Hong Kong’s economic inequality is hard to ignore with Oxfam reporting the wealthiest households amass 44 times the monthly income of the poorest families. With Hong Kong’s wealth becoming increasingly centralised in the hands of the few, the marginalised – including women, children, the elderly and ethnic minorities – easily fall into poverty.
Amongst the city’s low-income groups are women from grassroots families (families with special needs including single-parent families, unemployed parents, having an SEN child or disabled family member). With the lack of affordable childcare services, 94.2% of women from underprivileged households are unable to work. Those who can work, do so on low part-time wages.
So what can be done?
According to Oxfam’s Inequality Report, more government resources need to be allocated to providing childcare services to low-income households allowing mothers greater freedom to work. However, there may be a solution that brings a more creative and entrepreneurial approach to such challenges.
Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVhk) was founded in 2007 to bring social innovation to Hong Kong’s most pressing urban challenges. Through venture philanthropy and impact partnerships, SVhk has successfully incubated a number of innovative social solutions including HATCH.
We met Florence Cheng, Head of Impact Strategy and Harmony Li, Head of Community at SVhk to learn more about HATCH and how and how small-scale manufacturing is bringing women from underprivileged families together.
Q. What is HATCH and what are the social challenges it's trying to address?
A: HATCH aims to redefine “Made in Hong Kong” by bringing together local brands and women from diverse backgrounds. Our co-working factory space in Kwai Chung provides a flexible family-friendly work environment for women to grow both personally and professionally, through new opportunities to broaden their visions, job skills and career paths. HATCH also works with corporates in creating “opportunity employment” for women from local communities. As well as building partnerships and opportunities, HATCH is also home to design and manufacturing for other social-startups, corporate partners and events.
HATCH aims to tackle social challenges in 3 main areas;
- Re-imagining Opportunity Employment
A large group of underprivileged or sandwiched class mothers are unable to work due to childcare needs, with very few corporates offering adequate support with family-friendly employment measures to help them stay in or re-enter the workforce
- Revitalising Mothers’ Dreams
For mothers who look after young children, many face limited choices as they look to re-establish a career away from home, leading to a loss of confidence, hope, and a concept of how a “better future” could play out for them as they become desensitised to their own circumstances
- Rejuvenating “Made in Hong Kong” Culture
With the increasing demand for highly customised locally-made products from corporates and brands, we provide space and support for emerging start-ups to scale-up their production capacity.
Q: HATCH operates from a co-working factory and uses its space creatively. How important is the space to your community?
A: To us, the space is an integrated place for work, play and for people to experience HATCH as an engine that promotes family wellness and empowerment.
Factory/manufacturing work is just one of the many ways in which we utilise the space. Most importantly, the space is multifunctional and communal, allowing our HATCH members and partners alike to share experiences, life stories, and build stronger bonds with each other. It is also used to host wellness activities, community gatherings, talks and workshops as a hub to stimulate further collective growth.
We are particularly proud of our onsite Children’s Playroom, which is designed as a family-friendly facility to accommodate women choosing to bring their young children to work. This is particularly popular as it allows mothers to work knowing that their young children may play safely from a comfortable distance. Parenting support is also offered by Specialists-in-Residence who are onsite to help with any personal or family anxieties when in need.
Q: How much has the pandemic and social distancing measures impacted the members of the co-working factory?
A: The harsh economic reality that has hit many of Hong Kong’s businesses also have a significant impact on our partners’ businesses and members’ households. For example, some of our members’ husbands lost their jobs during the pandemic, so it becomes even more important for mums to have a job, while dads stay at home to look after their kids.
Thankfully, from HATCH’s perspective, the pandemic’s impact has been relatively low as we’ve always adopted flexible working hours - though school closures have definitely forced us to adjust working hours and explore the “work from home” model even more. As a business, thanks to several project-based orders related to the pandemic including the production of protective aids, demand for our products actually remained relatively stable and so we’ve even had the opportunity to double our workforce over the past 6 months!
Q: One of HATCH’s products are face masks. What has this journey been like from the beginning of the pandemic to now?
A: We were one of the first to produce fabric masks in early February, firstly for our partner’s frontline staff then later for community distribution to the elderly, ethnic minorities and people with difficulties.
We’ve also handled a number of mask orders from different brands, big and small. Even now, we are still receiving enquiries for mask production, such as customised orders from local designers looking for sustainable yet stylish options.
Back in August, we met Florence who joined us in a webinar to discuss how social enterprises are innovating, creating impact and evolving during the pandemic. If you miss out on our webinar first-time round, you can view the recording here. Join us on Commons today to make sure you won’t miss out on our next webinar.
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