Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new phenomenon in Hong Kong--and one venture philanthropy startup, Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVhk), has been at the forefront of the movement, with several investees under its portfolio focused on the elderly and disabled. The group's newest project, Diamond Cab, officially launches next week.
"Diamond Cab is the first branded, high-quality taxi service in Hong Kong specially tailored for wheelchair users--and the only taxis which are wheelchair accessible," SVhk founder Francis Ngai tells Fast Company. "It is a disruptive model to the existing taxi market, as we creatively reorganized the network of partners, bringing in elderly homes, disabled NGOs, and taxi operators altogether."
Ngai left a high-powered job working in telecommunications in mainland China to start SVhk with a few other entrepreneurs and has now found himself in the company of the Skoll World Forum and other international social enterprise outlets. "But the development of social entrepreneurship here is still in the infant stage and it's mostly developed by government and non-profits," says Ngai.
"We nurtured the Diamond Cab idea for three years and we found that disabled transportation is one of the main difficulties in Hong Kong. The market gap is very big. So we got in touch with government officials. We set up a small working group to come up with business plans. We met weekly, bridged with funders, and then we formed the preliminary idea and opened up to shareholders. Now other shareholders include elderly homes."
Ngai says that Hong Kong should already have handicap-friendly taxi services in place, much as the rest of the developed world does. But in the context of Hong Kong, where adult children are expected to look after their ailing parents, the need for disabled-specific public transportation has gone unheeded. And now, as Hong Kong continues to balance Eastern and Western influences, the need is bigger than ever, as young working parents are often too busy to assist their parents with every grocery trip.
"In Asia, when people think about social entrepreneurship they immediately think about villages. But there are a lot of urban issues," adds Ngai. "The public is more open now to other issues--they are hungry for other ideas. After a couple of years we will show that social entrepreneurship works."
"Our ambition is to show the public that by perfectly blending social and business elements together, some 'new' social capital could be built up, as this social venture is the very first one in HK--with mainstream businesses like taxi operators and elderly home groups being the shareholders."
Of starting SVhk, says Ngai, "We weren't happy with just being a think tank--we've mobilized a lot of different resources to create one of Hong Kong's first venture philanthropy startups."
For now the group's primary investees focus on the elderly and disabled, but eventually SVhk will expand into more culturally fraught issues such as youth and crime and health issues. But in the meantime Ngai says he and his team are focusing on making sure their model works and showing Hong Kong what social entrepreneurship is--and that it is viable both financially and socially.
Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.