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The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 4

Angus Greenshields - Development Officer

Angus Greenshields – Development Officer

The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 4

Tues 27th Sep 2016

Flight to Myanmar was thankfully uneventful after the excitement at Hong Kong Airport, other than witnessing the most spectacular lightning storm further north over Cambodia – which we fortunately kept well away from.

Although the drive from the airport to the hotel in Yangon (formerly called Rangoon) was at night  we could see that it was quite different from the highly developed metropolis that we had experienced in Hong Kong, with areas of trees, greenery, and ‘normal’ scale buildings.

Wednesday 28th Sept 2016

Yangon's waterfront-area

Yangon’s waterfront area

The following morning looked out of the hotel window to see a quite different city scape, still busy with some modern developments but also with dilapidated buildings, overgrown areas and a general run down appearance.

We had a welcome meeting at the British Embassy, which was hosted by the British Council.  Tristan gave us a really helpful run through of the turbulent history that the country had experienced in the last 70 years.  It had just come out of some 50 odd years of military rule, appointing its first democratic government since the 2nd World War.  During this time it had largely been cut off from the rest of the world and in fact Western countries had imposed trade embargoes which had had further hampered Myanmar’s development.  This was now changing and western countries were becoming more actively involved in the country.

Myanmar sits in a pivotal location, between China and India, both of whom have had long associations with the country.  The Chinese in particular have been investing huge sums of money in the country, including funding large scale infrastructure and transport projects – whilst encouraging growth within Myanmar this of course also meets Chinese needs and will allow them to open up the western inland area of China, which has thus far lagged well behind the economic development of their eastern coast.  India has also looked to develop in underdeveloped east by investing in Myanmar and it will be fascinating to watch how these two rising giant powers vie for supremacy in the area.

We also got a really informative insight into the local economic and political landscape and how this offers advantages, but also barriers to the development of social enterprise.  The British Council has been supporting the development of social enterprises by running a specific development programme in Myanmar and other Asian countries.

We then visited a number of social enterprises in Yangon.

Beautifully produced items at Flame Tree Sewing

Beautifully produced items at Flame Tree Sewing

Flame Tree Sewing and Helping Hands  operate on the same site. Flame Tree Sewing trains disadvantaged women in embroidery and sewing, making beautifully ornate cushion covers, bags, purses, children’s clothing and jewellery. The women are trained centrally, but can then be given a machine so that they can work at home and look after their families for much of the time, coming together with others regularly to check quality etc. Helping Hands (top image) restores old teak furniture. Skilled craftsmen work alongside children who were previously living on the streets to train them to work with the wood, restoring furniture and making new kitchen equipment such as bread-boards, spoons and salad servers. The children are also given a basic education.

We had lunch at LinkAge, which is a small restaurant on the first floor. LinkAge trains street children to be waiters and chefs and the children sleep on a mezzanine floor within the restaurant. The food was really tasty and the enthusiasm and friendliness of the young staff was just a delight.  As we entered the building I looked just above my head to see the fuse box, which was an absolute jumble of wires – this seemed to be a common feature of Yangon, with elements that looked modern and of decent quality, mixed with the most rudimentary and basic amenities and services.

In the afternoon, we took a heritage walk around some of the sights of Yangon with the Yangon Heritage Trust. Yangon still boasts some of the best examples of colonial architecture in the world, but most are in urgent need of major renovation.  The fear is that much of that heritage may be lost with the drive to modernise and upgrade the city.

There were very real signs of poverty, e.g. small wooden shacks selling single cigarettes or street food, which also served as people’s homes.  There was also examples of real ingenuity, where people overcame the lack of affordable office space and were running their offices from the back of a car – using old typewriters rather than lap tops.

Stunning Swe Dagon Pagoda

Stunning Swe Dagon Pagoda

In the evening, we visited the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, which is one the country’s most important Buddhist sites.  Buddhism plays a huge part in daily life, with over 85% of the country being active followers. At one time the main ornate pagoda structure, was said to incorporate more gold leaf and plate than was housed in the vaults of the Bank of England.

Selfie Twins

Selfie Twins

I stopped and gave a small offering to one of the monks and he asked if I wanted to take a ‘selfie’ with him.  He worked in a rural health centre and raised funds for the centre by giving organisational lectures and workshops. He was obviously skilled in promoting his work and offered me a coloured flyer detailing his services, including associated costs – social enterprise with a spiritual slant.

A lovely meal in the Swhe Sa Bwe restaurant

A lovely meal in the Swhe Sa Bwe restaurant

We rounded off a really full day with a visit to another restaurant, Shwe Sa Bwe, restaurant.  They take young people from rural areas and train them to be chefs and waiters in the expanding 5* tourism market. There is a significant skills shortage in these industries and huge opportunities for young people.  Once again we received high quality food and very friendly service.

