Edited by Dr KK Tse

Francis Ngai, Chua Hoi Wai and myself had the privilege of attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, March 26-28, 2008. Naturally, we all have learnt a lot and are eager to share our learning and feelings with you.

There were so many inspiring stories, insights, sharing, personalities, films and documentaries, performances, debates, hands-on exercises, etc. at the Forum that any attempt to summarize them would be futile. What I wish to share with you above all is HOW the Forum has impacted on me and HOW it will transform my life in the years to come.

A Warning from Buddha

I will be very frank and direct. The purpose of my sharing is to touch you. to move you, to inspire you, to confront you, to make demands on you, to urge you to make choices….. And I make no apologies for taking such an approach; in fact the Forum makes me regret for not having done it earlier. To prepare you for this, I urge you to heed this advice:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” — Buddha

A Life Changing Experience

My first regret after Day 1 of the Forum was that I should have asked my wife to attend the Forum with me. The reason is simple: the impact on me was so great that it is impossible for me to convey the experience and feelings to her so that she could come close to feel what I feel.

Lesson No. 1: If you have the opportunity to attend this Forum in the future (which will not be easy but there is nothing to stop you from making it possible), attend it with your spouse.

The Forum has been a life-changing experience for me. Most people have turning points in their life. My last major turning point was in 1992 when I quit my 10-year-long job at Shui On and started my own consulting business. This Forum will be another major turning point. What I will be doing for the rest of my life will be very different from now on.

I met the son of a fellow HKSEF member at the Forum who has just completed university and is working for a social enterprise in London to gain experience before coming back to HK. He reminded me how young I am and how old he is. The moral is that age is irrelevant compared to who you are and what you do. It also reminds me of a quote I recently came across: “There are two important dates in one’s life: the day we were born and the day we know why.”

Lesson No. 2: What was your last major turning point in life? Is it time for another one?

‘Social Entrepreneurship is Not a Spectator Sport’

For the past two years, I have been very active in promoting social entrepreneurship and I think I have done a lot. But this Forum was a wake-up call. What I have learnt about what other social entrepreneurs have done and achieved makes me feel how modest, tentative, timid, and unimaginative my attempts have been. It seems that I have been far too ‘considerate’, in the sense of not being aggressive enough to encourage others to take actions and leave their comfort zone. Social entrepreneurship is not a spectator sport; you can’t just sit there and watch.

‘Nice to Know’ is not Enough

The readers of this Newsletter are already a very select group. But even among them there are at least three different attitudes towards social entrepreneurship: ‘nice to know’, ‘nice to do’, and ‘must do’.

The ‘nice to know’ just feel that “OK, social entrepreneurship is good, I’d like to read about it from time to time — just to be informed.”

The ‘nice to do’ might actually be practicing or supporting social entrepreneurship, but it is not their core passion, just ‘nice to do’ when one has the spare money and time.

The ‘must do’ are what we need above all; these are people who have the passion and strong sense of urgency to make a difference and make an impact. Unfortunately, there are far too few of them.

Ever since I put out this Newsletter, I sensed the existence of these three groups of people. But my fatal mistake was that I told myself: give them time and they will gradually move from ‘nice to know’ to ‘nice to do’ and then to ‘must do’. I have been too patient with those who want to stay perpetual ‘nice to know’ and have not challenged them vigorously enough to shake them out of their comfort chair.

Lesson No.3: while you could not force people to become change makers, there are infinitely more innovative, imaginative and effective ways to inspire people to rise above themselves. The Forum convinced me that this can be done and must be done. This will be my new challenge.

Don’t Be Distracted by Energy Wasters

Life is too short and precious to be spent on energy wasters. One learning from world-class social entrepreneurs is that they would not spend time on unnecessary debates or arguments. For example, they have no time to argue over definitions of social entrepreneurs or social enterprises. In fact, I have not heard of the words ‘social enterprise’ a single time in these three days. Nor are they concerned about how to define ‘social entrepreneur’. They have a strong passion for making the world a better place to live and they focus on an area where they could make the greatest possible impact and just do whatever it takes to get the job done. They don’t care whether it will be a social enterprise or NGO or a joint venture with business or government agency; what they care about is being able to self-sustain the effort so that the social mission could be realized over the long haul. If the academics want to debate the subject, let them do it. The social entrepreneur is too occupied with their work to become distracted.

Lesson No. 4: Focus on the big and vital issues; don’t waste time on unnecessary debates.

Every HKSEF Member a Changemaker

The net impact of the Forum on me is that I will re-evaluate everything I am doing in advancing the cause of social entrepreneurship. Not that I feel I have done the wrong things to date, but I will be focusing on more strategic, high-leverage initiatives from now on. I forced myself to respond to this question: If I had only two more years to live, what would I most like to accomplish? It turns out that one response stands out loud and clear: contribute to making EVERY HKSEF MEMBER A CHANGEMAKER!

Please join me to make this happen.