與香港社會創投基金創辦人魏華星先生對話 (第二章) Diagloue with Mr. Francis Ngai, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SVhk (Part 2)
Sam: Mr Sam Ng (吳志森先生)
Francis: Mr Francis Ngai (魏華星先生)
In fact, most young people are not sure about their goal, for example, when they admit to university, let alone the goal of their life, which is more complicated to them, they simply go for some subject with enough scores in the public exam. Even after graduation, they are not yet very clear about their career goal. Now the point is you can go for it when you’ve a goal; however, some young people don’t even have a goal. How are you going to encourage and teach them to set their goal?
There are quite a lot of new terms nowadays, such as ‘junk youngster’ (literally freeloader), which I didn’t find in my era. I doubt there were actually most ‘junk youngsters’ when I was young. Without a goal is the first step to retain any possibilities. We should not label it, or make ourselves disordered. We need to listen to ourselves more in retaining possibilities. It may take some time to ferment. Everyone is different; I could find what I needed when I was at middle age. In the past, I also follow the trend, didn’t really know what to study at university and didn’t care about that. The world has changed. People nowadays consider the first university degree being an ‘entry ticket’, a ticket to any field in their career. In other words young people can have lots of possibilities. On the contrary, too many possibilities may sometimes confuse us, but we still need to keep a habit to retain all our possibilities, to be sincere to ourselves, and to listen more our true heart. It is quite true that some people don’t listen to themselves clearly before they start their own business. They should not rush to trade, when they don’t have a stable “beginner’s heart”. When you are not ready or don’t have enough passions, starting entrepreneurship can cause a great impact on you. I would suggest trying more different things, or watching films. Don’t be too utilitarian, or stick to only one job or deliberately do this and that simply for the sake of building your personal CV. For example, I don’t encourage young people to have this kind of attitude: you want to work in a bank, then every summer you go to find a job in a bank. Young people, especially when they are still young, should try to do more different things when they don’t have too many pre-settings or are not expected too much. Let themselves dabble in various experiences, because they will know what they really like and what they don’t really like in the process. Then they can slowly narrow their scope. Today young people think more about their own value among their peers. They have a lot of expectations. Different from the past generations, in which we focused more on basic living, young people like to talk more about values. If so, do not just say it but go to do voluntary work. If you are concerned about rich and poor disparity, go to volunteer for poverty alleviation organisations and understand the situation. If you are concerned about the environment, don’t just talk about it but go to volunteer for environmental protection organizations and find out what has been happening. Try more then you’ll know what interests you most. If something can make you indulge in it until late night, it actually gives you hints to explore that matter a little more. You may want to listen to and learn about it a little more. Then that matter is narrowed to become your own interest.
Francis, your experience tells others that it’s never too late to set a goal, isn’t it?
Even though you are old, you can still do that. That is to say, I have worked a job for a long time, and it seems my whole life is about this job. Suddenly one day I realize that is not what I want and ask myself: what’s my goal in life? What I’m doing is not what I want, but a different thing. Then I can restart, no worries, as it’s never too late to establish my goal in life. This point is very important.
Yes, I would like to respond to this point a little bit more. This generation of people do not do only one thing; perhaps I have a main job, but I can keep some other work such as photography or other things, and I can also have an interest as the third piece. Today we live in a diversified world. We try to mix and match, crossover and integrate all the things. We, particularly this generation, retain all future possibilities, so we can be a little greedy and have more; I’m not talking about making a girlfriend, but in our career.
Well, following the second part, we talk about social enterprises. Francis, you said dream-chasing but why did you choose social enterprises? How do social enterprises draw your attention? Why did they become your second career path and the goal of dream-chasing in life?
This is a good question. I don’t really think everyone needs to consider a social enterprise being a dream; everyone should have their own favourite things, and should not blindly follow a certain trend, for example, following the currently popular trend to establish a social enterprise or a start-up business. For me, establishing social enterprises is a set of philosophy very suitable for this world. It is not simply about a framework but it represents a kind of thinking. People are dissatisfied with the current system, which is about capitalism, money-making, and money for the world. The concept of social enterprises reminds us to think about society-oriented business, not blindly do some typical things. They are sustainable and concerned with the present generation. They proceed with ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’. I personally agree with this set of philosophy very much, so I often say that social enterprises should not remain in only one certain sector. They should not be just allocated resources or designated certain types of registration. Social enterprises can occur in various forms or entities when everyone wants to realise their ideals, rather than relying on the government or different types of funding. Everyone tries something in their own way to do some innovative things; I think this is the concept of social enterprises.
