Hong Kong has long had a focus on social welfare and the improvement of communities, so it’s no surprise that social enterprises have begun to stand out as an attractive business venture. In fact, over 574 social enterprises are currently operating in Hong Kong, and its government has even seeded these businesses with some 450 million HKD over the past decade and a half.


What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business whose main focus is to accomplish social objectives, for example providing jobs, training, or services to disadvantaged people, or working towards the benefit of the environment. While other businesses can have corporate social responsibility programs, they still operate with the goal of increasing financial status; social enterprises, on the other hand, are unique in that they re-invest their earnings towards furthering their social objectives – indeed, a number typically given is that over 65% of profits are re-invested! Ultimately, the social goals of a social enterprise are just as (or even more) important as any profits it may make.

In Hong Kong, some fields are particularly well-suited to social enterprise and thus have become popular areas of activity and business, for example tourism, retail, cleaning services, and domestic services. Social enterprises in these fields often provide products and services specifically to disadvantaged demographics like the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. Alternatively, other social enterprises choose to provide job opportunities to these people.

Sustainable development is a sister concept to social enterprises. The use of eco-friendly technologies and design is a way of looking forward and ensuring that current resources will be able to meet both present and future needs. This means that such environmental objectives are also social objectives, and some social enterprise companies sell environmentally-friendly alternatives to various products like food and cleaning products.


Supporting social enterprises

Getting into a social enterprise may seem like a tall order in the face of traditional businesses. After all, if your primary focus isn’t maximizing profits but rather the improvement of society, your growth isn’t going to be as fast as it could be. However, there are several support structures available to entrepreneurs looking to run a social enterprise.

For example, the Hong Kong government features several funding programmes that award grants to social enterprises, such as the ESR Programme of the Home Affairs Department and the Commissioner for Heritage’s Office. The government also has partnership programmes such as the Social Enterprises Partnership Programme, which provide consultation and advice to social enterprises that can help make them more successful, and also encourage other businesses to support social enterprises.

The government isn’t the only source of support for social enterprises. Private organizations like the RS Group support its clientele of sustainable enterprises through grants, equity investment, lending to charities, and socially responsible investing that seeks to bring about social change. The company is a valuable resource not only within Hong Kong, but also throughout the Asian social enterprise community.

Such private organizations provide valuable resources, consultation, and networking opportunities for budding social enterprises, and represent some of the best ways to be competitive in this area. Looking to help entrepreneurs get started with social enterprises, we turned to one of the biggest supporters in Asia for sustainable businesses - GGE Consulting, a firm that provides advice to clients who work towards sustainable development.

We sat down with Ms Christina Lee, the Group CEO of GGEC to get her thoughts on the sustainable business landscape. Lee is a graduate of MacQuarie University, and has previously worked at Bloomberg Businessweek, Yahoo, and Star TV.

christina lee

1/ Hosting the Global Green Economic Forum for the 5th time this year, how well have sustainable businesses developed in Hong Kong compared to other Asian countries?

It was the first time we held GGEF in Hong Kong last November. The level of interest and support that we received was fantastic. I feel that the business community is enthusiastic to support ‘sustainability' and eager to find opportunities in ‘clean technologies’. Although sustainable business development isn’t new, the compliance of ESG reporting with listed companies in Hong Kong is definitely getting companies to rethink sustainable development, CSR and its long term impact to society and environment. I think companies in HK are doing a good job of stepping up and making change in this area.


2/ As a young entrepreneur setting up a new business and also wants to make a sustainable impact, do you have any tips on how to achieve this?

I would agree that lots of young entrepreneurs are keen in setting up social enterprise. It’s a global trend and it’s essentially good for society, however, social enterprise with a clear and meaningful purpose could help them to open doors with business. Apart from that, entrepreneurs just need to work just as hard if not harder than any for-profit enterprise. It’s because we need to create a business that’s not only financially viable, but also creates social impact which often requires financial investment. As such, it’s crucial to have a good business plan with strong team who share the same vision.


3/ Taking the perspective of a consumer, how well do you think they respond to the idea of buying sustainable products or services? Have you observed a change in consumer behaviour in Hong Kong?

I believe consumer’s behaviour and purchasing habit have changed dramatically in the past few years due to various reasons. Social media, climate change and technology all have their role in leading consumers to think responsible purchasing and even recycling. Hence, I’ve seen an increasing number of consumers not only in HK but globally that turn to sustainable products or services which is very encouraging.


Examples of SEs

One of the best examples of HK-based sustainable enterprises is Redress, a company that works towards sustainability in the fashion industry by reducing produced waste. Redress educates consumers on the environmental impact of clothing products, works at the supply chain level to improve sustainability through the use of green processes and materials, and organizes various events and programmes to spread awareness.

Another great social enterprise is HK EV Power, which aims to boost the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in Hong Kong by providing charging stations at both the public level and the private residential level. Limited power sources are the primary concern for EVs, and HK EV Power seeks to proliferate those power sources, and in doing so help the environment thanks to the reduced carbon footprint of EVs.


urban: serviced offices

In this article, we’ve talked about social and sustainable enterprises and the many ways they can be supported. Here at urban: serviced offices, we cater to one of the most important needs of any social enterprise: locations. We’re always ready to provide affordable event venues and workspaces to sustainable businesses that share our values. With urban: serviced offices, you get access to spaces that are eco-friendly, modern, and artistic, designed around holistic principles that are tuned to engaging collaboration and inspiring innovation.

You also become part of our extensive network of like-minded sustainable businesses and firms, such as renewable energy investor Brawn Capital. Together with Brawn and other partners from sustainable businesses, we form an environment perfectly suited to incubating sustainable entrepreneurship right in the heart of Central.

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