ACCA HK Business Competition 2014 gets society moving upwards
Grassroots mobility targeted in this year’s degree and sub-degree categories.
The winners of the ACCA Hong Kong Business Competition 2014 will be the teams that come up with the best sustainable business model to improve the social integration and upward mobility of Hong Kong families living in poverty.
Howard Ling, senior consultant at the HKCSS-HSBC Social Enterprise Business Centre (SEBC), created the six-week-long social enterprise project that forms the cornerstone of this year’s competition. Also one of the competition’s judges, he explains that teaming up with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a great way to uncover practical solutions to society’s toughest issues.
“I have been a judge for many social services competitions, but the ACCA Hong Kong Business Competition is the only one where we have the support of a professional organisation. The quality of the entries we receive is not only great, but world-class standard,” says Ling, whose organisation was established in 2008 by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) with funding from the Hongkong Bank Foundation and the Social Welfare Department’s Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged.
Almost 500 entries from both the degree and sub-degree competitions have been received this year from eight local universities. About 50 per cent of submissions came from accounting students, with the rest studying other subjects such as finance, marketing, management and social work.
Participating students must work with a budget of HK$1 million over two years. They are required to provide a brief business proposal in PowerPoint format with no more than 30 slides, together with a one-minute video featuring the main concepts and ideas. Seven finalists from each of the degree and sub-degree competitions are required to submit a detailed business proposal of no more than 3,000 words for review, followed by an oral presentation.
Many university instructors include the competition as a term project for students. Each participating team can have between two and four people.
Brenda Lam, head of learning and development at ACCA Hong Kong, explains that there are three new elements in this year’s competition. First, the number of finalist teams has been expanded to seven from five to include more students in the final round. Second, finalists will be given a workshop on presentation skills. Third is the inclusion of the one-minute video in proposals to give students wider scope to present their ideas.
Lam says the idea behind the workshop on presentation skills corresponds to business realities. “In the business world, the skill of presenting numbers can be just as important as the numbers themselves. So to reward students for getting to the final, we train up their presentation skills.”
Both Lam and Ling praise students for their creative ideas, but say that some teams need to polish their presentation skills to give their proposals extra shine. “This makes our competition a bit more challenging, but also more fun and interactive,” Lam says.
To impress the panel of judges, students need to think through all possible issues so that they are prepared to give good responses during the Q&A session, Lam says. Ling adds that genuine enthusiasm can also tip the scales in teams’ favour. “I like the presenters to show strong passion and that they can press on through hard days and nights but do not feel like they are working,” he says, explaining that last year’s winning degree team beat other strong technical teams because they showed commitment and a strong determination to succeed.
Lam adds that feasibility is also very important because the competition is based on a real issue, rather than a textbook one. For her, the best proposal will be a creative idea that stays within the financial constraints and ties together two basic elements: “social” and “enterprise”.
The competition would not be a success without its supporting partners, which include Bank of China (Hong Kong), Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Hutchison Global Communications, PwC, KPMG, The Hung Hing Ying and Leung Hau Ling Charitable Foundation, Social Ventures Hong Kong and Classified Post.
PITCHING IN FOR POVERTY
Hong Kong’s gaping rich-poor divide is not getting any smaller and over half of the city earns less than HK$14,000 a month. With the ACCA Hong Kong Business Competition addressing the timely topic of empowering families living in poverty, now is the time for students to propose some solutions.
“There are two aspects to the competition – business and social service – and both need to be sustainable,” Ling says. “The business aspect is easy to work out because it is tangible, but the social aspect is intangible because we need to observe the social impact.”
Awareness of poverty and the impact it has on a variety of social issues is going up among students, many of whom focused their proposals on improving the household income of grassroots families to prevent them from dipping below the poverty line.
“Students are getting more serious about dealing with poverty,” Ling says. “They focus on the funding leverage, asking us how they can get more money if the funds are not enough, and if fund backers are willing to support their proposals if they win.”
The result is a win-win situation for both students and society as a whole. “I believe this competition does not just train students for their business skills, but also raises their concerns about minorities in Hong Kong,” Ling says.
Last year the competition focused on the elderly. The winning team proposed the launch of an elderly dental care service that provided free oral examinations and treatment in clinics. The idea attracted at least one dentist who was willing to make the service a reality.
During the trial period, however, the team discovered that many of the elderly people who signed up for dental treatment ended up changing their minds and asking for a refund because they were not confident in the service.
Would a larger budget have solved the problem? Ling says big ambitions always start small and a lower budget does not necessarily mean it cannot be used to successfully handle large social issues.
“A larger budget doesn’t guarantee the successfulness of the proposal,” he explains. “At the end of the day, we need a pragmatic and prudent approach to tackling social issues – whether it is in the business competition or real life.”