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A rainbow for grey dreams
Rick Gangwani
update on Saturday, October 29, 2011
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Helping senior citizens is one thing, but making a lasting positive impact on their lives, while also enriching the lives of your staff members, is another altogether. Late last year, banking giant HSBC sought to achieve this goal with the launch of its "Silver Dreams Come True" campaign.

Spearheaded by the company's corporate sustainability team and fully-funded by the Hongkong Bank Foundation, the wide-ranging programme - with its multiple aspirations - may be the group's most ambitious to date.

"We were trying to devise a way to better impact our beneficiaries, while also positioning our staff as a force-for-good in the community," says Teresa Au, HSBC's head of corporate sustainability for Asia Pacific. To achieve this, participating staff members were grouped into teams of five. Each team was then asked to independently cater to one of 50 shortlisted "dreams" - the lifelong wishes sourced from members of Hong Kong's elderly community - with little more than their wits and a meagre budget of just HK$4,000 per group.

"As a result, volunteers could not simply rely on money alone," explains Au. "They had to leverage their skills, experience and other resources."

Rosemary Mak, an assistant manager for the bank's financial control and reporting department, was one such volunteer. Shortly after agreeing to help 90-year-old Fung Wai-chu host an exhibition of her late husband's calligraphy works, Mak and her teammates quickly found themselves short on funds.

"The quotation for the 10 exhibition panels we needed to display the calligraphy was seven times over our budget," she says. "We hadn't even begun to factor in the cost of the venue."

Mak eventually overcame the issue by combining her team's funds with those of another and, more crucially, by reaching out to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that she had worked with in the past.

Representatives from the NGO were able to secure a heavily discounted rate for an event space at Sha Tin City Hall which, much to Mak's delight, promised to include 50 free exhibition panels as part of the package.

Mak says that, though it proved to be challenging at times, participating in the programme was ultimately a worthwhile experience for her.

"Despite having worked for many departments at the bank, I had never been involved in things like public exhibitions," she notes. "It was a very different kind of experience for me, and one which was also very heartwarming."

Executive assistant for HSBC's market risk management team, Betty Chung, came away with equally positive feelings about the programme.

"After taking part, I felt more confident in my ability to take a leading role in volunteer efforts," she says.

For her selected initiative, Chung was asked to help Cheng Sau-kam, who's in her seventies, have a traditional funeral dress made for herself. Given the sensitive nature of the dream, Chung says that her main challenge was finding other colleagues to join her team.

"Chinese people are not comfortable dealing with matters relating to death," she says. "In the end, it was just me and one other staff member [Andra Yeung]."

Undeterred, Chung and Yeung managed to have the dress made as promised and, thanks to some serious haggling with the dressmaker, did so well within the budget.

Other dreams that were fulfilled included everything from trips to Ocean Park to face-to-face meetings with celebrities.

Given that the first 50 dreams have almost all been fulfilled, Au notes that there is a good chance that the programme will be extended.

"I'm really keen to help more elderly people with this initiative," she says. "We still need to do a review of the first 50, but I think that it's quite likely that we will expand [the programme], as there are a lot of other NGO partners that we can work with."

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