Updated: Sep 15
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.
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 pione