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University Star Virtual Internship

School suspensions triggered first by social unrest and now by the pandemic haven’t prevented Hong Kong students from wanting to learn, no matter how challenging the methods employed. When registration for the education technology social enterprise Foster Hong Kong’s “University Star” Virtual Internship 2020 opened recently the number of registrations had topped the 300-mark at press time despite such virtual internships having to be done online or remotely.

Founded in 2014 by Hong Kong-born go-getter Yanice Mak, this social enterprise aims at fostering the next generation to be global citizens with international exposure through education technology and internship opportunities at social enterprises and different organisations in summer and winter semesters. Students are placed with a company and must regularly report to a supervisor. They maintain regular contact with the supervisor via virtual methods such as email, instant messaging and phone conversations during their 90-hour internship.

She explained, “The latest edition of the internship program showed our coverage reached out wider and farther, with distant student applications coming from institutions like Oxford University in the UK and New York University in the USA. I have a strong feeling that the pandemic virus and global lockdown will drive students’ desire to learn something new during this period of inactivity, with some of them searching online for virtual internship opportunities. We can rightly boast that our virtual internship idea is the first in Hong Kong and Asia. After sourcing company partners interested in nurturing young people we match them up with our students for vocational training. Since 2014 this social movement has contributed over 48,000 hours of community service, helping make this world a better place.”

Born in the 1990s, Mak first volunteered as a Girl Guide at age six and since then has passionately sought involvement in community services. She is currently Assistant General Manager for Rotary International District 3450. To her, philanthropy should be the key to solving global problems in all needy sectors. This explains the rationale behind the establishment of Foster Hong Kong. She recollected, “I felt strongly that my bachelor's degree in business management from the Chinese University of Hong Kong plus my passion for social impact could be combined to form something new and meaningful. That’s how the organisation came about. It is my dream and hopes that our next generation in Hong Kong will engage in global citizenship because the era of globalisation is now and already we live in a global village, so we should possess a global vision and seek international cooperation when trying to solve world issues. To be honest this is not the responsibility of government or non-government organisations, but a task requiring the talents of various successful industries. Hopefully, our brightest students will develop and expand this global mindset after graduating. Whatever profession they choose for their future employment — journalist, banker, distributor, etc. — they should bear it in mind and act accordingly.

“My social enterprise advocates United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 on Quality Education because education can transform and empower a person to change the world. It is to be hoped that our educational programmes will teach students vocational skill sets that may benefit their future employment, such as job seeking or setting up their own enterprise. Other necessities include an attractive resume/CV, making worldwide professional connections and networks, developing digital skills that are vital in the 21st century plus flexible working hours. University students with a good command of English who are passionate about forming creative ideas and out-of-the-box thinking are welcome to give it a try.”

According to Mak, SDGs promote world peace and minimise poverty. For instance, its Goal 4.4 states that by 2030 there will be a substantial increase in the number of youths and adults armed with the relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. That’s why she developed the online course curriculum for students through her own research. Students must complete it before ‘getting their hands dirty’ in internship. Topics encompass company knowledge, global citizenship and social justice, how to set up (delete) social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility (CSR), social media marketing and digital marketing tools. Mak opined, “The syllabus is updated frequently to reflect the real-life business and social environment. For instance, fresh subjects like Global Citizenship and Social Justice were introduced last year so that the outside world/students could learn the factual background of social unrest in Hong Kong last year. From there, local or overseas applicants could critically analyse topics in the curriculum as being right or wrong. Moreover, I teach social entrepreneurship using a business model canvas to build a business that is one of the key drawing factors.

“During their 90-hour virtual internship, students gain practical working experience such as conducting market research and monitoring social media pages without physically travelling overseas. Another plus is that no limit is placed on successful candidates wishing to sign up for future programmes. Indeed, more and more foreign companies are looking for Chinese students’ help in making successful forays into China, where opportunity is constantly knocking. I have a Singaporean student placed in a start-up company in London showcasing a bigger picture than that of a traditional corporate. Start-ups are hot now as the bidders involved are hungry for talent. Such ventures are characterised by quick decision-making. Better still, there is always a high chance that our students will work directly with founders or CEOs.”

Though education technology is very popular in the U.S., it is still a buzzword in Hong Kong. In 2016, Mak was awarded the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship for her master’s studies in Boston specialising in innovation and technology. She argues that education technology has made learning more interactive, with greater exposure for students. She added, “For our virtual internship programme I met professional leaders across the globe and added some education technology. Obviously, the COVID-19 virus unleashed online learning potential and demand. Before this breakthrough not many people paid much attention to it.”

In recent years the number of applicants has been increasing, so the profile for partner companies has had to be diversified, from marketing, finance, technology, education, management consulting and legal to start-ups in different countries and regions like London, New Delhi, Melbourne, Singapore and New York. So far, Mak has found 72 companies in over 30 countries and cities for 2020 and is eyeing 100 partners to cope with burgeoning demand. Some remarkable corporate partners are on her list such as Strategy Sprints — Vienna, Austria (Forbes 30 Under 30); The Founder Institute — San Francisco, USA; Hamster Connect — Amsterdam, Netherlands; Wluper — London, England (Forbes 30 Under 30) and Nestholma — Helsinki, Finland.

Looking ahead, she’s keen to take virtual education to the next level by offering a tailor-made internship programme for corporates to implement CSR.