Social enterprises show that people are more important the profit

Social enterprises show that people are more important the profit

For social enterprises, making the world a better place is more important than making lots of money

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Kelvin Cheung (left) and Kaya Guo understand that social enterprises can make a difference, even if they don't survive.
Kelvin Cheung (left) and Kaya Guo understand that social enterprises can make a difference, even if they don't survive.
Photo: Sam Tsang/SCMP

For many in Hong Kong, social enterprises are unsustainable and bring few economic benefits. But Kelvin Cheung says they are missing the point. Social enterprises are businesses where the focus isn't just on making profit, but improving people's lives.

Cheung - the CEO of UnLtd HK, a platform that supports innovative social ideas - says social enterprises shouldn't be judged as ordinary businesses. He says that many social enterprises only last a short time, but this is just the way things work.

"The fall of one social enterprise will be followed by the rise of many new ones," says Cheung.

"It is important for more people to come up with more great social solutions. In the end, only a handful of elite ideas will survive out of hundreds or even thousands. It's a numbers game. Many people fail with social enterprises, but the future is built on their failure."

Cheung has plenty of experience in the field. He spent five years in London running a successful social enterprise called Food Cycle. The enterprise collects leftover food from supermarkets and uses it to cook healthy meals for those less well-off.

"It is not only about feeding them, we inspire people to step into the community, to socialise and not be alone," he says.

Now in Hong Kong, Cheung faces different challenges. Social enterprises have a hard time setting up in the city because rents are so high. But he says people shouldn't focus too much on business models. If you have an idea to improve society, your social enterprise can thrive.

"If you run a project for people to exchange clothes, you don't need to rent a venue. You can do it at the park or at the beach. The important thing is, at the end of the day, you created happiness," says Cheung.

"Many people think that social enterprises lack consistent funding, so they are not sustainable. But this is not true. Social enterprises do not need an income model."

Cheung sees a lot of passion for social enterprise in Hong Kong. He says it is possible to get involved, even if you have a busy schedule.

Kaya Guo, who graduated in business administration from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, found time to set up a social enterprise during her final year at university.

Harmonia, which makes natural beauty products, was established as part of the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge. Although the enterprise, which she ran with four classmates, did not survive, it doesn't mean it hasn't been a success.

Her experience caught the attention of Organic We, a company selling natural products. Now Guo is working with them, instead of opting for a career in banking like many of her classmates.

"They recruited me to work on a new line of beauty products made from natural ingredients. It took four months of training to learn to make soap, and now I have created my own formula for soap and shampoo," she says.

"I work with local organic farmers who provide ingredients for my products."

As Cheung points out, even social enterprises which don't survive can help make the world a better place.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
It's time to put people over profit

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