COVID-19 caught the world unaware and has spread at a rapid pace. It has disrupted economies, healthcare systems and daily life. The challenges it presents are real and consequential—especially for the social sector. A recent survey in Hong Kong found that funding for most nonprofits has declined by 30% already. A fifth reported declines of up to 70%. To help policymakers and donors better understand the impact on Asia’s social sector and support intermediaries, CAPS’ Chief Executive Ruth Shapiro and Director of Research Mehvesh Mumtaz Ahmed (virtually) sat down with Kay Tai, Programme Manager of Good Seed, on 20 April 2020.
Founded in 2013, Good Seed is a social innovation training and funding program co-developed and managed by Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s (PolyU) Institute for Entrepreneurship (IfE) and the Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation (DISI). It is funded by the Hong Kong government’s Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund). Good Seed’s objective is to unleash the creative potential of Hong Kong’s young people and drive innovation for the benefit of the city’s underprivileged. Kay shared the impact of the outbreak on Good Seeds work, how social enterprises in Hong Kong are responding and what he believes a post-Covid world will look like.
CAPS: Kay, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. The impact of Covid-19 is being felt across the region and by the social sector in particular. How is Good Seed coping?
Kay: We are in the process of selecting the next cohort of entrepreneurs for our incubation program. Because of the outbreak we weren’t expecting to receive many applications. However, we’ve received over 100 proposals from 300+ applicants. This is almost double the average number of applications in our previous cohorts.
This uptick can be partially attributed to some changes we made to our program prior to the outbreak. We had noticed that young , aspiring entrepreneurs were previously deterred from applying to the program, believing that their limited experience would lower chances of being selected. But we believe that it is important for Good Seed to nurture young talent and introduced a new “Youth” stream to attract applicants under 25 years old. The Youth stream will run alongside the existing Entrepreneur stream which is for applicants aged 25 years and over.
CAPS: That’s great to hear. Has the outbreak impacted Good Seed’s program delivery? How have you adapted?
Kay: We have had to adapt our program and move certain components, such as workshops, online. Our program has traditionally also included networking and ice-breaker sessions, which are especially important for those that have joined our program as individuals and are looking to create or join an existing team. As a result of Covid-19, these sessions have either been canceled or moved online. However, the cohort was keen for an in-person networking opportunity and we did organize an optional event which was attended by 40 participants.
Design thinking is a key component of our program and helps participants develop and iterate their ideas. This can be done remotely and as such, I don’t believe that our program will be significantly impacted. I am hopeful that the situation will be better soon, and we will be able to launch our program with the next cohort in September/October under better circumstances.
CAPS: How are your program participants managing these changes?
Kay: Participants have been the most impacted as a result of these changes. It is hard to form a team or generate ideas when you can’t meet each other. Additionally, if a team, say, wants to work on a project to help the city’s elderly population, we are currently unable to coordinate meetings with the target group. We are trying to help by setting up a Facebook group and encouraging participants to network and “virtually” meet others who are interested in similar project areas.
CAPS: Given your connection to the wider social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Hong Kong, how do you think entrepreneurs are responding during this time? Are there any examples of resilience or innovation that stand out to you?
Kay: The impact felt by social enterprises is directly related to their business model. For example, social enterprises that rely on corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding to deliver services are heavily impacted since CSR programs are not currently a priority for cash-strapped corporates.
On the other hand, Festyle, a social enterprise that is a Good Seed alumnus, has seen an uptick in its ready-to-cook meals business. Festyle aims to promote women’s empowerment as well as a healthy dining culture in Hong Kong. It recruits homemakers to design recipes and prepare meal packages, shortening meal preparation time for busy Hong Kongers and enabling a healthy lifestyle.
Some organizations have adapted to the changing needs of their beneficiaries. Audio Description Association (AuDeAHK), an NGO which promotes social inclusion by helping visually impaired individuals access information, is trying to support the community in new ways. It is helping to source and deliver masks and other provisions to its beneficiaries who are unable to buy them online or in stores themselves.
CAPS: Which trends that you are observing now are here to stay?
Kay: I think technology will be key. Communication platforms will become more common tools for conducting training sessions, seminars and meetings. Online platforms will also become more important for promoting or disseminating the social sector’s work.
From the perspective of Good Seed, Hong Kongers are becoming more health conscious and we believe that we will see an increase in the number of health-related projects in the future.