Pro touch infused into non-profits

Money Glitz | Avery Chen 22 Jul 2019

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business is providing a platform in Hong Kong to match business professionals with non-profits organizations to serve as directors on the boards of local NGOs.

The "Board Connect" program, offered by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation, which is operated by Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at Chicago Booth, is accepting applications until September 30.

Given the non-business background, local NGOs may lack connections with different kinds of professionals, that is one reason why Chicago Booth brings the five-year program to Hong Kong from Chicago, says Francis Hon, director of Hong Kong initiatives, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Programme on Social Innovation, Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at Chicago Booth.

Hong Kong is becoming more mature as a society, and there are increasing needs in different sectors compared with a decade ago, Hon says. "The government cannot possibly provide all the needs that an individual citizen wants. So I think some of those requests, or requirements, or needs would fall into the hands of NGOs."

Hon says NGOs in different stages need different expertise.

For instance, start-up NGOs may need lawyers to scrutinize legal documents. Those who are looking to raise funds may want professional fundraisers. In terms of the NGOs with longer histories, they may require someone to help revitalize IT systems.

Meanwhile, there is an increasing trend of business professionals intending to contribute their expertise and time to society. And many local companies are encouraging staff to contribute to society, as they can grow themselves from the engagement, Hon says.

"For example, a marketing professional who has been in the industry for some time, he or she may know a lot about marketing in those specific industries, but they may not know about marketing for an NGO," he says.

Also, many experts joined NGO boards due to their interests and their family background, Hon says.

However, these motivations may bring up a question, how long will these business professionals persist in their positions as volunteers without salaries?

Leadership continuity is the biggest challenge of local NGOs, about 58.1 percent of NGOs regarded "change of board chair" as the most significant issue, followed by "change of chief executive" (46.8 percent), and "staff turnover by more than 20 percent" (38.7 percent), according to Hong Kong NGO governance health survey 2018 by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

"We want to tell people who want to be board members that serving in an NGO body is actually something that has to be taken seriously. That is a responsibility and shouldn't be taken lightly," Hon says.

Chicago Booth will organize training programs in the matching process, providing knowledge about governance and NGO ecosystem to business professionals and sharing with NGOs about good governance.

"Even if NGO likes that person a lot, and it is very eager to have someone joining the board, I think in that matching process, they have to communicate clearly what expectations in terms of duration of serving in the board as to the kind of commitment that they expect from different parties," he says.

The two groups of people also have different values about money.

Business professionals come from organizations which focus on shareholder value and profit maximization. But NGOs usually have no shareholders, instead they have a lot of stakeholders, for example, if there is a hospital, the stakeholders will be patients, family members, and donors, Hon says.

"So in the training, we will talk to the business professionals about the typical environment, that the NGOs will operate in the business model that they are in."

A lot of Hong Kong NGOs rely a lot on Social Welfare Department subvention, a system which non-NGO professionals may not know a lot about, Hon says.

"At the same time, we will also provide training to NGOs, we would share with them how to manage a board with a diversified background," he adds.

When asked about the program's competitiveness, Hon says, "we are not the only one doing this kind of meaningful thing. I think the experience that we have in Chicago, and also the expertise and experience in training will be some highlights."

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