Reflections | Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme Study Visit 2019

From 15 to 19 July 2019, Victor and I represented the Hatch team to take part in a study visit to Shanghai, under the Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme (YSE) by Singapore International Foundation (SIF). The YSE programme seeks to inspire, equip and enable youth of different nationalities to embark on social enterprises (SEs) in Singapore and beyond.

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Yeoh Wan Qing

The Notion of Social Enterprises in China

The development of SEs in China is still in its infancy. Till date, there has been no formal recognition and legal structure for them. In fact, for a long time now, the concept of SEs and its definition has remained unclear to the Chinese general public.

Yet, our visits to various incubators and impact hubs in Shanghai told us otherwise that there have been hundreds of SEs which have sprouted over the country in the last few years. I found this surprising. It is a worthy testament that although there was still no clear definition, the idea of SEs has been steadily gaining traction with the younger generations.

I reckon that such a trend comes from the belief that this new type of organisation, with its unique positioning, innovative approaches, and will to do social good, can be self-sustaining as a remedy for the unmet social challenges and needs in China. This is especially so in increasing participation and enhancing capacity building for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, thus advancing social sector development in China.

On Gaining Inspiration

The 5-day study visit offered us an opportunity to visit various SEs to better understand the Chinese SE landscape. On one occasion, we had lunch at Village 127 Café, opened by Chung To, founder and chairperson of Chi Heng Foundation. Founded in 1998,  Chi Heng Foundation is a charity registered and based in Hong Kong with offices in Henan, Anhui, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.It is dedicated to creating a harmonious, equal and healthy society by funding and operating projects focused on education for children and adults impacted by AIDs, AIDS prevention and anti-discrimination. The Café is a SE under Chi Heng Foundation and was used to pioneer the Shanghai Young Bakers (SYB) Program which trains disadvantaged young adults, many of which came from AIDS-impacted families and have been excluded from stable employment.

Besides tasting the quality products Village 127 Café offered, we were greeted by Chung To himself who shared his story and long-term commitment to helping children not only complete their education but also receive dependable, comprehensive support. It became clear to him that with the right help, these children could become social assets instead of potential liabilities.

Chung To said that, “If you give anyone love and care, they will become the best that they will be.” His words resonated deeply with me.

Perhaps it was because the work we do at Hatch is no less different. Empowerment of youth. I felt a connection to the youth stories he shared. Many of these youths have the motivation and potential to pick up new skills quickly but are often driven by poor circumstances and the lack of opportunities, resources and social capital, to settle for less than they rightfully deserve. I say more should be done to break down the barriers of access to their fields of interest, and to aid them in gaining meaningful employment.

It struck me that while we both live in different parts of the world, our visions are the same- an equitable society for youths from all backgrounds. Chung To’s success and work gives me profound new strength and motivation to push on with the work we do at Hatch, to provide youths today with an opportunity to kickstart their careers and a chance to, in his words, be “the best that they will be”.  

AI for Inclusion and Good

The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was an integral part of the study visit. More often than not, the SEs we visited had invested in technology in an effort to transform their industries and better shape human behaviours. Cognitive Leap addresses children’s mental health challenges using evidence-based and scalable technologies with a personalised touch. Bits x Bites is China’s pioneer food technology VC which empowers early-stage start-ups to shape the future of good food. Just to name a few.

With the expectation that AI will be a game-changer for all industries by providing smart applications and efficiency in the business processes through optimal utilization of organizations data, the question of how SEs can harness big data and AI was widely discussed.

Hatch’s model is one that is part of a general boot camp model of disruption- examining the current education system that has done well in catering to the majority of the student population, but in the process, has inevitably left a sector of them behind.

I have a tendency to think that by launching on a smaller scale and leveraging ready-made solutions, Hatch too can efficiently harness the capabilities of AI to improve our processes and further social impact. Specifically, with the use of data harnessing, we can gain a better knowledge of the portfolios and backgrounds of the youths we work with in order to address the larger issue of youth absenteeism and out-of-school youths in the long run.

Young Changemakers

The study visit has allowed me to witness how the power of ideas, know-how and resources can be harnessed collectively to better lives and effect positive change for a better world. I am privileged to be able to meet a community of young social entrepreneurs who like us at Hatch, are continually searching for opportunities and seeking to create sustainable improvements and social value in society. Time after time, they have inspired me to do more.

(Photo by SIF)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the SIF YSE team for organising the study trip and offering us new perspectives into the Chinese SE landscape. The invaluable learnings, strong networks and long-lasting international friendships that we have gained, we could not have gained anywhere else. I sincerely look forward to greater collaboration, co-working and co-innovation within this community of young changemakers. Here’s to effecting greater social change in our societies, little by little.