Asia’s embrace of social enterprises: governments lean in

Philanthropy Impact Magazine, Autumn 2017

Asia is awash with enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship, and Asian governments are demonstrating their faith in it not only with ancillary services but with cold, hard cash.

This article looks at government support for social entrepreneurship, particularly in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

This article was first published in Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

Hong Kong’s spirit of charitable giving is strengthened by its history, laws and belief in education.

South China Morning Post

Hong Kong outperforms larger markets in its donations, thanks to vivid memories of past poverty, belief in the life-changing power of education, and faith in the rule of law that many other Asian economies lack, writes Dr Ruth Shapiro in the South China Morning Post.

The Charity Aid Foundation recently released its annual World Giving Index. To collect data for the survey, people are asked if, over the past month, they have helped a stranger, donated money to a charity or volunteered time at an organisation. Hong Kong ranked 25th out of the 139 economies in the survey, with 43 per cent saying they had done at least one of these activities in the last month.

The index offers one lens to see how charitable people are but there are other means to evaluate giving. Last December, the chairman of our board hosted a dinner in Hong Kong for Rafael Reif, president of MIT. He noted that among those attending were some of the largest contributors to Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California and a host of other universities.

John Wood, founder of the charity Room to Read, noted that Hong Kong had consistently been one of its top four fundraising regions and “punches way above its weight, outperforming larger markets such as Australia, Switzerland and Canada”. Each year, around 10 per cent of its global fundraising comes from Hong Kong alone.

Why has Hong Kong come to be such a philanthropic centre? A mixture of Chinese values, unusual history and commitment to a strong legal foundation have worked together to underpin this largesse.

First, in recent decades, much wealth has been made in Hong Kong. From 1990 to the present, Hong Kong’s per capita gross domestic product has grown from US$5,000 per year to more than US$38,000 in 2013. Many people have done extremely well and have enough disposable income to be quite generous. Additionally, many can still recall a time when their families did not have enough. According to Forbes, there are more than 55 billionaires living in Hong Kong, ranking it seventh in a list of territories by that measure.

The second reason is that Chinese people have always greatly valued education. A proverb says, give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime. According to Harvard’s Kennedy School 2015 report, China’s Most Generous, 57.5 per cent of total giving from China’s top philanthropists goes to education. According to Coutts, in 2014, the single largest recipient of donations in Hong Kong was the University of Hong Kong. The great majority of the Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society’s benefactors support education generally and scholarships in particular.

Hong Kong’s devotion to social investment dates to at least its establishment as a British colony in 1841. The British, with limited numbers, were unable and at times unwilling to provide many social services. They encouraged the creation of local self-help organisations to address social issues. Thus, Hong Kong people’s tendency not to rely on government but organise citizen-driven social efforts is embedded in the DNA of our city.

Of the 395 non-profit organisations listed in the city’s Directory of Social Services Organisations in 2016, 49 per cent of their total income comes through government contracts and project funds. This is the highest amount of government support to independent non-profit organisations in all of Asia.

When the government procures the products and services of social delivery organisations, there is an implicit endorsement and validation of their work. This is important as a signal to the public at large that social delivery organisations are credible, important players in the community. There are many governments in Asia and around the world who do not procure services from social delivery organisations at all. Hong Kong stands in stark contrast.

Hong Kong also has philanthropic organisations as part of its social fabric. After the second world war, when Hong Kong struggled to overcome the destruction caused by the war, the Hong Kong Jockey Club created its foundation to channel a significant portion of its funds to charitable causes. Since that time, the Jockey Club Foundation has become the most important philanthropic institution in Hong Kong. The formation and success of the foundation has cemented the linkage between wealth, entertainment and charity in the minds of Hongkongers.

The last critical factor of Hong Kong’s philanthropic strength has been the rule of law. Throughout Asia, the lack of trust that people feel towards non-profit organisations is profound. The Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society attributes this lack of trust to several factors, including a murky regulatory environment around NGOs and the prevalence of headline-grabbing stories of fraud and fiscal abuse. In Hong Kong, the laws have been and remain clear and there has been a noticeable absence of scandals involving non-profit organisations. Hong Kong people trust social delivery organisations to carry out legal, helpful and important work.

Many of the things that make Hong Kong successful are unique – its geography, its governance, its people. But there are factors in place in Hong Kong which are helpful to foster philanthropy in any economy. Philanthropy thrives under the conditions it promotes: belief in education, government support of non-profit efforts, and the strong rule of law. Together, they encourage the giving and receiving of philanthropy to allow an easy and transparent way for those who want to improve society, both in Hong Kong and around the world.

This article ran originally in the South China Morning Post.

A Virtuous Economy

Hong Chi Association: Creating Green Opportunities for Hong Kong’s Disabled Workers

Through a unique tri-partite collaboration, Hong Chi Association has kick-started a glass bottle recycling project that has provided disabled workers with valuable life skills while changing public attitudes to the environment.

Hong Chi, formerly known as the Hong Kong Association for the Mentally Handicapped, was established in 1965 as a school and care site for just four students, the parents of whom championed the cause for an educational center and environment for their handicapped children. In 1997, the name of the association changed to Hong Chi: in Chinese “Hong” means “to assist,” and “Chi” refers to “the intellect,” reflecting the organization’s founding mission to assist mentally handicapped people to develop their potential as valuable members of society.

