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Business Background and Description

New Life Association is a not-for-profit organisation in Hong Kong that offers social services to both mentally handicapped and mentally ill patients which actually restore them. The New Life Association was set up in 1959 by Doctor Stella Liu and the union of the mental patients who had already recovered and discharged from the hospital. Formally the association was referred to as Life Mutual Aid Club. Currently, Ms. Deborah Wan Lai-yau is the organisation's Chief Executive Officer.

In 1965 the association was assigned a new name and therefore was called New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (NLPRA) just after it was re-organised, and it was registered in 1968 as a limited company.  NLPRA possesses a total of nineteen social enterprise service units managed by New Life Support Enterprises Limited (NLSE). NLSE supervises the major activities of the association such as organic farming, and the businesses of the Specialty Stores. The Association started Organic farming in the year 2000 promoting organic produce, while the Association's Specialty Chain Stores started to sell this organic produce in the year 2002. NLPRA has taken part in encouraging Hong Kong's green living, shielding the bionomical environment from degradation, allowing for organic choices to users, and conducting recurrent education concerning the organic food which is healthy (Jackson, 2002).

NLPRA have also created additional social enterprises that offer a training base of which their staff members are in need.  Some of the projects that have depicted hopeful outcome include: cultural kiosks, fruit stalls, convenience stores, vegetable stalls, restaurant, and eco-tourism. The organisation offers chances for training both mentally handicapped and mentally ill persons aiming at imparting confidence into their being, hence fully rehabilitating them back into the society. And this is the mission of NLPRA.   In the year 2007, 457 persons were trained under the training programs.

New business fields like gift shops, property management and gourmet shops had been established as from the year 2005. As the business fields increased rapidly, by middle of the year 2008, the number of social enterprises was 18. Owing to this rapid increase in the number of social enterprises, New Life was no longer able to rely on the same business model they have been using with all core business ideas constructed by Wan. The business facts and knowledge, and marketing strategies experienced a varied change so that appropriate alterations were necessary to scale up the many social enterprises.

The New Life Farm and many other local farms in Hong Kong experienced marvellous market pressure due to the continuous supply of large amounts of fresh organic produce by the huge commercial organic farms. These huge organic farms which were 50 times larger than the New Life Farm, started supplying their organic produce in the year 2007, and this resulted into low selling prices hence the profit margins declined. The huge organic farms ensured that there was a constant supply of produce to restaurants, supermarkets and hotels all the year long.

The Park' n Shop supermarket chain which was established in Hong Kong, started to offer organic produce in the year 2003. This supermarket dominated in supplying the organic produce owing to its wide and strategic geographical coverage, market muscle, efficient and logistics management, and prime location. Many types of organic produce were imported from the United States, Thailand, Chinese mainland and Africa with their marked prices reasonable for the people in the middle class to afford. Most of the customers, who belonged to the New Life, were attracted by the Park' n Shop supermarket hence it was threatened by customer shortage.  

Many well-off corporation established new supermarkets within Hong Kong city, selling organic produce in plenty. For instance, the Dairy Farm Corporation started the Landmark and Union Square in November 2006 and October 2007 respectively. These were run by a better technology such that their customers could place orders using phone or email, to be delivered with fresh organic produce and other goods without themselves visiting the shops physically. The costs for delivering goods diminished as the purchases increased, such that for the purchases exceeding US$64 were delivered free of charge. Customers in the Discovery Bay received good on Fridays every week, with no charge on delivery of purchases exceeding US$128. The New Life in this Bay experienced a threat by loosing customers.

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In the year 2007 another high-end supermarket called Market Place for Jason's, got into Hong Kong city and established five shops in the year 2008. These shops were situated in strategic places for example, in Kowloon and up-market districts of residence. A variety of good foods were on offer, especially those modified to Asian tastes.

Coming to the class of health food stores, the company called Green Dot Dot happened to be New Life's major competitor. This company took short time before expanding from being a mere supplier of dry organic foods to establishing twelve organic shops in the form of a retail chain. Kampery Group, which is a mother company to Green Dot Dot controlled an organic farm and dozens of chain restaurants in Hong Kong.

The government of China enforced strict regulations on food safety. A new law which ensured nutritional labelling of the foods in packages was passed within Hong Kong City as from May 2008. This was given a time period of two years for fulfilment. The food items sold were supposed to have a label disclosing the nutritional content in them, for example, vitamins, fat, carbohydrates, fibres, proteins and minerals. In order for the New Life's organic shops to make changes in their food labels, a great deal of manpower was utilised on interceding with suppliers.             

Many of the earlier customers who belonged to the New Life sheltered workshops for the patients of psychiatric handicaps finally started coming back to the centre as from 1992. According to what was heard from most of the people, it was likely that they failed to secure employment opportunities which could otherwise have kept them going. They really came to find out that, the extraordinary situations were overwhelming, and therefore undergoing extra training was a mandate.  From the perspective of the New Life staff, former customers were trying to escape from the downside of dealing with open employment. When more customers came back, the staff at the New Life recognised that, despite the vocational training their customers underwent, they were still not well prepared to cope up with challenges faced at the new work environment (Jackson, 2002).

