Strike a balance between profit and purpose for business

November 4, 2022

From corporate social responsibility (CSR) to environmental, social and governance (ESG), governments, leaders, investors, employees and consumers are demanding corporations to make positive impacts to the society, and they are choosing companies that align with their values. Francis Ngai, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Social Venture Hong Kong (SVhk), believes that every company is created with a vision to contribute to a better world. “A property developer, at the very beginning, may want to build quality, reasonably priced apartment buildings.” Ngai says. “But when businessmen begin to go for financial performance year after year, they may forget why they started the businesses.”


Francis Ngai

 Francis Ngai, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Social Venture Hong Kong


Ngai used to be a strategist in the commercial world. By chance he came by the concept of social enterprise and realized that a business can be more than just making profits. As a father of two, he wanted to bring good social changes and therefore founded SVhk in 2007. At the beginning, SVhk focused on nurturing social enterprises, social innovations and social incubations. Today, SVhk has evolved into an impact purpose organization.


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Business 2.0

“We mobilize the private sector and professionals who believe in purpose and impact. We work with companies, connect them to social purposes and help them develop their own impact strategies. We also serve as a middleman linking up different organizations – commercial, non-profit, charities and foundations.”

He calls this “Business 2.0”.

“Monetary donations and volunteering are not enough,” Ngai emphasizes. “We change the way that we make changes.”

How? By leveraging each company’s purpose and impact.


Face the Reality

“Over the years, SVhk, together with insightful and passionate people, have set up a number of successful social enterprises including Diamond Cab, Light Be, Dialogue in the Dark, Green Monday and more,” he recalls. “But we cannot just sit and wait for future social entrepreneurs. We need to rethink.”

The first step, however, was that we need to take out our courage to face the reality.

“From the social movement to the pandemic, many aspects in Hong Kong have been changed completely. We can deny what has and is happening but the fact is the fact – a lot of talent have left the city and the younger generation has lost hope. How can we talk about the next 10 or 20 years if we do not face the reality?”

Ngai cites an example. Key nations have signed international agreements to tackle climate change. But are we doing anything to combat the challenges of climate change in our daily lives? We wake up in a sunny day and then we forget about climate change. “How long are we going to duck out?” he asks.


Actions Speak Louder

It is time to act. Like SVhk, they have changed from introducing venture philanthropy and social enterprises to mobilizing the private sector.

“For instance, we work with the Urban Renewal Authority on community making,” he says. “In addition to demolishing and rebuilding, we have introduced community engagement elements such as incorporating social housing or co-working factory into renewal projects.”

Another example is Yip’s Chemicals. The company acquired Camel Paints and SVhk suggested to the management team to run a series of wellness programs that engage construction workers and painters who are usually grassroot people suffered from different kinds of muscle pains. The programs turned out to be a huge success.

“We collaborated with the Painters General Union and organized pain-relieving exercise classes, attracting a lot of male workers who are always hard to reach,” Ngai elaborates. “This was a simple and easy move but was able to bring impacts to both the workers and the company. From what I have heard, apart from the good branding effect, the employees at Yip’s Chemicals are also very encouraged by the impact.”


Make a Change

As he puts, every person, every organization can make a change. Even a small start-up can do its part. Not long ago SVhk invited a few start-ups to a bootcamp and immersed them with social exposure. One day they went to Sham Shui Po and talked about elderly people queuing up on the street for free meal boxes amid the pandemic. Wada Bento, a start-up operating Japanese bento vending machines, quickly agreed to place a machine in a social institution so that the restaurant can give out free meal boxes through the vending machine, and the recipients can get the meal boxes from there at a designated time without the need to queue outside of the restaurant.

“In the past, it might take us years to draft the proposal, get funding and buy a bento vending machine; but now a start-up has responded to it and acted quickly to address a social issue immediately. In fact, in many cases, issues can be easily resolved just like this.”


Business with Purpose

If every company, large and small, finds its purpose and delivers its social impact, we will have a lot of social enterprise-like organizations that bring positive social changes.

Last year, SVhk and the Hong Kong Management Association formed an impact partnership to drive the growth of value-led businesses in the city. Together they seek to accelerate the “business with purpose” movement, help tackle environmental and social challenges, and open up new opportunities for talent in Hong Kong. 

“We need a change of mindset,” Ngai exclaims. “We need a purpose leadership mindset in the private sector to drive the impact of things.”

Two of the most urgent tasks, according to him, are to create new social fabrics that connect people from all walks of life and corporations which share experiences and help one another, and to build the right infrastructure that connects companies having the same social impact goals, thus multiplying the effect.

“We do not say ‘social enterprise’ now. We say ‘social impact company’.”

Every company can make a social impact.

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