Till the next blog!

See part five, The Finale HERE!

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don’t represent those of the Dundee Social Enterprise Network organisation,

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The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 3

Angus Greenshields - Development Officer

Angus Greenshields – Development Officer

The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 3

 

We then took the Star Ferry from Kowloon over to Central and had a candlelight dinner in a trendy roof top restaurant – not sure how that went down with the better halves back home.

Angus, 26th September

Sun 25th Sep 2016

So after lunch a short walk to the venue for the SE World Forum, the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre.  This was stunning modern building and despite our event having over 1000 delegates, we were only one of a number of large events taking place there that day.

The Opening Ceremony was a series of introductions to various officials, lots of speeches and loads of clapping.  I was struck. There was a rich ethnic mixture of people at the event, and found out later that they came from some 30 countries.

Our tour party then proceeded by bus to an evening reception and meal held by the British Council.  As we drove along I was struck by the sheer density of living, with high rise blocks built so close to adjacent blocks that I’m sure neighbours could reach out to each other and shake hands.  The meal was at a fantastic older building (40 years old, which is very old in HK terms) that housed a restaurant that was predominantly staffed by older people.  This restaurant was again trying to give older people a valued role and to demonstrate more widely, the great service that they can offer.

 

Mon 26th Sep 2016

Another night of disturbed sleep and then early start for the first full day of the World Forum. We travelled on the underground and although everyone was very polite and orderly, the way folk were packed on was quite unnerving.

The SEWF is an international event for social enterprises all over the world, which allows them to come together, discuss policy, to learn from one another and share practice.  The initial SEWF was held in Edinburgh in 2008 and has subsequently been hosted in different cities across the world and returns to Edinburgh in 2018.

We were straight into a wide variety of lectures, workshops and plenaries. It would be impossible to do justice to the range and variety of information on the ways that SE is changing lives across the planet – so thought it would be best to give a few observations or key messages that I picked up:

‘Social Enterprise is not a noun, it is a verb’ – i.e. It is a way of doing things.  Despite the varying world wide interpretations of organisational structures or legal obligations that are associated with social enterprise, all shared the common belief that it is fantastic way of creating social and environmental impact.  (However Kate you will still need an asset lock to join DSEN)

That afternoon Derek and myself decided to take a wee bit of time out, as the schedule and jet lag were really beginning to take its toll.

‘Jelly fish soup followed by a whole pigeon – oh well then, when in Hong Kong’

‘Jelly fish soup followed by a whole pigeon – oh well then, when in Hong Kong’

On our taxi journey back to the hotel I asked the driver about his views on where HK was at.  He said that he appreciated things would be different when China took back the territory, but that he felt the influx of Chinese investment and people had for him adversely changed his way of life. We then took the Star Ferry from Kowloon over to Central and had a candlelight dinner in a trendy roof top restaurant – not sure how that went down with the better halves back home.

 

Tues 27th Sep

Now concentrate as I’ll be asking questions at the end.

Now concentrate as I’ll be asking questions at the end.

Day 3 of the SEWF and again a packed agenda, which included a wonderful presentation by Prof Kee from the HK Baptist University. In his 15 min presentation he packed in a stupefying amount of information/data, including some 30 slides with graphs, pie charts and statistics tables.  He gave some insightful observations, including, that a customer will only buy once from a social enterprise – if the quality is not good. He also mentioned that inefficient SEs needed to “be eliminated” – as a SE development officer I winced at that thought of culling such organisations.  He also highlighted that HK ranked 6th in the world wealth tables, but only 76th in the world happiness index – As he said “something is going wrong”.  Money can’t buy you happiness ???

One other highlight from the Forum (out of many) was the presentation by Eriko Yamuguchi who was an accomplished designer who went to live and work in Bangladesh. She took people that had been hitherto working in really poor conditions and created the Motherhouse SE. She then worked closely with them to design and produce a range of clothing and accessories that used iconic local materials (mainly Jute).  She replicated this model working in other neighbouring countries (utilising their key local materials) and now sells the products in high end stores in Tokyo, with further outlets planned for other top cities. Fantastic improvements to people’s everyday lives and facilitated via high quality enterprising.

http://blog.japantimes.co.jp/yen-for-living/motherhouse-beyond-fair-trade/

We then returned to the hotel and left on the journey out to the airport for our flight to Myanmar.  On the trip I checked my rucksack for my passport – not there – definitely would be in my suitcase – surely?  When we got to HK airport I opened the case and started to hurriedly search for the passport, in full view of people waiting at check in.  I couldn’t see it and felt the panic starting to rise, my mind racing to doomsday scenarios, whilst people looked away rather than watching a grown man in melt down.  Fortunately an Australian guardian angel Anne appeared, calmed me down and found the missing passport within seconds – instant relief, but not quite the final moments I had expected in Hong Kong., but at least I would be able to move on to the next exciting part of the tour.

