Posted: May 10th, 2011 | Author: Kevin Lee | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: China, China Marriage, demographics, Foreign Affairs, gender imbalance, marriage, One Child Policy, pension, social welfare | 5 Comments »
In the Nov/Dec 2010 Issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine, there is a fantastic article entitled “The Demographic Future” by Nicholas Eberstadt, where he introduces what the world of 2030 will look like from a demographic standpoint. As he explains:
“It is already possible to draw a reasonably reliable profile of the world’s population in 2030. This is, of course, because the overwhelming majority of those who will inhabit the world 20 years from now are already alive. As a result, one can make some fairly confident estimates of important demographic trends, including manpower availability, the growth in the number of senior citizens, and the resulting support burden on workers.”
Mr. Eberstadt spends a portion of his essay on China’s future situation, and he paints an outlook most people familiar with China’s demographic trends have known for some time: a doubling of the number of senior citizens, a shrinking of the younger working class, and rudimentary social welfare and pension systems that incapable of coping with the massive imbalance.
This coming reality is shared by the US and all developed nations, except China’s is pushed to the extremes because of its much larger population, much poorer per capita income, much lower education levels, and a more ill-equipped pension system.
Yet, for all these colossal national challenges, Eberstadt’s essay adds one more demographic trend unique to China that will have significant social and cultural implications:
“…China will face a growing number of young men who will never marry due to the country’s one-child policy, which has resulted in a reported birth ratio of almost 120 boys for every 100 girls…By 2030, projections suggest that more than 25% of Chinese men in their late 30s will never have married. The coming marriage squeeze will likely be even more acute in the Chinese countryside, since the poor, uneducated, and rural population will be more likely to lose out in the competition for brides.”
Can you even begin to comprehend living in a society where 1 in every 4 adult men you meet will have never married, and not by choice? How could this change the social and cultural dynamics of China?
Here are some ideas to get you pondering:
Men Marrying Younger Women
If a man cannot find a woman to marry in his peer group, perhaps he will find greater opportunity to marry a girl of a younger generation. By then, perhaps this man will have saved a little more money and may be desirable enough for a younger woman (and that young woman’s family) to consider. In fact, this is already a part of China’s reality today. It is quite common to meet Chinese couples where the man is 10, 20 or 30 years older than his wife. Chinese men are already putting off marriage until they can properly afford to provide for a wife and family. Chinese pragmatism and a continued income-imbalance based on gender play roles here. Perhaps the demographics of 2030 will show this trend to strengthen and become even more commonplace in the population instead of shrinking.
Sexuality in Question
There is great support on both sides of the argument as to whether Homosexuality is a genetic or social outcome. However, if you are persuaded that Homosexuality is in part influenced by social factors, then it is worthwhile to explore what impact such a large population of unmarried men might have on the issue of sexual orientation. There is already a thriving LGBT community and subculture in China, but as ‘coming out’ continues to find acceptance and support in the younger generations, will this significant gender imbalance have any effect on the perspective of the LGBT community in the China’s future mainstream consciousness?
Anger and Frustration
The prospect of never finding a life partner can be one of the greatest fears in a person’s life. In a culture like China’s, where the mainstream societal expectation continues to put heavy emphasis on progeny, family network strength, and family unit establishment as a benefit to status-building, for these one in four adult Chinese males, being single adds extra dimensions of undesirability. Deep personal anger and frustrations must inevitably be a byproduct of these societal pressures.
If these single men will be found predominantly in a single demographic – namely rural, poor and uneducated men – what we might see is the emergence of a distinct sub-group of people, or a new class segregation. An entire class of potentially angry, frustrated, relatively poor and uneducated single men can mean serious threats to societal stability, if this group builds a class identity that feels antagonized by society as a whole. China’s history is full of examples when a group lashes out in defiance and/or violence. This potential new class of single, frustrated men will number in the tens of millions in 2030.
