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A man with a mission

Published on Thursday, 06 May 2010
Francis Ngai says social work has long been his passion.
Photo: May Tse


Francis Ngai Wah-sing is chief executive and founder of Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVHK), a venture capital firm which matches social enterprises, requiring funding, with donors and investors to help solve social problems. 

Tell us about your career

I come from a corporate background. In my previous capacity, I was assistant vice-president of strategic development at PCCW's information technology and telecommunications department. Before that, I worked in marketing and advertising jobs.

Why did you start SVHK?

About three years ago, I began to feel that I didn't want to work just for money and for [PCCW chairman] Richard Li [Tzar-kai]. At the same time, I had been volunteering for social services since I was in college. Social work has always been a passion of mine. So you can imagine how intrigued I was when I learned from a few social entrepreneurs how profit-making businesses can be combined with a social mission. Businesses can be a tool to make things sustainable and scale up small activities. 

What are social enterprises?

They apply market-based strategies to achieve social goals and can be run by non-governmental organisations or by firms on a non-profit or for-profit basis. The organisation should have a social mission at heart, whether it is to help disadvantaged groups or draw awareness to social problems. 

What do you think about the state of social entrepreneurship in Hong Kong right now?  

It’s still at an infancy stage. The official figure is that there are 300 social enterprises being set up in Hong Kong, but a lot of them are reconciled from the NGO base. They are shelter workshops, or job generating activities, but many of them are not making money and are not sustainable. I would say if we are really counting true social enterprises, there are only tens of them in Hong Kong. 

What challenges did you face in setting up SVHK?

The concept is new to Hong Kong, so it has taken us a long time to explain to people what SVHK does. We've had to do a lot of promotional work among volunteers and businesspeople.  As social entrepreneurship is still in its infancy, there aren't many sustainable projects that we can invest in. 

How would you advise young people who want to start a social enterprise?

Be ready for a hard journey. Apart from entrepreneurship, you have to deal with the social problem.  We are funding the operation of a hair salon that provides training for deviant youths.  We have to train the young people in different skills and counsel  them. It's quite difficult to achieve the double bottom line [profit and social mission]. But if you succeed, you will create a strong impact on society.  

Social conscience

  • In 2003, joined the 30SGroup, an influential forum of young professionals convened to tackle issues facing Hong Kong
  • Founded Social Ventures Hong Kong, the city's first venture philanthropy organisation, in 2007
  • Appointed to the government's Central Policy Unit think tank as a part-time member since last year
  • SVHK launched Hong Kong's first philanthropic investment fund this year 

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