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Sat, 24 May


Centennial Campus, HKU, 78 Pok Fu Lam Rd, Sai Wan, Hong Kong

2014 Annual Spring Workshop- Unleashing the Potential of Women in Hong Kong: Social Business as a Social Movement?

May 24, 2014 @ 9:30am – 1:30pm

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2014 Annual Spring Workshop- Unleashing the Potential of Women in Hong Kong: Social Business as a Social Movement?
2014 Annual Spring Workshop- Unleashing the Potential of Women in Hong Kong: Social Business as a Social Movement?

Time & Location

24 May 2014, 9:30 am – 1:30 pm

Centennial Campus, HKU, 78 Pok Fu Lam Rd, Sai Wan, Hong Kong

About the Event

2014 Annual Spring Workshop – Unleashing the Potential of Women in Hong Kong: Social Business as a Social Movement?

Co-Organized by the Women’s Studies Research Centre and The Centre for Comparative and Public Law, The University of Hong Kong

– Saturday 24 May, 2014 – 9:30am – 1:30pm – Rooms 322 & 323 3/F, Cheng Yu Tung Tower, The University of Hong Kong



The following summary attempts to weave together the various points made by the speakers and participants at the Spring Workshop co-organized by the Women’s Studies Research Centre and the Centre for Comparative and Public Law, University of Hong Kong, on 24 May, 2014. While many workshops and seminars in recent years dealt with the issue of social enterprise, this workshop was specially aimed at engendering the development of social enterprise in Hong Kong and understanding the important role that women could play.

Hong Kong was seen to be very much dominated by profit-making firms and the success of social enterprise or social business depended on re-thinking sustainable alternatives to a prevalent capitalist model and the concomitant transformation of values. Hence the workshop stimulated participants to re-imagine different economic practices and discuss needed changes to existing social and economic policies in order to improve future policies.  In her opening remarks, the guest of honour, Florence Hui, Under Secretary for Home Affairs, pointed out that the concept of social enterprise was gaining recognition in Hong Kong as an alternative route to creating employment and meeting demand for evolving social services.  The number of social businesses had increased to 457 which reflected a social movement in the making. About 60% of these enterprises was funded by the government and the rest was from private funds.  It was suggested that getting funding was not an insurmountable problem, but that the number of viable proposals that merited funding was. Some of the problems identified were related to the lack of appropriate skills that were required in sustaining the laudable aims of social enterprises.

Conceptual Frame in which women were viewed

The recent document on Population Policy by the Hong Kong government linked the future development of the Hong Kong economy to an ageing population and the consequent lower level of labor force participation rate (LFPR).  The dependency ratio would increase steadily in the future with fewer workers and an increasing number of retirees. To combat this trend, the focus was more on meeting future manpower needs through enlarging the work force, and indirectly, through raising the fertility rate. This was a long term challenge, as Hong Kong had one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. The reasons were many and complex since Hong Kong was not a family-friendly city and suffered from a lack of space and long working hours, among other problems. At some point in their working life, many women had to withdraw from the labour force to cope better with family responsibilities and child care.

Although the government played a pivotal role in developing socio-economic policies, the workshop speakers were equally concerned about encouraging initiatives from the community, and encouraging social goals that did not put profit maximization as the rationale for such activities. Much concern was on improving the potential of women who came from the grassroots level.  Since they could not afford child care services, these women were the first to leave paid labour.  Firstly, there was the plight of new migrants, and single mothers. It was pointed out that new arrival women, especially those joining spouses and families in Hong Kong were an important group that merited attention in present and future population policies. Rather than viewing their increasing numbers negatively, they should instead be regarded by the community at large as a positive force. The problems experienced by this group during the process of integration into Hong Kong society had to be dealt with systematically at various government department levels. Although the Population Policy objective mentioned the attainment of ‘quality life’, it was observed that the impression given was still about increasing numbers of workers over qualitative matters. Issues relating to producing better workers could be achieved by implementing much needed concrete family support services including care work for the elderly and children; flexible workplace practices; tax deductions; and subsidies for children, among others.

Secondly, the situation of homemakers was also highlighted in the workshop. This was a group which was ‘invisible’ in the formal economy. Participants viewed them positively within the familial network, and their significant contributions towards improving the emotional well-being and nutritional health of their families were acknowledged.  Their stories reflected the need to engage in representational strategies and a politics of recognition. Women could show their love through food beyond the familial level, and this was demonstrated in the account by the social enterprise, ‘Cookin Mama’. The combination of cooking skills, resourcefulness and collective synergy among the younger and more mature members illustrated the theme of the workshop in ‘unleashing’ the potential energy of women. Further examples were given of two women workers’ cooperatives, one operating a tuck shop at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the other involving domestic/office cleaning services using environmentally friendly products. In these cases, the women showed how they could utilize their skills acquired in the domestic sphere to participate within the paid public arena through self-employment. The examples offered a wider discussion of family values and the importance of compassion for vulnerable members in society and a natural step forward towards thinking about the third sector and the social economy.

Social Economy, Social Capital and the building of community

It was noted that one powerful case study about the development of a social economy came from Seoul in Korea. The comparative perspective gained from the Korean example appeared to be instrumental in articulating a possible future for social economy in Hong Kong. While Hong Kong had given rise to 457 social enterprises, Seoul had 1000 social economy organizations, 670 social enterprises, 80 community businesses, 190 co-operatives and 120 self- reliance enterprises & youth social ventures. There, the numerous types of social economic units attested to their imaginative creation where community overlapped with multiple spaces involving public, cultural, living, market and institutional spaces, among others.

The example set by this neighbouring Asian country was an encouraging incentive to think about improving public education in Hong Kong on alternative economies. There was a call to go beyond talking about wage labor, market exchanges of commodities and capitalist enterprise. Instead the conversation should encompass the hidden exchanges that had been occurring in various sites of human activity which included schools, churches, temples, the neighbourhood, voluntary work, consumer/producer cooperatives, non-monetized units, and other monetary transactions like informal lending. These activities, although not visible as part of the formal economy, were nevertheless important sets of activities that created new values in society. In addition, these activities might create social capital for diverse groups of people, For example, activities involving art lent themselves to the building of community through exhibitions and story-telling. They had the possibility of bringing fragmented groups of people together within a locality or across localities, and in this way held out unlimited potential for unleashing cooperation and interaction.

While it was important to point to the positive effects of a social economy, it was equally important not to idealize the process. Participants also heard that entrepreneurship was a difficult challenge. The cleaning services cooperative members shared their experiences in the workshop. Although they were successful in generating work for their women members for more than a decade, they had to reflect very hard on what constituted core values of a cooperative. The conflicting views among its members brought up issues of equality and the meaning of collective responsibility.  Participants also heard that young people in Hong Kong nowadays, compared to one or two generations ago, tended not to be interested in entrepreneurship and instead preferred to build professional careers which were less risky.  Only when people were willing to be change-makers would there emerge various types of social businesses and a culture that sought to break down unhelpful rigid obstacles and old ways of doing.


  • Is there a high level government body that can coordinate the social economy movement?
  • How can we combine corporate social responsibility within the private sector and the social economy movement?
  • Is the current legal framework adequate to deal with the issues that social business face?
  • Since social enterprise promotes different values and objectives could there be a corresponding impetus to reform the laws, for example, in taxation and labour matters?
  • Could we build up support for start-ups and sustain them? How does a network really help?
  • Where are the spaces for social economy to thrive and who creates them?

Compiled by Evelyn Ng (Women’s Studies Research Centre, HKU)

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