The job applications of the New Life's returning customers were also rejected hence lacking employment opportunities. In the case of employed customers, it was not an easy time for them to deal with changes called for by meeting new faces in the place of work or being assigned with new tasks related to the current job. In the year 1992, Hong Kong's NLPRA staff members realised that there was a need for change as they provide a more meaningful and comprehensive vocational training services.  Provided the patients of psychiatric handicaps are offered with the meaningful kind of education, they easily secure chances into open employment as they get out of sheltered work. Therefore, they become more confident as they improve on vocational capability and competency. It is also very important for the public to encourage a friendly concern towards the patients of psychiatric handicaps and the abilities they possess. 

Solutions to problems

It is true that many of the supervisors and managers at New Life had not been trained business related courses but as social worker. So that they attained business knowledge, the organisation supported them as they attended business courses at the education institutions in their native land.  For instance, the staff involved with management in retail chain organic shops went for courses concerning retail management.  Jockey Club New Life Institute Psychiatric Rehabilitation was a training chamber established to enable forefront practitioners of psychiatric reclamation, get professional training.  Despite the rapid growing number of business units, the relevant training has been stretched to admit retail and business management skills.

Wan was so much enthusiastic to establish as many business units as she strongly believed that social enterprise was a calling direction towards psychiatric reclamation. Nevertheless, among the barriers to expansion of business units, was the insufficient start-up capital.  She has tried to collect funds for a number of years to establishing social enterprises for the purposes of rehabilitation. Her persistence at long run compensated in January 2003, as the government of China established the Enhancing Employment of the People with Disabilities thru Small Enterprise (EEPD). 

New Life's board members provided a firm dedication and support towards the social enterprise initiative and as well gave apparent guidelines concerning the initiative's financial and social objectives right from the starting point. They as well introduced Wan to the freedom of exploring varied approaches of manipulating things. The organisation's mission of allowing for rehabilitation, training and finally employing the former psychiatric patients, was to make good profits.

Towards the end of the 20th century, many mental patients who had been stabilised were allowed to get out of psychiatric hospitals where they were admitted.  So that to engage more of these people, the vice-president of the organisation, Dr Lawrence Lee, suggested converting the farm into producing organic produce, and in which Wan has deep-rooted sentiments.  

The service users of the organisation enjoyed the chance of working with the New Life's social enterprises since the same opportunities were not easily found in the open job market. The organic shops' trainees were taught basic skills and knowledge concerning organic farming and health foods within the New Life farm before they were formally posted.  From the beginning, the workers were allowed four hours per day of work so that they could adjust the pace of the work, but after which they were scheduled six to eight hours a day. Since most of employees and the trainees had not fully recovered, flexibility in their job placements was provided to favour them. Trainees who proved to have good performance records were offered with permanent employment (Ritsner, 2007).

To defeat the extensive prejudice related to mental illness, the organisation assumed a rather improper access by intentionally branding the social enterprises with the name New Life". Since New Life was extensively known in Hong Kong City as NGOs that concentrated on psychiatric reclamation work, the strategy of branding effectively brought the mental patients who had recovered from behind the curtains to foreground. By communicating directly with the service users in the business units, it is evident that the general public will gradually come to know that the former psychiatric patients have no difference from everyone else. Such a change in public attitude was hard-earned after a bumpy journey. A thorough counselling was administered to the trainees earlier to prepare them psychologically such like situations. As the direct-contact approach succeeded, the organisation carried a number of education programmes, such as press interviews, public (Tang, 2005).

So that the training was effective, New Life made up its mind and ensured that the workshops are outdoors. This is because, the customers get exposed to the real-world situations of work and become more experienced; hence they can do varied kinds of work they meet irrespective of how new the work will be. New Life also tried as much to avoid training people with psychiatric handicaps in isolated background by ensuring that, these people worked under big groups in the context of a community.  Among the recent service contracts of New Life is sweeping and cleaning works within the campground.

Within any particular year, about 200 individuals who attended the New Life program secured jobs offered by the association's Supported Employment Service.  The jobs were varied and manageable; hence every individual could be able to acquire a job of their choice. These 200 individuals were introduced to simple and manageable tasks and advance by being promoted into high ranks as they went through complex and advanced requirements training. Due to the monetary incentives, the upward mobility is promoted and hence emphasise on the importance    of work principles and morals. The programme underscores work in open employment under the supervision of the ongoing support.

Staff of New Life was required to turn into job coaches while working hand-in-hand with trainees, and by this, it is clear that social skills are emphasised and the skills of work are attained on the given job. So that confidence was built in the trained individuals, the staff came up with system of increasing the responsibility in gradual manner. New Life chooses the settings of work that incorporates trainees with the world; this prepares the workers to deal with the strangers and the changes that come about in the work place.  This also enables people in the outside world to ascertain people with handicaps so as to adjust biases (Tang, 2005).

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