Resilience of Chinese Endurance
There are also a number of examples in history of the Chinese (and other Asian cultures) enduring harsh, distressed, unfair circumstances for generations. It speaks to the resilience and strength of Chinese culture in helping the particular afflicted group align its interests with the general collective society, enabling them to live out their lives enduring the pains of their life situation.
Perhaps this group of single men will not affect anything socially or culturally, but instead stay silent and endure their circumstance as other groups of Chinese have done in the past. For this to happen though will depend on the state and strength of China’s collective culture in the coming 20 years.
The Chinese government has been aware of these demographic trends for some time now. They have known, likely before the rest of the world did, that China’s fertility rate fell below the minimum population-replacement fertility rate (2.1 children per family) more than two decades ago. So why hasn’t the government done anything if it can see the problems that may lie waiting ahead?
The more immediate challenges China faces must be addressed first. Enacting and maintaining the one-child policy alleviated growing pressures on agriculture and natural resources to give China a chance to shift industries and redirect capital into transforming China into an industrial nation and then a privatized economy. Without first accomplishing the short-term goals, China will never be in a position with the right resources to solve any longer-term issues.
Second, having a unified, single-minded governing body and a mass society that generally trusts and believes in the decisions of its government have its unique advantages. One of those advantages is the ability to enact sweeping and often extreme changes very quickly. The Chinese government thirty years ago asked a nation to limit child bearing to one per family. It is not inconceivable that the same government can ask this same nation thirty years later to double its children – for the betterment of the society.
While the official government rhetoric until now has been no changes in the One Child Policy, we are starting to see experimentation in a few selected demographics, and the creation of small policy loop-holes that are allowing more Chinese families to legally have more than one child. A good friend of mine who was a former UN officer working on the issue of China’s birth and fertility concurs with the expectation that China will sooner rather than later reverse its stance on the one-child policy and push some new form of incentive to drive birthrates up.
The question is whether the incentives will be enough. One of the biggest concerns facing Chinese families today is how to afford raising one child, let alone two. As one recent article from Reuters explains, some couples who have the opportunity to have a second child still choose only to have one as the costs of living and education are so substantial. In our own research work at China Youthology, we observe an increasing number of young post 80’s and 90’s kids who say they have no desire to have any children at all. They simply are not interested in a life with parenting responsibilities.
This could all mean for the Chinese government, that something a bit stronger than incentives may be needed in order for fertility rates to rise again. If there is any country that has the political audacity and executional strength to do something so drastic, it is China.
However, for this coming generation of frustrated, single men, any policy changes now are too little too late. This emerging reality is almost here. The only thing we can do now is develop a richer and stronger Chinese culture so they can find some relief from any feelings of alienation or frustration. New initiatives that will help cohesion of family, community, and collective social units will be integral in enabling those unable to find a life-partner to cope and have other life-meanings to pursue.
- Hunan TV””s “If You Are The One”, a massively popular TV show where one man tries to persuade a panel of 24 eligible single girls that he is husband-material.
Posted: February 6th, 2011 | Author: Kevin Lee | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: AdAge, Agency, Business Model, China, community, connector, consultancy, digital disruption, Fast Company, future industry, Influence Industry, Insight Economy, market research, Marketers, Media, narrowcast, nuance, Planner, professional service, psfk, Scalability, Scalable, Sharism, specialist, tribal, Twitter | No Comments »
Reinvention is a constant that all businesses and industries go through. Ad Agencies, Media Agencies, Market Research Agencies and Management Consultancies are currently going through one such reinvention, and a dramatic one at that. These professional services help organizations interact and influence the end individual. They exist and thrive in what I call the Insight Economy.
The future for these kinds of companies are not very clear. Industry and organizational experimentation is happening in all areas. The successful new professional service will be one that accurately understands the nature and needs of the new industry environment.
The Pains of an Industry:
The Digital Disruption has made interacting with the individual exponentially more complex and nuanced. The plethora of new channels not only makes reaching a segmentation more difficult, but traditional segmentations are obsolete as individualized digital experiences are creating people with multi-faceted, multi-layered and unique identity points.
