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Expanding social impact
2020-12-23 
Young entrepreneurs take part in an overseas workshop hosted by the Young Social Entrepreneurs Program. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Two Chinese companies make this year's shortlist of a program for young entrepreneurs.

Fung Ka-yan was thrilled when she made the shortlist of the Young Social Entrepreneurs Program organized by the Singapore International Foundation in September.

"I feel happy to be on one of the shortlisted teams, representing Hong Kong, China," Fung says.

Her team first attended the virtual YSE Workshop from July to August. They were mentored by business consultants from McKinsey & Company and Temasek International, as w

ell as established entrepreneurs relevant to her sector.

"We learned how to be effective social entrepreneurs with sessions on finance, marketing and impact measurement during the program," says Fung. "Additionally, we were able to connect with and learn from business consultants and social-impact leaders."

Fung, who's in her early 30s, founded Gabi in 2019 and has been committed to promoting equal education. She had been a tutor for almost 10 years and had noticed that many students were faced with learning difficulties.

"Through my research, I found out that the main reason students got poor results was due to inappropriate teaching methods and late detection of dyslexia, and not because they are lazy or unintelligent," Fung says.

When she was doing her master's degree in Asian studies in Germany in 2016, she found a systematic framework and saw that many policies were in place to help students with special education needs.

Fung realized that the support for such students was lacking in Hong Kong when she returned in 2018. So, she decided to set up Gabi and help students with dyslexia overcome their difficulties.

"We focus on designing and developing deep-learning technology for dyslexia pre-screening by using non-Western languages," Fung says.

Her team has helped primary school students by identifying if they are at risk of having dyslexia through quick pre-screening, early-intervention and training. They also refer cases to a registered specialist if students require further assessment, according to Fung.

"We work with various institutions in Hong Kong and Singapore and now have over 300 users," Fung says.

She says her team applied for the Young Social Entrepreneurs Program to expand their networks for potential collaboration and opportunities in future.

Her team is working with their mentor to refine their final business pitch, in preparation for the pitching session in March for a chance to win funding of up to 100,000 yuan ($15,300).

"This would help to scale up Gabi as a social enterprise," Fung says.

Fung says her team will allocate 40 percent of it to research and corporate partnerships with local institutes to work on analysis work, if they could get the grant. Another 40 percent of the fund will go to data collection in both Hong Kong and Singapore, while 20 percent will be used on the design for product localization, she adds.

"Gabi's long-term goal is to expand beyond Hong Kong and reach out to the Chinese mainland and Singapore."

Fung's team is one of two Chinese teams among 15 others that made the YSE shortlist. They were selected from 54 teams from 19 countries and regions, including Indonesia, India and Malaysia, based on their business plans.

The eight-month YSE program aims to inspire and enable youths of different nationalities to start or scale up their social enterprises, says Sherilyn Chia, assistant manager with Singapore International Foundation's Impact Networks.

Fung Ka-yan, founder of Gabi, a Hong Kong-based education company set up to help students with learning difficulties. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"We are privileged to have had healthy participation and re-engagement with our YSE alumni from China over the years," Chia says.

To date, the YSE program has had 65 Chinese alumni from various parts of the country, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

There will be six winning teams that will receive funding of up to 100,000 yuan each this year.

"We work with leading social entrepreneurs and seasoned market players to identify teams that present the strongest business pitches, showcasing significant social impact, promise for sustainability and scalability of the business model," Chia says.

China Youth of Tomorrow is the other Chinese company that made the shortlist this year.

"We are very grateful for this precious opportunity and would love to give back if we are successful in the future," says Xia Ye, co-founder of CYOT.

"The social-enterprise industry in China is booming in recent years but it still lacks public awareness and professional practitioners in this field. We truly hope that our knowledge and experience can help other organizations."

Four out of five of CYOT's founders are the first college graduates in their families.

"We have gone through feelings of helplessness, confusion and frustration during our time in college and the first years of our careers without cultural support and guidance from our families," says Xia, 31.

"Therefore, we understand how important a mentor can be for these college students."

The 2017 report on China's education by the 21st Century Education Research Institute and the Social Sciences Academic Press showed that many such college students are from low-income families with limited economic, social and cultural resources. The lack of cultural capital, soft skills, life and career coaching are a major obstacle for the students from underprivileged families.

"Therefore, we want to empower them and help with the last mile of achieving social mobility," Xia adds.

CYOT, founded in January 2019, helps young people, who are the first in their families to attend college, via one-on-one career mentor-mentee matching and with applications for overseas universities.

It has over 1,200 registered volunteers in more than 22 cities globally, as well as over 10 key opinion leaders and 200 influential mentors. The students it reaches are mostly in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where universities are concentrated.

Its offline events are held in first-tier cities in China while online events are free and open to all, according to Xia.

Many graduates are facing problems finding desirable jobs this year due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

"We will pay more attention to students affected by the pandemic and provide them with early-career and education plans to help them build market competitiveness," she says.

Through the YSE program, Xia says her team learned how they should process and manage the organization.

"It is very important to establish a traceable system and plan business goals in advance," she says.

If CYOT gets the fund, Xia says it would first be used to hire one to three full-time employees and continue to grow the volunteer team and expand the scope of help in 2021.

"We plan to help at least 120 students, partner with at least 50 institutions, and recruit 1,500 volunteers and 250 influential mentors," she says.

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