HONG KONG — A new organisation for supporting social enterprises, charities and NGOs has launched, under the stewardship of two members of the Asia-Pacific Association of Communications Directors (APACD).

The Sustainable Communications Programme connects students in subjects such as journalism and public relations with experienced mentors from the communications industry — alongside professionals who are at early stages in their career looking to establish their communications leadership credentials. Mentors and mentees come together to form virtual teams, helping to support selected social enterprises or non-government organizations (NGOs) on their communications challenges.

The initiative was co-founded by APACD members Karen Khaw and Harry Thompson, who make up the organisation’s steering committee, along with Patrick Yu of FleishmanHillard, who also lectures at JMSC at The University of Hong Kong. The initiative is supported by APACD and PRovoke as media partner.

“At APACD we were keen to start connecting with different generations of communicators: from senior, to mid-career to those just starting out. We wanted to support education and develop future skills that will contribute to the sustainable growth of the industry and its practitioners — but we also wanted to find a way to give back to our communities,” said Khaw.

Many social enterprises and NGOs — particularly local organisations not connected to big international NGOs — have smaller teams without dedicated people for communications and marketing, despite being well established in their markets.

“It’s common in industries such as law and accounting for firms to give pro bono services to support good causes, but this practice isn’t yet as embedded in the communications industry. By building a structure that brings together experienced communicators as mentors with groups of students we saw an opportunity to create a virtuous circle — where students, social enterprises, and mentors all benefit,” said Thompson.

In practice, students are organised into teams of around four, supported by two to three mentors who act as team leads and the liaison point with the social enterprise. One or two professionals with lesser experience will also join the team, as coordinator while benefiting from the development of their leadership skills. Meanwhile, the virtual team acts as an agency with the social enterprise or NGO as their client.

The programme is currently in its trial phase, a three-month programme supporting a Hong Kong NGO and a social enterprise — the Children’s Medical Foundation and SENsational Consultancy — which will end in May.

“The point is to get the students to work like you would in an agency — they have to work creatively to help solve their client’s problems in a meaningful way, and respond to their feedback constructively and professionally. It’s great preparation for becoming part of the workforce,” said Yu.

And the organisation is set to expand, lining up to partner with more universities in Hong Kong to expand the number of mentees, and into other markets around the region — targeting a Singapore launch later this year.

“We want to find social enterprises looking for support, students willing to give their time and get hands-on work experience, and experienced mentors from the industry that want to give back,” said Thompson.

Communicators, NGOs/social enterprises or students interested in joining the programme — particularly based in Hong Kong, Singapore or Australia — please contact us here.