“Be Bold! God helps those who help themselves.”
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Where there is a beginning, there is an end. What makes life perfect? CUHK alumnus Simon Ngai is a businessman and founder of a number of social enterprises. He puts his business experiences to serve young discharged prisoners, delinquent youths and the grassroots by operating an array of social enterprises such as garage, hair salon and Christian funeral parlour. Yet Simon humbly claims that all things are in “Him”.
Being in the business and social welfare worlds for over three decades provides Simon illuminations of the infinite potential in people, and motivation to navigate between the best and worst in life. “People are the most important assets. Without people you can’t do anything. We need to get the right people to walk the talk.”
Ebullient and eloquent, the former president of the Federation of Alumni Associations of CUHK juggles a number of key posts including director of CUHK Alumni Charity Foundation, chairperson of Fullness Christian Vocational Training Centre (FCVTC), chairperson of Glory Return Foundation (GRF) and director of Hong Kong General Chamber of Social Enterprise (GCSE). Simon also likes to make friends, and is generous in sharing these networks to match business operations with social welfare organisations to actively take part in social services and even establish strategic partnerships for betterment of the society.
Sower of social enterprise — CUHK
Fullness at the crossroads
From furniture business Simon got to know the Superintendent of Holland Hostel, who was also director of FCVTC and was looking for someone to help with his workload at FCVTC. Simon joined FCVTC in 2000 and became a member of the board of directors in 2002. He was appointed chairperson of the board from 2006 till now.
“Business experiences can play significant roles in the social welfare sector. It is very exciting to see people in both circles complement each other. This is my blue ocean! When social workers hesitate to make business decisions, my suggestions oil the wheels. For instance the hair salon had been in the red and was closed down. In view of mixed opinions among the board of directors, I convinced the board with data analysis and lined up collaboration opportunities with Youth Outreach. Everything became ready. I think that people are the most important assets. Without people you can’t do anything. We need to get the right people to walk the talk.” Books were balanced within the year that the hair salon reopened. It was the project that was launched and became profitable within the shortest period. “We were delighted with the outcome, and I was elected as and am still chairperson.”
Government and industry input for social enterprise
“The government began driving the set-up and operation of social enterprises in 2006. Experiences in business operation was much sought after to leverage the impact of social enterprises. Many businessmen hence jumped on the wagon. Operation aside, we need to consider further the development, research and advocacy of social enterprise. That’s why we established Fullness Social Enterprises Society (FSES) .”
“A lot of people in the business world thinks the market of social enterprises is ‘unexpandable’. Yet how can the market expand if no one takes part? A social enterprise is a real business operation with the goal of creating social social impact. As more and more people understand the nature of social enterprise, I hope to amass more support to expand the market.”
Simon promptly got fellow CUHK alumni, Federation of Hong Kong Industries (FHKI) and Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong (CMA) together to organise the first Hong Kong Social Enterprise Autumn Trade Fair. “The trade fairs of importers and exporters in China used to be called ‘spring trade fair’ or ‘autumn trade fair because they were usually held in these two seasons. I wish to get members of FHKI and CMA to visit the booths of different social enterprises and facilitate B2B collaboration.”
“Whereas the kind of ‘conscious consumption’ promoted by social enterprises is limited to B2C. With more collaboration between the business and social service circles, and greater understanding of social enterprises, the government will see the importance of social enterprises and heighten recognition to social enterprises by members of the public.”
“At the same time, business corporations are expected to partner with social enterprises to enhance their ESG (environment, social & governance) investing practices to create social impact. There are lots of opportunities to do better and do more!”
Baby steps in funeral service
Simon points out that one will not know how to handle a funeral if one has not experienced the passing of a family member. The opening of this social enterprise is not for making money, but for providing comfort and spiritual support to the bereaved. “It is particularly hard for the grassroots for losing their loved ones and not making ends meet. Your support to them at this troubled time will mean a lot.”
Chung Kwong Hung, director and registered social worker of Glory Return, explains the details of Christian funeral service. “I got to know Simon at the same church. I have always had an interest in funeral service. Funeral service is a huge business, but outsiders hardly know how a funeral parlour operates.”
“Funeral service is difficult because we do not know how it is run. I was trained as a social worker but there is no courses on funeral service in any of the universities in Hong Kong. We almost started from scratch from sorting out paper work, sourcing coffins, booking hearses and so on. The most important question — how to get people to trust us, a organisation they barely know, to handle this very grave matter?”
Bring comfort in funeral service
Chung Kwong Hung shares a touching story. “We serve not only the aged, but also stillbirth and young children. A 10-year-girl with intellectual and physical disabilities passed away. She was raised single-handedly by her mother. On the way to the crematorium on the hearse, her mother said facing the coffin, ‘Sorry for not being a good mother. I did not take care of you good enough.’ I explained to her how precious her commitment had been. These are all the poignant but heart-warming episodes in the service.”
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Original text in Chinese：Alice Fong @ORKTS
English translation：Miriam Lee
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