Digital has lowered barriers of entry to many industries and professional competition is on the rise in all domains. Tech companies are becoming media agencies, management consultancies are becoming digital agencies, and digital agencies are becoming traditional/creative agencies.
Competition is not only rising in the professional practices, but where it actually counts too: the ability to influence. Digital has enabled each connected individual to potentially be the king of their own domain, or the multiple domains in their sphere of influence. The open stream of consciousness that now exists means the work and influence offered by professional services is even more at risk of being belittled and relegated to irrelevance.
The ever-evolving nature of Digital means everyone, including those traditionally seen as ‘experts’, has fallen perpetually behind.
And so clients have lost confidence in the ability of these professional services to provide a reliable and appropriate return on investment. If the professional service’s influence on the end individual is diminished, if they don’t even know what would influence the end individual, and if they may not even have the capacity to learn what could influence the individual, why should clients pay?
What makes matters worse is that most professional services are still organized in large, lumbering, un-adaptive institutions that derive their revenues from over-charging on services that are fast becoming obsolete themselves.
In other words,
Its chaos out there
We’ve got our backs to the wall
And we don’t know what to do
So what is the most promising and versatile business model for the agencies and consultancies in the Insight Economy?
Formation & Scale:
1) Be Lean & Tactical, Modular in Growth
Lets take a page out of the geopolitics strategy playbook. Traditional military units are ineffective in engaging trans-border terrorist groups, but we’ve now created tactical military cells specially equipped to handle specific needs and objectives in specific circumstances in specific locales. Professional services need to be reformed the same way. No longer can we operate with large, generalist divisions. We need to live in small cells of tactical units; each designed to be the expert on a specific purpose, in a specific environment, in a specific localization. Only then can we be flexible and focused enough to stay on top of the learning curve, and adapt to evolving situations. It’s also cost-effective. Operating a smaller group means the unit can survive at a time when the work required becomes more piecemeal while still requiring a high state of intensity.
Lean and Focused doesn”t mean alone. Like terrorist cells or elite military units, professional services need to live in fluid integrated networks that work in tandem, coordinated to achieve one objective. Different units of the same expertise should be built in different localizations to master the nuances of the diverse geographies. Professional services should drop in and out of different situations, working with different partners, and solve different problems.
It”s the only way to operate in this influentially-fractionalized environment.
2) Be Upward+Downward Scalable
Fast Company recently published a fantastic article about advertising, and in it they described a company called Co, a 5-person consultancy that can draw upon a network of 44 multi-disciplinary partner agencies in the event they take on a project more than their 5-person team can handle. In this way they can scale up and down to precisely fit the project size. In addition, they can invite the right combination of talents together that fit the project scope.
Upwards+Downwards Scalability may not be the most job secure, but its more sustainable than the status quo. Clients and the work require greater and greater customization. If you cannot offer the exact solution, a competing team will. The industry can no longer afford or tolerate redundancies. Those that expected an advertising or media job to mean a steady paycheck should wake up. The future of this industry will look a lot more like the film-production industry, where everyone lives project by project.
Such frequent scaling may pose problems for quality control, but this is the challenge of the new professional service. Creating replicable guidelines, procedures and methodologies to ensure highly integrated collaboration from Day 1 will be the mark of a successful company.
3) Be Highly Specialized, Non-Integrated, and Positioned to Frame the Question
AdAge published an article by TB Song, Ogilvy’s Greater China Chairman that talks about the changing trends in China. Song states:
“Marketers often spend 10% of their budget to produce the average TV spot and 90% to blast it across mass media. In the coming years, budgets will look more like those of movie studios –80% for production and 20% on promotion. The stronger the content, the less one needs to spend on publicity.”
Indeed, today’s individual will only pay attention if there are nuanced, resonating, and timely personal meanings and relationships involved. But in this chaos its not only content production that will grow, the more important issue is What the content production should be, and Who it is for.