Farewell Hong Kong

Farewell Hong Kong

Till the next blog!

See part four HERE!

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don’t represent those of the Dundee Social Enterprise Network organisation,

 

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The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 2

Angus Greenshields - Development Officer

Angus Greenshields – Development Officer

The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 2


Sunday 25th September

morning-in-hk

Good morning Hong Kong!

Didn’t sleep too much, but cheered up by the stunning view from my room looking across the bay – sun shining – hooray.

After breakfast I left the air conditioned hotel lobby – once again taken by surprise by the outside heat – whew.  Great sight as masses of cyclists whizzed by taking part in a closed road event – I wondered if I should have tried to borrow a bike and enter the event, but reckoned maybe not, as heat, tiredness and general disorientation meant I was doing all I could to stay upright.

No rest for the wicked and off on our first of three visits to local Social Enterprises, the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association.

 

Senior Citizen Home Safety Association

 

People on the life journey experience

People on the life journey experience

The SCHSA was formed in 1996 by a group of passionate individuals, in response to a prolonged cold spell during which more than one hundred elderly people living alone were found dead. The Association is a self-financing social enterprise and charitable organization in Hong Kong that offers 24-hour personal caring and emergency assistance services to the elderly and others in need through their core service, Personal Emergency Link, with the mission to enhance the living quality of the elderly in the community through the use of technology and people-oriented services.

The Manager Wendy, previously enjoyed a very successful career in the IT industry and had used her knowledge and contacts, to lever support from companies within this sector, to ensure that their service kept up to date with the latest technological developments. They exist in competition with 4 commercial operations and so they must offer the best service to be sustainable.  They also offer volunteer befriending and a similar phone based befriending service.  Wendy was very interested to hear about some of the great older people support services in Dundee (such as DialOp) and I promised to send her the contact details for these.

https://www.schsa.org.hk/en/introduction/aim/index.html

Wendy also was concerned at the lack of contact and engagement by people of different generations within HK.  So she used her IT expertise to design an interactive learning resource aimed at young people, known as the Life Journey Experience.  You gain your boarding card on entry and are then taken through a series of rooms, where each represents the various phases of a person’s life journey.  It uses clever interactive games and activities to show how your body and mind changes over the years, and demonstrates the positive and negative aspects of ageing.  The final part of the journey, involved me having to go into a very realistic coffin, where the lid closed and a video screen above my face, showed me my final moments – it was quite a challenge for me to face this, as I have had real fears about death from my early childhood.

 

hope-not-to-be-back-in-one-of-these-for-a-while

Hope to not be back in one these for a while

Passengers on the life journey are then taken to a room to meet older people and they share and reflect with each other on how they felt about what they had experienced.  The feedback board in the foyer, I think clearly demonstrated that the young people had found it a hugely powerful and informative experience.

https://www.schsa.org.hk/en/services/LJC/About/index.html

 

Then on to the next Social Enterprise visit – feeling dizzy with the heat and jet lag – but can’t rest – want to savour every moment of this wonderful experience.

 

Green Ladies / Green Littles

Do you have this one in pink?

Do you have this one in pink?

Travelled to a busy commercial/residential area of Hong Kong Island and entered a fairly plain shopping centre.  Then arrived at what I initially thought was a Gap store, with modern and stylish fixtures, layout and signage.  In fact it was a social enterprise second hand shop, that generates income for the St James Charity which works with people with a range of support needs.  The shop is called Green Ladies, with their brand being ‘I Second’.

The shop was initially run on a conventional charity shop basis, but they decided to follow a consignee model, where they very carefully vet incoming clothes and jewellery, rejecting anything that doesn’t meet their required standards. Consignors receive payment for their items, although some may choose to donate them for no fee.  The shop initially offered only woman’s clothes, but now also stocks kids’ stuff – with the new brand of Green Littles. They have grown from that first shop and now have another 4 across HK.  Another key aspect of their ethos is that they want to avoid waste and it certainly was an unusual marketing message to find in a retail changing room – ‘Do You Really Need This Item’.  Older people within HK can find it very difficult to find employment and so the store has made it an explicit policy, to employ people of this generation – and this is helping to highlight what a positive contribution they can make to the workforce.

http://gl.sjs.org.hk/

(Great website, but be patient as it takes a wee while to load)

 

IBakery 

A great meal and service to match at the IBakery

A great meal and service to match at the IBakery

Then on once again, to the IBakery for lunch.  It is a very professionally run cafe, which trains people with a range of support needs for careers in the catering and hospitality industries.  We had a lovely meal with our neighbouring table being occupied by a very lively group from South Korea, who were obviously excited about being in town for the Social Enterprise World Forum.  The café was situated in the corporate quarter and we were surrounded by towering buildings of every shape and design, including 2 which were meant to look like pandas – I think I’ll reserve judgement on that one.

http://www.tungwahcsd.org/en/our-services/social-enterprises/social-enterprise/iBakery/introduction

 

Twin Lippo Towers - Pandas?

