Written by William Ko Pang of The University of Hong Kong for Social Entrepreneurs Newsletter Issue 78.
At the age of 25, Freddy Law is a rising star in the world of social enterprise and alternative education in Hong Kong. With contagious passion and endless drive he differs from his peers with an insatiable desire to achieve his goal of transforming learning in his home town and beyond. His hard work, frequently over 16 hours a day, determination and motivation have attracted many young people to follow his path.
The social enterprise that Freddy founded, Inter Cultural Education, was the winner of the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge, 2009. (Freddy is the second person on the left.)
How It all Began
In 2007, Freddy volunteered in a mosque to teach young South Asian children Chinese. One child asked why it was necessary for her to work so hard to learn Chinese; Freddy provided a number of reasons why it helps in day to day situations with the locals. She responded by quoting her grandmother who had told her that “Whether we speak Chinese or not, we are still being discriminated against”. Freddy was shocked and saddened; he had always believed that Hong Kong was Asia’s world city which embraced different races and welcomed diversity. After further reading on the subject he researched the statistics to find that, unfortunately, facts would suggest that minorities were significantly underprivileged in Hong Kong.
Finding a Solution
In the meantime, some months past and Freddy was hired to be a Management Trainee in Google, India. This gave him invaluable corporate experience and international exposure as well as an interesting company initiative of having 20% of his time just for ‘thinking’. He exploited this rather unique opportunity and deeply considered why he was the only Hong Kong employee in Google’s Asia Pacific Headquarters. They wanted dynamic, adaptable people who thought globally, critically and creatively. It soon became obvious to Freddy that the issue was a flaw in education. This was where such skills and qualities should be nurtured and developed and yet he felt there was something lacking in HK education. Students are not stimulated to discuss international issues and are not motivated or curious to learn. This results in a narrow mindset and a community which hesitates to understand, and respect, other cultures in daily life.
Inter cultural Education (ICE) – One Global Workshop at a Time
After his harsh realization about the negative impact of ineffective education, Freddy vowed to revolutionize the global education in his home town. He gave up a job offer with Google Beijing and decided to head to Europe to gain more exposure and experience. He conducted over 100 personal development workshops for young people in countries such as Macedonia, Ukraine and Germany and came back to Hong Kong empowered and willing to live and work with no salary to fulfill his dream.
He established ICE – Inter Cultural Education, an organization aimed at creating a truly international learning environment which encourages students to think globally and respect cultural diversity. ICE workshops are delivered by experienced international trainers from countries such as Sweden and Bulgaria as well as graduates of top universities such as Oxford. This is combined with representatives of the local minority community from South Asia and Africa who also work with the youth to break down barriers built by cultural misunderstandings.
Bringing Raw Coffee Beans and African into the Classroom
In order to make the workshops interesting and interactive, Freddy brings in new ideas from all over the world to enrich the first-hand experience of the students. For example, when teaching the importance of fair trade, students experience a simulation where they live life in an African Village. They are given real raw coffee beans from Cameroon and asked to peel the skin, wash and also sell to shopkeepers in exchange for food, shelter and medical care. After the simulation they explore the deeper meaning, are informed of the facts and discuss how they can make a change. This unique learning experience arouses the students’ interest and encourages them to research more about the topic in their own time. Local minorities from Africa are invited to this simulation to assist in the delivery of the workshop. Their presence and interaction with the students provide a true insight into the realities of life in such circumstances. They also play the African drums, talk about their countries and add the engaging, fun and distinctive elements that ensure ICE makes a high impact on these young minds.
Impacting Students, Minorities and Society
The impact created by ICE has three dimensions:
First, students are stimulated, challenged and transformed into global thinkers making them more productive in their academic lives and more rounded in their personal lives.
Second, minorities are empowered – they are given job opportunities, the chance to break down barriers between themselves and the locals and, most importantly, they are given a voice.
Third, when the younger generation become more open-minded, tolerant and open to difference this will result in a more harmonious environment which enables Hong Kong to truly call itself Asia’s world city. They can influence their peers and teach the next generation. ICE recognizes that they alone could not reach a large number of people but the youth they educate and mobilize will be the main contributors to positive change. Students are guided to start community projects of their own as well as participating in those initiated by ICE.
ICE Realities and Challenges
Of course, things are never so simple. ICE, much like any other enterprise, has to consider important business issues such as managing costs, marketing to potential schools and hiring the best global trainers. As a social enterprise the objective is not to maximize profits but, by definition, they must be self-sustaining. Revenue is generated through providing workshops which can come from various budgets within the schools or are sometimes paid for by the students themselves. ICE provides workshops to a variety of age groups though Form 3-6 is the focus.
Fortunately, many of the international trainers come from close networks of the core team and they are therefore willing to work at minimal cost. Currently there are only three full-time staff, including Freddy as CEO. Workshops are generally gained through networks and referrals but it is always a challenge to convince schools that they are not just another English Learning Centre. Freddy feels confident that ICE’s growing brand reputation will make the social enterprise not only self-sustainable but reasonably profitable in the long run. Deep in his heart, one of things he would like to prove is that social enterprise is an attractive and viable career alternative for young people and that working for a social enterprise does not mean that you have to starve yourself.
Thinking Big While You Are Still Small
Freddy believes in the competitive edge of his business and hopes that every student in Hong Kong can experience an ICE workshop. In order to make its impact, Freddy hopes to meet more open minded principals and decision makers who appreciate the value of such innovative and interactive learning methods. He is at the same time tapping into the resources and support from other social entrepreneurs already working in the field, albeit on different social issues. One of his role models is Wendy Kopp of Teach For America, who started her project at a very young age against all odds and succeeded in creating an organization and movement having a major impact on American education and beyond.
Message to Other Young Social Entrepreneurs
“The journey of an entrepreneur is certainly not easy, but that of a social entrepreneur is especially challenging”, says Freddy. “However, young people should dream and use the energy and enthusiasm which can fade with long-term careers and the monotony of the ‘real world’. Keep asking and trying, seek advice from those senior to you and entrepreneurs with experience but never forget, no matter what anyone says, to believe in your own dream with conviction – think big, act big”. Freddy believes that every individual can make a difference. Ultimately, he hopes to transform students into responsible global citizens.
Header Image is Freddy Law in 2017.