One balmy weekend in February, local pop-rock group RubberBand electrified a youthful audience with their spirited tunes on the Kwun Tong waterfront.
The venue, a cluster of old shipping containers converted into eateries, shops and other facilities on an otherwise forsaken lot underneath the Kwun Tong Bypass, turned out to be perfect for a youth arts festival, of which the RubberBand gig was a part.
The event, organized by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, included live performances by local bands, dance numbers and free workshops. Although the place was not well-known, the affair was well-attended.
Situated along the Kwun Tong Promenade, the venue, comprising three zones, is meant to become a hub of creative, social and green activities in the district and beyond.
There you can enjoy a cup of coffee, buy a bouquet of flowers for a loved one, pick up a second-hand book (for free), take part in the various cultural activities happening in the area, or simply walk around and savor the scene.
The whole concept is called Vessel, a social innovation project aimed at spreading the value of the “human soul” through an amalgam of facilities and services in an open space.
The project belongs to the “Fly the Flyover Operation” of the Energizing Kowloon East Office of the Development Bureau.
It aims to serve as a platform for young people and their families to search for values and discover their talents through four mediums – arts, green living, social engagement and sports.
Currently, the Vessel has two tenants – a food and beverage operator which runs a restaurant, and a non-governmental organization which runs a flower shop that provides employment opportunities for young adults with special needs and special education needs.
Ruby Yeung Shiu-shan is chair of HKALPS Limited, a non-profit organization that operates the entire project.
Housing is a very important issue for most Hongkongers, she acknowledges. But in seeking to answer our material needs, we should not forget about our spiritual dimension, “our soul”, which she said we should continuously nourish.
By organizing and providing a venue for community activities, the Vessel wants to help people to change their mentality that focuses on material needs but ignores their inner selves.
Seeking funding sources and sponsors is the most strenuous part of running the Vessel, says Yeung.
She says she is very enthusiastic about seeking collaborators for the project, although building a decent collaborative relationship with tenants and partners requires a great deal of strength. It’s not easy to foster trust and professionalism, she says.
Another difficulty she finds in collaborating with potential tenants and event organizers is time constraint, because these partners often have hectic schedules. Those seeking to hire the venue include drama, dance and art groups – also buskers.
Potential clients, mostly NGOs, are also concerned about the cost of hiring the venue as many of them operate with shoestring budgets.
While the government evaluates the performance of the Vessel project through quantitative methods, Yeung notes that the trend in many foreign countries is to measure the effectiveness of a social enterprise or social innovation project not only using quantitative methods but also qualitative standards.
“Social impact is not only reflected by the number of participants. Qualitative [measurements] are also important,” says Yeung. “From our point of view, we also look at what happens to the beneficiaries, whether their lives or life experiences improve.”
Yeung sees venture capital as the direction of future development of social enterprises in Hong Kong.
She said Hong Kong can draw reference from a move by the investment arm of RICE Co. Ltd., a non-profit art organization in Singapore, to list on the stock exchange.
While the government is not the only source of financial support for social enterprises, Yeung believes it plays a leading role in their development.
She said people who are collaborating with social enterprises feel more secure when the government is involved in the selection process.
The commercial sector can also make great contributions to the community, such as through its corporate social responsibility initiatives. Corporates have the “Robin Hood spirit”, which prompts the wealthy to give back to society, says Yeung.
And rather than just making one-off donations, corporates should contribute to the community in a long-term fashion in order to create a lasting social impact, according to Yeung.
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