Panda Tower

 

Till the next blog!
See part three HERE!

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don’t represent those of the Dundee Social Enterprise Network organisation,

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The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 1

Angus Greenshields - Development Officer

Angus Greenshields – Development Officer

 

The Long Road To Mandalay (via Hong Kong) Part 1

The Travel & Arrival

 

Friday 23rd September 

Derek and myself set off from Dundee on Friday morning and met colleagues at Glasgow Airport – a mixture of people from the Scottish Government, and other third sector support organisations.

Flight was on time and surprisingly roomy, with some spare seats, so chance to stretch out.  Great on-board entertainment system, which included real time route map.  An App showed compass bearing to Mecca to allow people to orientate themselves for Morning Prayers – I had never encountered this, but of course this was Emirates Airline.  Map showed countries and cities that we were passing close to – including Ukraine and Aleppo – difficult to reconcile travelling in such comfortable conditions, whilst underneath people were enduring such horrors. Then watched a couple of films, including a very black comedy set during the recent war in Bosnia – really evoked memories of my time working there with Edinburgh Direct Aid.

Arrived in Abu Dhabi feeling ok, but 32deg at midnight.  A bit surreal sitting in the terminal building at a Costa Café, under a real palm tree, with people from what seemed like every nation, rushing by.

People joined our group who had travelled from other starting points. A lively 3am discussion ensued as we waited at the departure gate, on the merits of an Asset Lock, and in general what makes a true social enterprise – as ever no consensus.

Next flight was on a double decker Airbus – we were in ‘steerage’ class of course, whilst VIPs enjoyed their upstairs luxuries – still felt pretty good to me.  Feeling a bit sleepy, but watched the Revenant, which told the tale of a trapper’s fight for survival in the bleak Canadian winter – unrelenting from the very start, with dangers from wild grizzlies, native warriors, and just about everyone and everything seemed to be out to kill poor Leonardo.

Saturday 24th September

Woken with a dig in the ribs from Derek, saying breakfast was coming – felt completely disorientated with sun streaming in the aircraft window and being presented with rice porridge, topped off with spring onion and prawns – unusually for me I couldn’t even face it.

Started our descent into Hong Kong (some 19 hrs after setting off from Glasgow) and immediately could see the airport, which had been built on ground snatched from the ocean – probably better however than landing the old airport, which was situated right in the centre of the city and where people recount tales of virtually being able to reach out and grab roof top washing lines.

As I passed through the customs area I was scanned by a person looking for people who might be showing signs of the Zika virus – I must have been looking rough.  Bus into the centre of Hong Kong and a great commentary from our guide, who updated us on the building works that seemed to be happening everywhere.  He pointed out the new station building that was nearing completion, which would mark the end of the line from Beijing to Hong Kong – it would transform a journey that currently took 2 days, to one where you could breakfast in one city and dine that same evening in the other.

We had a brief time to freshen up in our rooms and then met with our tour organisers, Gerry and Johnnie from Community Enterprise in Scotland.  There was a really eclectic mix of people in our tour party, with some of the most eminent people in the field of social enterprise, from Scotland, England, USA, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – not for the first time I wondered if I was out of my depth.  We were then joined by my colleague Raymond, who by a very happy coincidence was visiting family in Hong Kong.  Raymond took us out into the bustling evening streets and we found a restaurant, which offered a range of western foods and some that I’m not quite sure what it was – I did however recognise a picture on the menu of a whole pigeon (including its head and feet) – passed up on that one.

Raymond took us on a brief tour and we promptly got lost – understandable really, as since the last time Raymond had visited HK several years earlier, more of the Bay had been reclaimed and the city had advanced by a number of blocks.  We eventually found the waterfront area and looked across the bay to HK Island, which was quite simply the most stunning city scape I had ever witnessed.  Everyone looked shattered and so reluctantly we bade Raymond good night.

Me (middle) with Derek (second left) and some of the tour party at Hong Kong bay.

Me (middle) with Derek (second left) and some of the tour party at Hong Kong bay.

See part two HERE!

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don’t represent those of the Dundee Social Enterprise Network organisation.

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