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Our Views

Donors can be catalysts for social change in Hong Kong

Philanthropy – E-Capture      2014/06/06

Edwin Lee is a philanthropy adviser with the WiseGiving unit of The Hong Kong Council of Social ServiceDay in, day out, we read about the seemingly immense social challenges Hong Kong faces: low social mobility, an ageing population, weak family solidarity and a lack of affordable housing, to name but a few. Although Hong Kong is a land of generosity, donors often feel resigned to addressing the symptoms of a social issue rather than the root cause.

Donors can and should be more ambitious.

"Philanthropy" is often used to refer simply to the donation of funds, but it can be more than that: it can be about the creation of new solutions to social issues. Private donors can create social change even with a relatively modest donation.

Donors can achieve leverage in several ways.

First, they can spur social innovation by funding pilot programmes that can be rolled out across Hong Kong. Take the case of a private foundation that is funding the development of an education programme for parents of children aged two and three. The programme, designed by two professors from the Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong, aims to help parents better manage the behaviour of their children and prepare the children for entry into kindergarten. The programme has been shown to be effective in lowering parental stress and raising children's cognitive and language skills.

The foundation is now advocating for the government to implement this programme across Hong Kong.

Second, donors can contribute more than just financial resources. For example, a local real estate investment trust last year started a scheme that pledges a portion of its annual profits to charitable projects serving the communities in which the trust owns and operates properties. In selecting and designing the projects alongside non-governmental organisations, the trust pays particular attention to how they might be able to take advantage of other assets the trust could provide, such as space for NGOs to hold large-scale events, and its employee volunteers.

In one project, elderly people were screened to determine their risk of suffering a fall. By conducting the screening at shopping malls owned by the trust, social workers can gain access to single elderly people whom NGOs might not otherwise reach.

Finally, donors can draw the attention of other donors to a cause. The annual Operation Santa Claus campaign run by the South China Morning Post and RTHK is a prime example. Not only does the campaign raise a lot of money for some NGOs, but it also gives some lesser-known NGOs and causes access to the press. Even on a smaller scale, the results could be significant.

The social issues faced by Hong Kong may be daunting, but it is also precisely because of the scale of these issues that the entire community should play a role in addressing them.

Stakeholders such as the government, NGOs - and even donors themselves - need to think of donors as more than merely a contributor of funds. Donors can act as catalysts for social change, whose assets, networks and know-how make them a platform for stakeholders to collaborate for the greater good of Hong Kong.


(* The article was published on the South China Morning Post on 6 June, 2014)