Song proposes that Ad Agency Planners will break away and form their own niche practices. I agree with Song’s forecast. Successfully answering “What content production should be and Who it is for” requires long-term, immersed specializations in categories/practices to develop the proper insights and trust. As traditional segmentations give way to tribal rituals, secrets, and micro-social interactions, the important question becomes which tribe, ritual, secret, and interaction should the organization/brand be involved with. Only a highly specialized professional service has the chance to answer this question. Specialists need to detach themselves from their present integrated service units in order to focus on particular areas and find the greatest relevant value – that”s what clients are really ready to pay for.
Unfortunately not all specialists –and by extension agencies– are created equal. Planners are already positioned to capture high individual value because they are helping make sense of the chaos, and helping to frame the question. By the same logic specialized market researchers and management consultants may have a similar value-added.
This leaves Creatives in a particularly difficult position. In an age where one ‘Big Idea’ has a harder and harder time convincing its value and ability to resonate, Creatives are at risk of becoming a commodity. The earlier mentioned Fast Company article suggests that the way to capture higher value is for Creative Strategists to evolve from story-tellers to story-builders, meaning they curate, participate, and add to a never-ending storyline/lines in co-creation with the end individuals. This again would need to be highly specialized, as story-builders need to be adept at maintaining and innovating intricate interactions that are relevant to the cultural nuances of the particular community.
There are some services following de-integration that will be commoditized, and have already begun so. Media buying, media metrics, and to a lesser extent creative production are becoming more interchangeable and will become generally support-services, because they don’t answer the main value question “What content production should be and Who is it for”.
Those that will offer the highest value, and reap the greatest rewards, will be those professional services that can de-integrate, and be highly specialized with the ability to Frame the Question.
While the above Formation, Scale and Scope sections deal with organizing oneself for tomorrow’s industry, this Value section is about defining and defending a sustainable positioning.
4) Give Free Data-Points, Get Paid for Insights
A great blog article interviewing the founder of PSFK reveals the new nature of information value-creation, and anyone in the Business of Information –professional services, publishers, media– should pay attention. The small team at PSFK navigates through an immense amount of information and data points at a voracious speed. Acting as a media platform, they freely share and broadcast the information they come across with the public. PSFK instead gets work and makes its money consulting on concept development and trends. Their value-added is not from the selection of information they broadcast, but from linking disparate data points, synthesizing patterns into insights.
Why freely publish what you’re looking at? Shouldn’t keeping it secret give you more advantage?
PSFK has embraced the new reality that information flows free, and the benefits gained from free broadcast outweigh the loss of potential revenue from taxing that information access. Consider why you use Twitter. What benefits come from freely tweeting and re-tweeting all those links? For one, you gain a following of people who begin to associate you as a credible source for a specific kind of information — sounds to me like the best kind of advertising you could hope for. Perhaps more importantly, you build conversations and relationships with a growing network of like-minded and equally amazing people. A network that will elevate the quality of information you consume by in turn sharing with you what they’re looking at. In this new insight economy, professional services are only as good as their information community. The traditional model of market research that ignores community immersion and commitment is dead. Give free data-points. Build your information community. Get paid for deeply nuanced insights.
5) Narrow-Casted Community Connectors
Your community is your long-term defendable competitive advantage because it is one of the most difficult assets to build and copy. Ask any Web 2.0 platform and they’ll attest to this. Communities are not just important for social media, but as we’ve just discussed, for professional services as well. Once you have immersed yourself with credibility and trust in a distinguishable community, clients won’t just want to draw on your insights from that community, they’ll want to connect to the community itself. And they’ll hire you to help them do it. This is the professional service’s next value added beyond insight. This is the real influence industry.
