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Start-ups for good: Fellows learn about social enterprise in Hong Kong

Last month, I and four other Melton Fellows had the opportunity to attend the United Social Entrepreneurship Conference in Hong Kong (USECHK), an annual conference held and organized by the students of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University which aims to gather young social entrepreneurs from across Asia and empower them by sharing stories of successful social start-ups from the HK area. I came to the conference with a very specific goal in mind: with the MF idea incubator, I had learned a lot about the basics of starting a social enterprise – design thinking, business model canvas, etc. – and after a pilot, I had many questions which I hoped to answer using real-world examples – most of them revolving around social impact assessment, financial modeling, and thinking about how to make your project last long-term.

401On the first day, we listened to two very interesting talks by Erwin Huang and Jimmy Chiu. Huang is a pioneer in the field of eLearning and explained how social enterprises are different from NGOs. He said most young social entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that they are all about social impact and not about the money, which is an understandable rookie mistake. He highlighted the role of social enterprises in making an “emotional” revolution in society. Chiu is a staunch believer in the power of social enterprises; he works tirelessly with young students in mainland China to promote his ideas, which encourage cross-sector collaboration to incubate social start-ups. Fellows Sabreesh, Ivy and Sonya had an extensive talk with him about offering training and coaching to those who get involved in social start-ups, and how to sustain their efforts.

This was followed by a competition brief where all delegates were grouped together in teams of 3 and asked to design a marketing campaign for a social start- up called “Around”, which would enable neighborhoods to connect and collaborate through social networking. All the Melton Fellows were in different groups, and Victor’s and Sabreesh’s groups were amongst the top 5 teams in the final round. Go MF!

Over the next 2 days, we had a few workshops to choose from – I chose Volunteerism, Education, Social Impact Assessment and Project Management. Volunteerism was taken by Clive Lee, a corporate-leader-turned-social-entrepreneur who spoke about why he thinks it is important for us to be involved in philanthropy, and how volunteerism can open us up to this world. The education workshop was conducted by Teach for Hong Kong – they spoke about the business model they use and how they inspire young professionals to use their “gap” years to do something productive for society.

Project Management was an amazing workshop as it was conducted by Tracy Ng, who worked with HP and managed huge teams there. She shared the simple tools she uses to ensure everyone is responsible for their tasks and is on time. She also taught us how we can scale these models to a social enterprise.

But my favorite part of the conference was definitely the Social Impact Assessment workshop by Ilex Lam. He has a social business where senior physically disabled Hong Kong residents work at a call center for the Hong Kong telecom authorities. This was highly interactive and he did not hesitate to share the nuances of his enterprise with us – from recruitment to collaboration, from partnerships to business hurdles, he took us through the entire journey and then told us how to quantify our social impact with data. This was exactly what I was looking for. At the end of the workshop, we were given an opportunity to develop the social impact model for our own social enterprise. This way we didn’t just learn something new, but also put it into practice! 
Thanks to the workshop, I can now develop a model for impact assessment in my own project and pitch my ideas with confidence.