Within three years of Hong Chi’s founding, the school had expanded to 70 students across two campuses. With the help of dedicated teachers and the early recognition of these students’ potential, some graduates went on to find work. At a time when there were no resources to support mentally handicapped individuals, nor was there a support system for their families, Hong Chi stepped into the breach. Today, it is dedicated to serving over 7,000 people of all ages and levels of intellectual disabilities. It operates 81 services that provide special education, job training, sheltered and supported employment, and adult education, among other things that are vital to supporting Hong Kong’s people with intellectual disabilities (PID) to live their lives to the fullest.

Haven of Hope: Helping the Elderly, Sick and Handicapped of Hong Kong

Care for the Body and of the Spirit

The case of Haven of Hope Christian Services (Haven) tells how a faith-based organization can stay true to its founding mission and values while responding to the tremendous growth of the community it serves. It tells how committed leaders, managers and staff integrate medical and social services to help comfort people in need, physically and spiritually.

Today, Haven of Hope Christian Service’s integration of medical and social services occurs at 46 locations, and has so far benefited about 100,000 people. It employs doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers and personal care workers. Many reverends lead regularly scheduled services at its facilities, which often include chapels. Medically, it focuses on chronic disease and mental or physical disability rather than acute illness. It also focuses on mental and spiritual counseling, and operates many different home-based and community-based programs aimed at the elderly and mentally challenged people.

Haven’s approach and philosophy remain rooted in the beliefs of Sister Annie Skau, a Norwegian nun and missionary who “saw the need of not only providing medical care, but also psychological and physical care” for the people it serves, said Dr. Lam Ching Choi, Haven’s CEO.

Curing Blindness and Building Trust

Lifeline Express: Transforming Eye Care and NGOs in China

The case of Nellie Fong and Lifeline Express tells the story of the creation and expansion of a unique social delivery organization in China. The story illustrates how one person can bring about meaningful change by building partnerships with government in China and by recognizing the need to grow and evolve as circumstances and opportunities arise.

Lifeline Express was founded to provide mobile eye care – delivered by Eye Trains – in China which has a history of chronic cataract disease and where access to treatment for most people was nonexistent.  Lifeline’s other programs include the development of a network of 36 cataract surgery centers in hospitals in cities visited by the Eye Trains that are staffed by surgeons partly trained on the Eye Trains and the creation of a network of 15 eye care training centers for doctors and would-be doctors in capital cities of less developed provinces, and providing them learning resources, scholarships and lectures and training by
visiting ophthalmologists from around the world.

Blending her business acumen, people skills, public positions and relationships with top government authorities on the mainland and in Hong Kong, Nellie Fong enabled Lifeline to overcome barriers that traditionally hinder civil society development in China. It formed partnerships with two state-level ministries and with multiple provincial and local officials and with doctors and nurses and others with the potential to support Lifeline’s trains and programs and its “Mission of Light.” All the while, Lifeline retained its non-governmental identity, a unique accomplishment for a charity on the mainland. It became a model for what a NGO can be in China today.

Improving Choices and Outcomes

Saving Newborns in China’s Countryside

By focusing on a single mission, Children’s Medical Foundation shows how an organization can form partnerships with government and hospitals to help train doctors and nurses to improve care for babies in China who are in danger of dying from treatable and curable diseases during the first weeks of their lives.

Partnerships between hospitals in China and a small non-profit organization in Hong Kong, Children’s Medical Foundation (CMF) has helped to improve neonatal care in 12 provinces and is currently focusing on three – Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou – where it has determined the need for care is the greatest.  With its partners, CMF has extended quality care from hospitals in capital cities to hospitals in regional population centers by creating special neonatal care units and by helping train the specialists to staff them as well as by establishing emergency ambulance service to the units for babies from the countryside and  by providing assistance for families in particularly acute financial distress.

With a staff of only five and with only about US$530,000 a year to fund its current programs at eight locations, CMF has fought beyond its weight class, thanks in part to a strategic decision it made in 2007 to move away from its other programs and focus exclusively on neonatal care. It also has succeeded in spite of a challenging fund-raising environment in Hong Kong, where quality neonatal care is taken for granted, making it difficult to raise public awareness.

The Legacy of the British Administration of Hong Kong: A View from Hong Kong

Ming K. Chan (The China Quarterly)

Abstract: As the one and a half centuries of British colonial rule draw to a close on 30 June 1997, it is timely to review the true legacy of British administration in Hong Kong. It would be naive to resort to any simplistic blanket judgment or to issue any sweeping endorsement or condemnation on the mixed record of the British administration. It would also be dangerous to look only at the attainments in the final days of the British regime and use them to reconstruct, or even to substitute for, the full span of British rule. Even given a charitable view of this sunset era of the British regime as its finest hour in Hong Kong, a more informed and balanced assessment of its past deeds must be appreciated in the fuller context of the actual inputs and outputs of British officialdom in shaping developments in the territory and the life of Hong Kong people during the entire course of British rule.

Hong Kong today is globally recognized as a remarkable example of a liberal society with a vibrant economy where its population of more than six million enjoy their freedom and opportunity. For this, the British can indeed claim considerable credit. As portrayed by the last British Governor Christopher Patten, four of the major British contributions to Hong Kong’s success – the rule of law, the civil service, economic freedom and democratization – can be a useful starting point to articulate the true British legacy from a Hong Kong perspective.

Click here to read the full publication.