As a community connector, a professional service will ‘narrowcast’: strategically identifying and working with a small group of community leaders who influence the influencers. Each company will narrowcast in the community they’re immersed in. PSFK offers connection to high-level creative thinkers. Co, narrowcasts from their extensive network of media, branding, technology and other experts in North America. Victor & Spoils, another company mentioned in the Fast Company article, crowd-sources creative production from their base of operations in Boulder, Colorado. China Youthology, the company I help lead, will explore connection opportunities between passionate organizations and the China Youth community.
Being a connector can produce powerful win-win opportunities, but can only be achieved by first having credibility with the community. This credibility is rooted in deep immersion, commitment, passion and membership.
“Won”t you be my neighbour?”
Where could we see this new model of professional service enter mainstream use?
It would have to be a place that a) Clients are willing to try new things and are thirsty for an edge b) There is less dominance by conglomerate holding companies c) There is a sufficient supply of talented specialists d) There is an entrepreneurial spirit by those in the industry e) There are growing communities of interest
I’d say that China has some challenges when it comes to growing the supply of quality talented specialists, but this problem is already on its way to solving itself as more and more talent migrates to Asia in search for new opportunities. The other hurdle for China are the clients. It is not that China’s domestic clients aren’t willing to try something new, but the unsophistication, immaturity and general lack of standards in the client-agency/consultancy relationship has in the past made progress difficult. A lot of education, hand-holding, and culture-building continues to be needed. But perhaps this is also China’s saving grace. With less legacy impeding the breaking of convention, maybe China will have an easier time embracing a new agency and consultancy model.
However, I can also see other regions being the first to champion this model. All have their weaknesses and strengths, but all are in desperate need for change, and a model — like this one — that can help solve their ills. I would also surmise that the adoption of this model may arise by industry instead of by geography. Ad agencies and Market Research agencies I would expect to be the first.
Some last thoughts:
With all this reinvention going on in agencies and consultancies, the onus is really on Clients. In the new Insight Economy marketers will not be able to rely on a one-stop-shop to answer all their questions and do all their work. It won’t be only a matter of assigning budgets and deliberating on pitches. While able to help clients frame the right questions and connect highly nuanced strategies, new agencies and consultancies will only be able to add value if the client is sophisticated enough to know what kind of professional service they need, and what kinds of value creation really matter to the organization.
If you’re finding yourself in the Insight Economy, and feel the pains of the industry, start your reinvention by first asking, What’s your specific community of connection? How do you immerse to capture the right, relevant insights and build to provide a unique, value-added professional service?
Posted: October 3rd, 2010 | Author: Kevin Lee | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: bill gates, China, china youth, China Youthology, Company, culture, Enterprise, FDI, for profit, History, Isaac Mao, micro finance, NGO, Open Youthology, Philanthropic Model, philanthropy, Post 80''s, Post 90''s, Religion, Sharism, social enterprise, warren buffett | 1 Comment »
A few days ago we witnessed two momentous occasions: 1) Bill Gates and Warren Buffett took their much anticipated trip to China to encourage philanthropy among China’s super rich, and 2) Many of these Chinese super rich turned down their invitations to meet with Gates & Buffett, because of their unwillingness to give away part of their wealth and participate in philanthropy.
Media have been hotly debating what happened, and many are asking: Where is China’s philanthropist? Why are China’s super-rich so reluctant to help others? Why don’t they follow the examples led by Bill and Warren?
China is not completely devoid of rich, individual philanthropists. Jet Lee has for some years been very active in seeing his charity, the One Foundation, succeed. Guangdong province recently had one of its richest citizens, Yu Pengnian, commit all of his wealth, USD$1.2B, to charity. And there were the few who did pledge to come along side Bill and Warren during their visit. But these examples are the exceptions, not the norm. The broader implications why we do not yet see the rise of a philanthropy class/culture in China can be viewed in three driving factors: No religious precedent, no cultural precedent, and no historical precedent in China for Philanthropy.
