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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Social Innovation in China

- CEIBS MBA CSR Club Hosts Forum

March 12, 2017. Shanghai – Impact investing and the challenges and opportunities for social entrepreneurship in China were the focus of discussions today during a forum organized by the CEIBS MBA CSR Club. Held at the Shanghai Campus, the event brought together industry practitioners, executives, academics and students.

Greater China Regional Director of Artha Networks Mr. Tae Kyu (TK) Lee delivered an insightful speech on the commonalities and differences between venture philanthropy and impact investing in China. Highlighting the key barriers faced by impact investors around the world, Lee explained how an online platform that leverages a standard set of impact assessment metrics (such as IRIS and GIIRS), and enables sharing of the due diligence process with other impact investors and local teams will not only bring down costs but also drive faster and more impactful investments. Comparing social progress in the emerging markets of China and India, Lee attributed the varying challenges to differences in investment rules and regulations, foreign NGO operations, language and cultural diversity, and the state’s role in social services.

Secretary General of Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation Mr. Jaff Shen gave a remarkable presentation titled Social Sector Development in China, in which he connected the dots between shifts in demographics, personal wealth, freedom vs. entrepreneurial mindset, and centralized-yet-decentralized systems in China. Shen shared some of his many first hand experiences on how the field has transformed from 1995, when “NGO” was first coined at a women’s conference in Beijing, to the broad contemporary landscape that involves hybrid organizations, universities and research centres, startups, social enterprises and social design firms. Shen underscored the importance of having a strong urge to solve a problem, being practical and willing to work with others to create new values and markets, engaging people and leveraging a transparent, trust-based standards system (such as B-corp).

Joining the panel discussion, Founder and CEO of Dialogue in the Dark China Ms. Shiyin Cai remarked that while being an entrepreneur itself is difficult, being a social entrepreneur is even more difficult. She pointed out that we hear only 1% of the success stories, and that while entrepreneurship cannot be taught in classroom, prior experience in business, persistence and a ‘get your hands dirty’ mindset are vital for any entrepreneur. She also said that the business must survive first, then become sustainable, and only then can it be called a social enterprise.

When asked the impact of government regulations and policies, Cai shared the challenges she is constantly facing, which range from forced changes in corporate governance to handling government officers, due to the lack of a clear and consistent definition of social enterprise. Shen agreed that while there aren’t any set rules and definitions, paradoxically it might be beneficial if there are no preferential policies for social enterprises and instead, a fair and open market would decide the viability of a business. Lee shared his personal experiences in Peru and China and highlighted the importance of having a solid legal framework to protect a business, not just from competitors but also from government and law-enforcement agencies.

Managing Director of BitsxBites Ms. Matilda Ho shared her career journey, which has included working at an MNC, doing an MBA, a job in management consulting, then a career shift to founding two startups and a FoodTech accelerator. When asked how to accelerate development of social enterprise businesses, she acknowledged that development of infrastructure is central, but equally important are building the community, setting up a platform to give a sense of purpose, and changing from a VC’s ‘scale in a short time’ mindset to a ‘purpose beyond profit’ one.

The speakers also shared some words of wisdom with the students. Quoting Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute (a nonprofit agricultural research organization) Ho said, “If you're working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you're not thinking big enough,” and she advised the audience to build empathy and have a consumer-centric focus. Cai pointed out that change doesn’t happen overnight, and recommended that students should “get a hard job, get out of your comfort zone, respect others and don’t just look at the money you make, look how much you can grow!” Shen commented that young people and students, especially those with a business background, play a big role in the progressive movement, and he advised the audience to “complicate things fast then simplify”. Lee advised the MBAs to “go out, get experience in the private sector, build a network and grab on to them to tackle the greatest problems”.

President of the CEIBS MBA Clinton Wong brought the forum to a close by sharing his own experiences in social entrepreneurship. He also described how he envisions that CEIBS, in its role as a leading MBA Programme in China, could educate the next generation of business leader to pioneer social innovation in China.

Hareesh Ganapathy MBA 2018
Janine M. Coughlin