【Philanthropy Forum】Social Enterprise as Catalyst for Cross-Sector Cooperation: Hong Kong Experiences

July 1, 2010, the “Social Enterprise as Catalyst for Cross-Sector Cooperation” Forum was hosted at the Degui Academy by the School of Philanthropy of Dharma Drum University. Dr. Jane Lee, Deputy Director and Head of College of Business and Finance of Hong Kong University SPACE (School of Professional and Continuing Education) shared her experiences in Hong Kong in catalyzing cross-sector cooperation through social enterprises. This forum attracted more than forty participants in attendance.

Dr. Lee highlighted the importance of “platforms” for social enterprise development. Examples in Hong Kong include Social Enterprise Summit, General Chamber of Social Enterprises, Social Entrepreneurship Forum, etc. These platforms play a crucial role in building capabilities, probing into urgent issues and new opportunities, coordinating efforts by various groups of stakeholders, and further promoting the cause of social entrepreneurship as a feature of civil society and corporate citizenship.

Dr. Lee suggested that universities may contribute significantly to the development of social enterprises in various ways such as service-learning programs, awareness-raising or cause-related initiatives, forums, workshops, awards, research projects, couching/consultation services, and degree or non-degree educational programs in social entrepreneurship.

Dr. Lee emphasized that social enterprises can serve as a catalyst for cross-sector cooperation. For NGOs, an NGO-affiliated social enterprise is expected to create positive cash flow in three years. For the government sector, social enterprises may leverage welfare policy funding for sustainability and greater social impact. For the business sector, social enterprises use business skills to achieve social goals. Thus, social enterprises have the potential to deliver synergy with efforts from all sectors in society.

Yu Fang-chiang, Executive Director of Yirenping Center in Beijing, raised a question about the rate of return for social enterprises. Dr. Lee highlighted the distinction between profit-maximization and surplus. Social enterprises should avoid to become profit-maximizers. A successful social enterprise is expected to break even or create a surplus. It will be good if social enterprises can specify in their certificates of incorporation or bylaws how profits would be distributed or re-invested. Dr. Lee gave an example that the Dialogue in the Dark in Hong Kong mandates that one thirds of the profit will be designated for the purpose of helping the blind, another one thirds for facility improvement and reinvestment, and the rest for investors. (Leemen Lee/Taipei)