Social enterprises are not charity, as we all know. Charity is very simple, converting money or materials donation into services for people in need. You emphasize the definition of social enterprises which is so-called double bottom line, isn’t it? That means sustainable, profitable, meaningful to the community, and able to meet the needs of the society. Sometimes I think it may be contradictory and difficult. Is it really feasible? How can it be achieved?
At first sight, it may be very contradictory, but in practice it is actually better than expected. I first link social enterprises with dreams as both are the practice of ideals. Establishing a social enterprise, however, is a kind of social goal to resolve or break through some problems. People can reconsider the issues from this perspective though there are obstacles in reality. Everyone wants to accomplish a great dream, but they can only proceed slowly with small steps, and there will be contradictions. It seems every dream and every social enterprise to be contradictory, but when you proceed in reality you will slowly blend two things with each other, going back and forth a couple of steps slowly then you’ll reach the right direction to go further and make everything smooth. The dream is so, and so are social enterprises. In our mind, business and society are very not compatible; this highlights the reason for business being so absurd that it is purely making money. This kind of incompatibility refers to sacrificing profits in social enterprises. In fact, this is not the case. I guess a lot of conscientious corporations initially want to start with an improvement in society. They may want to develop more beautiful housing for more people to live in. Unfortunately the world focuses too much on financial statements and worries about the flow of funds. As a result, they become mercenary. We need to go back to integrate society with business, and I think this is absolutely feasible.
You regard social enterprises as ‘social business’. In fact, what do you mean about ‘social business’ in your mind?
I often say I hope one day social enterprises will be closed, because I think every enterprise should have brackets ‘society’ in front of the name. My ideal is social enterprises, when they are being considered to appear, can be found in all sectors, no matter when the government sets a new policy, a business starts a new business plan, or traditionally a social welfare agency launches a new service. We all include an innovative element, think about sustainability and bring the core knowledge and network into play in the community. The ideal is that everyone should contribute something to benefit the society.
You have just mentioned examples such as corporations making money as their goal. Taking another example, you organise Light Be to have Light Home and Light Housing. The purpose is to make people live a little better. They can pay a relatively low rent to live a more dignified way of life. However, it is so ironic that nowadays real estate developers sell a very small flat like a luxury apartment, about a hundred square feet of a flat being sold at HK$20,000 per square foot. Francis, you don’t just want to be profit-oriented, possible? We are now doing a demonstration to you; it is possible to be not mercenary, but the developers will not bother. Do you think the direction of our society development is opposite your goal? How do you feel about that?
Maybe we are now like an ostrich hiding in its own cave. I tend not to focus on our listening to news reports or seeing things outside. I use an example of Light Home. Indeed, we have more than 40 property owners who do not mind renting out their flats, probably their first, second or third property, at market rates. They charge a very low and affordable rent. I don’t think we need to completely change the whole world, or to change 1,000 individuals, but we may change a few dozen or so among the 1,000. We become a minority group. I think all the innovation start by minority groups, and they carry and slowly spread a social ‘virus’ in the society. Indeed, the property owners communicate among themselves: ‘I recently have a spare property in an old district at a low rental value. I don’t want to rent it to a rogue tenant and cause any troubles.’ Currently the owner rents his flat to a single mother family in need. This has changed their lives. This case retains a hope and a lot of possibilities. I also think it is an illusion of hope; our community has been bad enough, and don’t have to add fuel to the fire. It can also be said that we didn’t have any expectations, but we found so many Hong Kong people really care about the community, and don’t have anything to do with politics. They have a kind heart to the society. Whether helping a wheelchair friend to live easier, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, discussing affordable housing issues, talking about environmental conservation, vegetarian meals, plastic bottles and other issues, they are all very determined to do a lot of things. If we assume all people are bad in the world, I don’t think we can establish social enterprises. We get together a group of people and expand the new social miniature. That is what we expected to do.