No Religious Precedent: While religion is not the only factor to birth philanthropy, it is an effective driver of the philanthropic mindset. The most famous philanthropists in history, and indeed the forefathers of the modern (post Industrial Revolution) philanthropic model such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and John D Rockefeller were rooted in their spiritual motivations. These pioneering philanthropists ascribed to the American philanthropic spirit, a cultural legacy from America””””s forefathers: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, Christians in the Age of Enlightenment.
China, a State that for many generations has had as its official religion Atheism, continues to be widely criticized for its lack of religious freedom. As a result of its policies, China has bred a general population that today is mainly faithless. The spiritual motivations and drivers that helped give rise to philanthropy in other nations are not present in China.
No Cultural Precedent: Even with all of China’s recent industrialization, urbanization, and modernization, China is still in an agrarian popular culture. More than half of China’s population continues to live in villages based on an agrarian economy. The other half of China’s population is mostly one generation removed from the same agrarian reality. Agricultural society is based on harvest and storage. Hoarding is a very strong cultural imprint that has lasted for many millennia. Even now with economic development, the hoarding culture — which is engrained in familial norms and passed-down by generational lessons — endures even beyond the first and second ‘moneyed’ generations. China will need at least one or two more generations of continued economic development and consistent education of its lower classes before the hoarding imprint can begin fading. Having a hoarding culture is a direct limitation to any rise of philanthropy in China.
No Historical Precedent: China’s history is based, in one perspective, on familial wealth & power via heirlooms, bequeathments and hereditary titles. China comes from an Imperial, agrarian society, where power and social status is based on familial wealth. Modern Chinese society continues to have many aspects that still emphasizes family wealth. We see this today in the continued inadequacy of China’s social welfare system, where Chinese parents still need to save all their wealth in order to pay for the education, and buy real estate later generations. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have not been explicitly religious in their motivations for philanthropy. But they have had historical precedent from such past American philanthropists as Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford. China does not have philanthropic heroes in its own history.
The classic philanthropy model (the super rich who devote the rest of their lives to the effective distribution and use of their wealth to alleviate societal ills) is still a long way away for China as it needs to overcome the lack of religious, cultural and historical precedents to philanthropy that is so evident in western countries.
Luckily for us, philanthropy in China is starting to come in different shapes and sizes:
Micro-Philanthropy has potential, perhaps later:
Wokai.com, 51give.com and other micro-finance sites in China have gotten a lot of coverage lately as they are doing admirable, pioneering work. China is experiencing an increased social consciousness and activism, especially from the younger generations. However, China’s stagnant social structure and the turbulent overheated economic bubbles mean this young, socially aspirational generation does not have the economic power or wealth to ‘put their money where their mouth is’. So while Micro-Philanthropy mechanisms might be a useful model that fits with the motivations of this young socially driven class, unfortunately this group does not yet have the mass economic ability to participate even in micro-philanthropy to make it a market-changing force. What these young people can offer instead, is their time. We continue to see a rise in volunteerism in recent years. But even with volunteers, there still needs to be capital to fund and sustain any operation or project. Micro-philanthropy at this point cannot provide this.
Corporate-Philanthropy in China is currently inept:
High competition and continuing immature industry structure in China means businesses are almost completely focused on reinvestment of capital on development of their own direct competitive advantages. In addition, unlike in Western countries where advocate groups, and a socially-active older baby-boomer generation place increasing demand on corporations for social corporate responsibility, China’s public demand for such initiatives is still extremely immature and shallow. Therefore China’s corporations have little incentive to be involved with philanthropic endeavours.
NGOs & Non-Profit FDI valuable but inadequate:
Foreign direct investment into developing China’s social solutions is valuable, but a blunt tool for a complex and highly nuanced field. A local community knows best and is the first to recognize what are the most pressing social issues for that community. For money coming from outside sources, funding requirements and measurements of success may not be aligned with what is optimal and beneficial for the local community. Also, foreign funding is precarious because it is dependent on external factors such as the fluctuating enthusiasm of the foreign funding community. This risk is compounded if the projects are time-sensitive. Funding is always most aligned, most precise and has greatest potential coming from the domestic community.
