response to the challenges Hong Kong faces. The reasons why the business models are sustainable is that they consider the social challenges as rich new opportunities. Through the resource re-allocation and innovative practices, those enterprises are able to share the returns with the entire society.
Looking Forward to the movement
While the social entrepreneurship and social innovation movement just begins to gain momentum, the ecosystem really desires the support and engagement from the established corporates. It is believed that when they attach greater importance to social responsibilities and even proactively applying social innovation in their core business development strategies, there will be a radical shift in thoughts, innovations, and actions for social goods.
The HKUST practice
Supported by Entrepreneurship Centre and the BASE, I was honored to be part of the organizing teams of the first ever Startup Weekend – Social Innovation in HKUST this summer.
In just exciting 54-hour, I was thrilled by the passionate participants from all over the World to turn pressing social problems into solutions with viable business plans. This make me believe that “every possibility starts with imagining the impossible”. With a caring mind, everyone can become a social entrepreneur.
“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
For me, the TRUE value that I learnt in HKUST is far more than the numbers. With the new academic terms for us, it is also the season of changes. Let us join the movement, become the agent of changes and make our society a better place to live.
Written by Luke Tam (firstname.lastname@example.org)