Cultivating an Ecosystem of Change
Ming Wong, (BA ’86, BS ’86, MBA’89), Co-Founder of Asia Community Ventures and Social Investors Club, shared key insights on developing a cohesive social impact ecosystem within the context of Hong Kong.
To most people Hong Kong is known as a bustling metropolitan. A leading financial center, Hong Kong is one of the Four Asian Tigers which also include South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan all noted for their rapid industrialization and exceptionally high growth rates. However, few outsiders are familiar with Hong Kong’s dark side.
A native from Hong Kong, speaker Ming Wong (BA ’86, BS ’86, MBA’89) a leader in the impact investing and social entrepreneurship space in Asia and co-founder of the Social Investors Club and Asia Community Ventures, shared his insights on problems Hong Kong is facing. Despite economic growth and development, Hong Kong has one of the highest rising income disparities. People often forget that abject poverty still exists in parts of Hong Kong. In spite of these challenges, Wong is optimistic and believes that building a comprehensive social impact ecosystem of players can complement the government’s effort to address these challenges.
Wong made the case that while government initiatives may be well intentioned, they do not necessarily achieve maximum impact. Currently in Hong Kong there exists a synergistic loop between the government and civil society. Through funds like the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund, the government outsources the provision of social services to civil organizations. However, these initiatives seem to merely address the symptoms of social problems rather than target the root cause. Moreover, there are many restrictions and strings attached to these grants. Grants are only given to non-profit organizations (NGOs) and there is an overemphasis to support NGOs that provide jobs for disadvantaged groups at expense of other equally impactful social enterprise models. In fact, this was a point that Wong agonized over, and rightly so. By restricting support to only NGOs, not only does the government limit the potential of a wide range of social businesses to scale their impact, it also prevents socially-minded entrepreneurs who are using innovative hybrid models of funding from growing their business.
Wong presented an alternative model that complements existing government efforts by drawing lessons from success stories of social innovation from the UK and Hong Kong. In the UK, there are over 62,000 social enterprises contributing to 5% of GDP, compared to a paltry 300 social enterprises contributing a mere 0.2% of GDP in Hong Kong.
“There is room for improvement, and room for growth in Hong Kong,” noted Wong.
Citing the success of one of Hong Kong’s most successful privately funded social enterprises, Dialogue in the Dark, which impacts the lives of the visually impaired, Wong contended that more can be done to channel funds to impactful social enterprises to help scale their reach. Alternative methods such as impact investing and patient capital can catalyze growth of social enterprises.
Aside from funding support, Wong shared his thoughts on other components necessary to achieve a cohesive social impact ecosystem. For example, organizations and market intermediaries that provide business development and capacity building, education and training are also needed to support social enterprises at different stages of growth. In mapping out the existing Hong Kong social impact ecosystem, Wong highlighted the gaps that hinder the flourishing of the social enterprise scene and how his organizations seeks to address these gaps. As co-founder of Asia Community Ventures, Wong founded this organization in hopes of promoting collaboration among key players through policy recommendations and in-depth research.
Overall, Wong made a compelling presentation that gave a macro perspective on the impact investing scene. An interesting talk for anyone interested in the field of impact investing.
Ming Wong spoke at Johnson as part of the Center of Sustainable Global Enterprise Lecture Series, Finance and Sustainability Colloquium, on February 11, 2013.
- Dora Heng ’16, student intern for the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise