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Addressing The Invisible Crisis

One of Hong Kong’s well-known billionaire scions on how Covid changed his approach to philanthropy.

Early childhood parenting programme

Philanthropy has, for many years, been at the core of Adrian Cheng’s ethos, but it was Covid-19 that changed his direction from an arts and culture focus to one of children’s mental health through the WEMP Foundation. He is one of a new generation of philanthropists in Asia who are no longer happy ‘to write a blank cheque and move on’, but are driven by a desire to make deeper, more meaningful connections to the causes they support. Here, the CEO of Hong Kong’s New World Development, and owner of Rosewood Hong Kong, answers a few questions about the work of the foundation.

What inspired you to establish WEMP?

Witnessing the struggles and challenges that children face in today’s fast-paced and demanding world deeply moved me. Personally, my own journey in philanthropy took a transformative turn during the Covid pandemic. I came across a heart-wrenching story of a young child who was silently struggling with mental health issues. It became evident that the pandemic’s impact extended far beyond education; it shook the very foundations of children’s mental health. It became clear to me that immediate action was necessary to address this invisible crisis. 

What have you achieved so far?

Through WEMP, we are laying the groundwork for a comprehensive support system that prioritises children’s mental well-being. We are committed to providing the necessary resources, interventions, and education to equip children, parents, schools, and communities with the tools they need to navigate the challenges of mental health. Since our establishment in 2021, our interventions have positively impacted nearly 17,000 students and over 30,000 parents.

With like-minded partners in the community for a vision of “Community Philanthropy”.

Could you tell me about someone helped by the foundation?

Imagine a little child, just 15 months old, who couldn't walk or talk. Fragile and undernourished, weighing only 5kg, this child had been deprived of basic medical care, including vaccinations. Its situation was dire until a social worker discovered its plight. The heart-breaking case was brought to the attention of Dr Dorothy Chan, our partner from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong. The child was immediately admitted to the hospital, and further investigation revealed a family lacking in social support, with a mother burdened by her own pre-natal anxieties. To compound matters, the child’s elder sister struggled with speech difficulties, making it even more challenging for the family to seek help. It was in this critical moment that our foundation intervened, extending a lifeline to this family in need. We provided speech therapy for the elder sister and offered professional therapy and speech therapy treatments for the little child. Both children began to make remarkable progress, catching up with their peers in speech development.

Could you share examples of some key initiatives?
The foundation provides different levels of support to cater to their specific requirements. We are working tirelessly to implement an 18-district positive parenting school tour and an Emo-Vitamin programme in collaboration with 45 schools, with the goal of reaching over 15,000 parents and children, providing them with emotional support and tools to navigate their mental health challenges. Additionally, we have conducted workshops and training sessions for parents, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to support their children’s mental well-being. Recognising the detrimental effects of the pandemic, we are committed to reaching 6,300 parents over the course of 2.5 years through our early childhood parenting programme at kindergartens, providing age-appropriate guidance and support. One of our key initiatives is the development of an online platform that serves as a comprehensive resource hub. This platform offers evidence-based information, practical tools, and expert advice on children’s mental health.

Adrian Cheng at a WEMP Gala

What are your future plans?
One of our key initiatives is a collaboration with the University of Cambridge. Over the course of three years, we are conducting a comprehensive study that delves into the socio-cognitive skills of children during their early school years. The aim is to deepen our understanding of how these skills influence children’s social, emotional, and cognitive abilities. By gaining these insights, we can design initiatives that bring about sustainable change in children’s mental health. Looking forward, the foundation is dedicated to forging global partnerships. By forming strategic alliances with like-minded organisations, we can extend the reach of our activities and ensure that more children, parents and educators benefit from our work.

This article appeared in Billionaire's Impact Issue. To subscribe, click here.