Social Enterprise (SE) is becoming a sector to watch in the Greater China context. On November 13 and 14, I attended the Social Enterprise Summit (SES) 2009 in Hong Kong. Organized by the Hong Kong Policy Research Foundation (PRF), this year’s theme was “Development Strategies, Partnerships and Investment opportunities.” Participants came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao and Mainland China. The purpose of the event was to create a platform for further dialogue among social enterprises, governments, investors, as well as, academic institutions in the Greater China region. For me, the two-day conference was a precious opportunity to get connected with others outside of just the Mainland context. It was also great for catching up with the latest thoughts and developments in the social enterprise stratum. Here are some of my key takeaways from the time:
Mr.Yu-Yuan Kuan, Chair of the Department of Social Welfare at National Chung Cheng University explained that Taiwan’s SEs are more like “work integration social enterprises” –dedicated to helping underprivileged groups by providing employment opportunities.
In Mainland China, most SEs are more like nonprofits or NGOs by nature. Due to the restriction of the legal environment in China, it is very difficult to register as NGOs. As a result, most NGOs can only register as companies. Because of their social mission, these “companies” are sometimes also called SEs.
The development of SEs in Macao is relatively new compared to the other three regions. SEs did not appear there until 2008 and were formed in conjunction with the global economic downturn. The Macao government began allocating funds to provide reemployment training and opportunities, which was viewed as a significant endorsement of SEs.
Growing Awareness of the Importance of Social Entrepreneurship on SEs. As Dr. KK Tse, Chair of Hong Kong Social Entrepreneurship Forum, mentioned in his presentation on “The Long March of Social Entrepreneurship in Hong Kong,” that social entrepreneurship is by far the most important factor in the successful development of SEs. This sentiment was echoed by other keynote speakers at the event. When asked what is the most challenging part of running an SE, most people responded without any hesitation, “human resources!” The need for qualified people is key to developing a successful SE that can actually work towards accomplishing its social goals. In Hong Kong, some “platform” organizations have already started providing services to social entrepreneurs and SEs of different kinds, such as Social Ventures Hong Kong, HKCSS-HSBC Social Enterprise Business Centre, and Hong Kong Social Enterprise Incubation, Ltd.
Growing Partnerships with Traditional Business. Large corporations contribute to the development of SEs through partnership and mentorship. Major corporations not only merely provide funding to NGOs or SEs, but also partner with them to launch new business units, such as Town Gas in Hong Kong. Moreover, there is a trend that companies are seeking to integrate SE support into their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Additionally, a growing number of business leaders serve as advisers or directors to SEs by offering their business skills, knowledge, and social connections.
One more thing I would like to note about SEs in Greater China is that most still rely largely on outside funding support though, by definition, they should be self-sustainable. Due to its combination of nonprofit and business, it is very difficult to be sustainable at the beginning without funding from outside parties. Fortunately, a few foundations and investors have already seen the value of SEs and have begun investing in them, such as China Social Entrepreneur Foundation. I believe that the discussion on SE and its impact on the development of the civil society have just begun. Stay tuned for more information as the sector develops.