Career Advice Successful entrepreneurs’ story

Shared values

By taking a “when nothing is certain, everything is possible” approach to life, Alyssa Berggren, chief operating officer at G For Good — an organisation that advocates and implements social innovation investments and shared value projects — believes that achieving bottom-line business goals while addressing society’s most pressing challenges, are interdependent.

“At G for Good we offer a platform where we can help businesses to maintain a healthy bottom line and at the same time, deliver lasting social solutions,” Berggren says. As consumer attitudes increasingly expect organisations to take a more sustainable approach to operating their businesses, companies are often not sure how they should respond. “We can help them to connect the dots,” explains Berggren who holds an MBA from Harvard Business school and a bachelor's and a master's degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkley.

With a wealth of experience across a wide range of business disciplines including strategy development and implementation, impact measurements and organisational capacity and effectiveness, Berggren is of the view by reviewing their core strategies there are many ways that businesses can create synergies to leverage and connect with their communities. “Often it just requires a change of mindset,” notes Berggren who regularly combines her MBA and psychology knowledge when engaging with business professionals and community leaders. “People tell me I am a good judge of personality, which helps when suggesting new ways of doing business to others,” she notes.

Established just over a year ago as a private subsidiary of New World Development, in addition to offering advisory services to businesses, G for Good provides resources to incubate and develop social entrepreneurial projects. For example, Hong Kong's first-ever social enterprise to support athletes, which includes not only high-profile elite athletes but sportspeople at all levels in career transitions with job-matching services and seed funding to help them to launch start-ups and become entrepreneurs. In partnership with the Christian Zheng Sheng College, G for Good is helping to identify and match talented —but not yet well-connected social innovators — with companies looking for ways to expand their marketing activities. Emphasising that G for Good is not a charity, Berggren says the concept of creating shared value (CSV) focuses on innovation and collaboration as ways to expand both economic and social value.

Although CSV is a relatively new concept in Hong Kong, and while the model shares some similarities with corporate social responsibilities (CSR), in its simplest form, shared value is a business strategy focused on companies creating sustainable economic benefit by identifying and addressing social challenges that intersect with their business. At a time when the majority of Hong Kong's business community is under pressure and facing uncertainty, Berggren believes that, by adopting CSV concepts, businesses can set themselves apart from the competition which can enhance their opportunities for success. To help them get started, G for Good is able to help companies to identify social needs and business opportunities that intersect. For example, businesses can cooperate with other enterprises to create clusters of activity which ultimately leads to wealth creation and economic growth. Viewed another way, Berggren believes that, during tough economic times, embracing CSV concepts is a way of building resilience.

Resilience and perseverance are concepts that Berggren understands on a personal level. Growing up with a single parent mum who had to work at three or four jobs to make ends meet, from an early age by helping with the household chores, Berggren learned first-hand the value of resilience and maintaining a positive outlook. At the age of 15, Berggren had to dig even deeper into her reservoir of positivity when a Hong Kong classmate pulled her chair away as she was about to sit down, leaving her with an injured spine and the life-changing prospect of not walking again. Mainly confined to a wheelchair for six years with lower limb paralysis, Berggren never lost her positive outlook on life. “Whether it was my studies or whatever I would do in the future, I was always determined to give it my best effort,” recalls Berggren who moved to the US to continue studying while her mum remained in Hong Kong to work to pay off the medical bills.

Following a near “miracle” operation which restored her mobility, the inspiration Berggren gained from her recovery and challenging childhood empowered her with a strong sense of purpose and empathy. Fluent in Cantonese, English, Mandarin and Swedish, Berggren has worked hands-on with a number of charity projects in Nepal, China and the US. As international development manager with non-profit organisation Green Monday, she worked on projects advocating Mondays as meat free days to promote a healthier diet and reduced carbon footprints. Berggren also co-founded ChickenSoup, a grassroots Hong Kong philanthropic organisation that aims to provide low-income families with hot meals and education and empowerment support.

Further afield on the African continent, Berggren worked with Malawi government representatives, ministers, and the Chinese Ambassador to expand the number of orphanages in the southern region of Malawi. Working in a traditionally male dominated society, Berggren soon discovered as a petite, Asian female she had to learn to be resilient and, as she describes it, to “man-up”. “It was a case of ‘hey! I’m here and I have something to say.’” she says.

A firm believer in Buddhist philosophy and that everything happens for a reason, Berggren’s advice to get the best out of life is to “just get on the boat and go wherever it takes you.”