With these philanthropic methods falling short, I believe the time and the environment is right for another kind of model, the For-Profit Social Enterprise.
The Case for China’s For-Profit Social Enterprise:
Social enterprises and social entrepreneurs are still buzzwords and novel concepts in most markets. But there is a clear fit and synergy for this model in China’s present context:
1) An up-and-coming generation of young, energetic, socially conscious workers/participants who have the heart for, and the time to, be involved in a socially conscious endeavour.
2) The lack of funding options from traditional philanthropic models: Individual wealth estates and corporate philanthropy
3) The need for locally-sensitive, locally-active, and locally-innovative solutions that only a private, local enterprise can offer.
4) The ability for Chinese pragmatism to shine yet again: The ability to accept a for-profit solution to social problems. Organizations can build a profit center that powers a non-for-profit objective.
Isaac Mao, a prominent China blogger and a critical voice on China’s inter-nets wrote a popular and widely re-posted article earlier this year entitled ‘Sharism’ (read the essay here), espousing that an open-source mindset established in a community will bring greater benefits than the protection of private information and property. Isaac posits that Sharism should be primed and applied to multiple industries to disruptively create greater value. People are buying into this ‘Sharism’ mindset, and courageous businesses can do it as well. Companies need to have faith: Investing in the community is profitable in the long-term for the business. A sharing business is an integral component and catalyst of a sharing ecosystem, an ecosystem that will eventually share back with that business.
Being socially-minded is not just profitable, but it is an emerging paradigm that may sooner or later not just be a luxury, but a necessity: each subsequent generation entering the workforce, even in China, yearns for visionary companies, companies with a larger purpose. Speaking specifically to the rising need of Chinese Youth, this new generation is seeking to go beyond monetary profit: they seek the pursuit of Truth. As Chinese youth continue to evolve in their individualities, they are looking for companies, organizations, and work environments that can support, add, and inspire their continued identity development. Visionary companies that care about more than the profit motive are built to deliver on this need.
Being a for-profit business on a social endeavour also enables two critical factors required for the China context:
1) For-profits have the benefit of trial & error. Responsible for their own money, businesses can define their own future. NGOs cannot, because they are answerable to their donors, and were sold on one original objective. They have no room to pivot. But ‘pivoting’ is exactly what is needed in a social condition like China’s, that continues to change, evolve and develop new or adapted social issues. For-profit social enterprises have the ability to adapt with the problem.
2) For-profits have the viability appropriate for a staunch pragmatic nation. While young people want to take part in social issues, they do not have the social or economic luxury to pursue such altruistic goals – often the social risks for them and their families are too great. If a for-profit company could offer them a tangible, sustainable option both financially and ideologically, you would see young people flock to that kind of organization. A for-profit social enterprise can do just that.
In complete disclosure, the research and consulting company that I help lead, China Youthology, is pursuing exactly this course. As a For-Profit Social Enterprise, we’ve outlined our company spirit and values by placing our priorities and measures of success on social impact. We’ve aligned our for-profit business lines with Sharism for the community through a social platform that we’ve canonized as Open Youthology.
Our young, post-80’s and almost post 90’s staff have always loved our company’s DNA of self-discovery through cultural research. But they are even more empowered and captivated with our core purpose and group mission of social impact. As tweeted by one of our staff on China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo a few weeks ago:
“@SummerXia?Developing some anti-commercial emotion inside of me…only excited when in that part of OPEN YOUTHOLOGY and providing value to as many people as possible… Unhealthy? Shall I do something about this emerging feeling?”
Indeed, she’ll do something. She and her colleagues have gone above and beyond and will continue to do so, because they believe in what we are all about. The truth is, it is what they are all about.
Philanthropy in China today won’t come from the super-rich and follow the classic model that we’ve seen promoted by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The one model with real potential for substantial social impact and viable for today’s China context is the For-Profit Social Enterprise.