Driving Social Purpose through Innovative Business Education

In Dr. Fred Ku’s physical and virtual classrooms, it is not uncommon to find students playing simulation games, working on business cases or even creating short videos to present economic concepts. The economics scholar loves to create innovative learning experiences to engage students and take them beyond the realm of textbooks and theories.

“Lectures could be boring, or even painful when we have to do them online. By adopting a game-based approach, lectures and maths can turned into something fun and exciting,” noted Dr. Ku. “Besides, by encouraging students to apply their learnings into real-world situations, I hope to nurture young minds with a sense of social purpose and the drive to create positive change for society.”

An Educator on a Mission

Purpose in business is becoming increasingly important
— Dr. Fred Ku

Dr. Ku is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. He is also the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the Director of the Integrated BBA Programme, and the Associate Director of the Programme for Economic Education at the Economic Research Centre of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies.

Underlying all these titles, however, is a passionate educator on a mission. “My teaching philosophy is to cultivate socially responsible leaders in the age of innovation, who not only possess strong business skills but are also passionate about making a difference in society. Tech and innovation as well as social good are two inseparable bases of all my classes.”

Dr. Ku considers that businesses do not operate in a vacuum, but rather, they interact with the environment and generate direct and indirect impact on the community and its people. For this reason, he believes that for a business to succeed, they should strive to be profitable on one hand and, on the other, bring positive impact to society.

“The idea of Creating Shared Value (CSV), was first advocated by Harvard’s Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in 2011. It refers to the practice of creating economic value in a way that also creates societal value by addressing its needs and challenges. CSV is set to empower innovation and growth, and remains one of the most important business concepts. It is crucial, especially as we prepare for the post-pandemic recovery, for our students to learn and embrace CSV.”

He added: “Purpose in businesses is becoming increasingly important. I can’t wait to see how our students use their knowledge and skills to craft their future, and to create social impact at the same time.”

Reimagining Teaching with Case-Based Learning

In order to help students contextualise abstract theory and translate them into practical knowledge, Dr. Ku adopts a case-based approach that emphasises “learning by doing”.

“It is important that students have the opportunity to apply their technical, analytical, problem-solving and creative skills to solve real-world problems. In the process, they will stay relevant, and develop the competencies needed to contribute effectively in the workplace.”

The pandemic has put teaching innovation to the test. Despite its constraints, Dr. Ku shared that online learning has in fact opened up novel possibilities. “It became an opportune time for us to invite guest speakers and students, not only from Hong Kong but from all over the world to our virtual classroom.” For example, in the course Responsible Business, Dr. Ku invited professors from Taiwan, Japan, Poland and the UK to lecture using cases in their own regions. Unsurprisingly, the results went beyond expectations.

Joined by speakers from Taiwan, Japan, Poland and the UK, Dr. Fred Ku and students from CUHK and National Chiayi University had a virtual symposium on responsible business.

“Students were able to learn about the practices and challenges of responsible businesses in different geographies.” In collaboration with National Chiayi University, the class was attended by students in both Taiwan and Hong Kong. “Many students found the experience illuminating. Interacting with students from different backgrounds, even virtually, has broadened their horizons on a global level. We will explore the potential of this approach further.”

From Textbook Knowledge to Social Solutions

To walk the talk, Dr. Ku set up a platform called Business Education for Social Good (BESGO) that promotes CSV, corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship and social innovation in business education.

In one project, BESGO partnered with Social Venture Hong Kong and organised a “Bootcamp for Talents of Social Innovation”. Students visited local communities and social enterprises in Sham Shui Po and Kwai Tsing to gain insights into the issues and challenges faced by locals. They also took part in workshops to brainstorm business solutions which contribute to social good while achieving reasonable financial returns.

BESGO_Kwai Ching Visit
BESGO's virtual visit to social venture HATCH in Kwai Tsing
BESGO's visit to Sham Shui Po
The final workshop of BESGO's Bootcamp for Talents of Social Innovation with Social Ventures Hong Kong

In another project, students undertook a CSV Consultancy Project with the K11 Art Mall. They designed and implemented the promotional plan for the digital fitness exhibition of Brainrental, a Hong Kong-based creative trio, at the mall.

Many students reported that the programmes offered them an eye-opening experience, something they couldn’t have learnt from lectures or textbooks.
— Dr. Fred Ku

Dr. Ku explained this further: “In this way, when students graduate and enter the industry, they can ask themselves: What can my company do to advance social welfare and make money? This kind of mindset is something that I’d like to instil in my students.”

Passing the Torch and Drive for Social Good

In addition, Dr. Ku championed the Young Economist Scheme (YES) with Prof. Michael Fung of the Department of Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics. Under the scheme, student volunteers were assigned to mentor and support disadvantaged secondary school students on economics study, giving them a taste of contributing to social purpose and education equality.

Anita Ng (Professional Accountancy [PACC] 2018) was one of the students who joined YES during her time at CUHK. The scheme created a profound impact on her. As a gradudate majoring in accountancy with a minor in Linguistics (Hong Kong Sign Language), Anita became a secondary school in economics for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students. This opened an entire new world for the students, as they were previously unable to take economic classes due to the lack of teachers who could master both sign language and economics.

Working with Dr. Ku, Anita also launched an “Economics on Hand“, a project that aims to embed sign language and other visual aids into teaching and learning resources in economics for DHH students.

(From left) Teacher Anita Ng, student Cheung Hoi-Yan and Dr. Fred Ku (Photo courtesy of K. Y. Cheng)

Eternal Passion for Teaching

The sparkiest moment is when I see my students captivated with passion and inspiration in class.
— Dr. Fred Ku

All of these efforts demand unyielding passion and boundless ingenuity. How does Dr. Ku keep up his educational verve? “To me, teaching is a career replete with sparky moments. I enjoy interacting with students and exploring new teaching methods. I feel accomplished when our effort is recognised by the faculty, the university and professional bodies. I get energised as I share my insights and research findings at conferences. Above all, the sparkiest moment is when I see my students captivated with passion and inspiration in class.”

With his spirit and dedication, Dr. Ku has nabbed multiple teaching awards since joining CUHK in 2009, – Faculty Teaching Awards, Faculty Teaching Merit Awards, the Vice-Chancellor’s Exemplary Teaching Award, the Teaching Excellence Ambassador Award, and the Exemplary Teaching and Learning Sliver Award at the eLearning Forum Asia (eLFAsia) 2020.

New Horizons, New Possibilities

Dr. Ku is also continually widening his gamut of responsibilities. For instance, he now teaches business economics and analytics courses for undergraduates, MAcc, MBA, and EMBA programmes. Since 2017, he also took on the administrator roles of Assistant Dean and Director of the Integrated BBA programme, which enable him to create a lasting impact beyond the classroom. In coming August, he will also pick up the baton from Prof. Andy Wong to become the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, shouldering greater responsibilities for the school community.

As he looks forward, Dr. Ku’s zeal for education shows no imminent signs of abating: “I hope to see how we may foster even more synergy among our comprehensive undergraduate programmes. I also see opportunity to grow our alumni engagement in breadth and depth and offer greater support to international students.”

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