You have a social enterprise ‘Light Be – Light Home, Light Housing’ I mentioned just now. I’ve read the news about that. It is very encouraging to me. For example, some people really offer a used-to-be yarn mill dormitory building in which there are dozens of units. The units are rented out to single mother families who can live there for three years. After three years, they have to move out. I was most touched by the kind of very close neighbourhood relationship, similar to the relationship found in the resettlement area where I grew up. This kind of close relationship makes me miss the memorable past. People helped each other when they were in need. If you had any difficulties I could help you; I could help you look after your kid; I could go to give you salt or soy sauce if you used it up at home. I think this is utopian, but I often feel too good things cannot last long. The question is: do you think this is utopian? Will this approach last long? How can this become sustainable? What is your idea about that?
This is difficult to answer; I don’t really know how to answer these questions. I try to accept this challenge to answer the questions. We often assume the world will become worse. Part of our human nature should be good in this world. Business owners may think about if they can do something for the society at a quiet night, while they still make money. I can’t assume everyone’s got a bad heart, but I can say we try to bring people’s small piece of inner heart to the society through social innovations. It happens like what you have just said in the movie “The House of 72 Tenants”, in fact, better than subdivided flat tenants, because there is a close neighbourhood relationship among them. Today we don’t merely talk about them, though. Talking about our neighbourhood relationship, I may not even know all my neighbours. When a neighbour comes towards the lift, we may keep pressing the ‘door close’ button in order not to see him. I think we are just retrieving something that we have had or hid in our hearts, and today we only see if we have the chance to release it. In the case of Light Housing, I used to think the government officials didn’t want to do anything. However, that is opposite. We found that some government officials had known about this and wanted to do something to help. They worked a lot quicker to deal with this to help and make us a lot easier. Some builders and property developers do not ask for money, but help us do a lot of things at cost prices. It was not previously found or imagined in the community. We were also worried about the objection by current neighbourhood as a lot of new faces were moving in. Fortunately, there is no such issue, and they said this was a good thing to help others. They could also hire the new comers in future. I can see what happened in our world before, so we should not have pre-settings. We should neither discriminate against the poor nor the rich. When we don’t have pre-settings, we can all get together again. Or I can say we can only do this and should keep this possibility despite our society being bad enough.
When establishing a social enterprise, we need to hope for kindness of human beings. Do you agree?
We are all looking forward to it, whether it is a right hope or a false hope.
Yes, this is important. By the way, can you tell our audiences more clearly about the differences between social enterprises and charity?
I tend not to talk about the differences, but the similarities. Our society also needs this. I think we should be social-centred: people in the society, the entire social environment, and our planet; each of which we first start with that centre. Business including charity organisations also need to look for sustainable development. Charity organisations should not ask for funding year by year because the funding is conditional money. You’ll be given funding this year if you are good in their eyes; or next year you won’t get anything because you are not liked. All charity organisations have their incompleteness. Social enterprises are not simply a form or a set of standard. I think this is only a hint in the present world about new possibilities and new forms of needs. We need to develop and expand it. I refuse to say what kind of legal entity, what policies or what measurements should be used for social enterprises. The development of social innovations appears only a very short time. We need to flourish the concept. The ideal is there are social enterprises in every sector. This concept will continue to develop and blend with the social philosophy. No matter a business can be well set up for the community, or a charity organisation can get some charity business. Something in the middle needs dealing with. If we can make things relevant to everyone, we can really make everyone become a reformer. I think this is the core concept of social enterprises.
Do you think a fresh university graduate can have a social enterprise start-up?
It is certainly possible for university graduates to do everything. They can, if they find their “beginner’s heart” and have great passions; they can’t if they don’t have the heart and passions. I think the success of everything depends on whether the person has great willingness or dream energy to make the accomplishment. You don’t need to hurry when you haven’t found it. Some people may be less confident, and need to work for large enterprises, such as working in an investment bank, which may help build their confidence. By doing this, there is a social recognition to let them have confidence to accomplish it, so no hurry. Some people, like a lot of social entrepreneurs and start-up owners who did not yet graduate from university, started to do it, because their passions were greater than a university degree. They considered the degree to be an obstacle. I guess it is about how much you believe in yourself. Just like at the beginning when I talked about finding your way and the searching process, some people like me are not ready at early age, but could find it at a later age. Some people, on the contrary, may find it early, then go ahead! It is whether you are bold enough to think, not to do boldly.
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