Jack Wan used to be a teacher in a secondary day-school before he was made redundant. He switched to an evening school where he noticed various difficulties faced by evening school students: lack of revision time after work, low learning efficiency due to fatigue, limited opportunities for upward mobility resulting from uncompetitive academic performances, etc. In 2019, he founded the social venture Project LEARNT with two like-minded partners to address students’ learning needs.
Project LEARNT runs on an innovative model of sharing: it shares the space of a restaurant during the latter’s idle time to operate a “learning space” and a “working space”. While providing on-site tuition hosted by redundant teachers at an affordable price, it also runs a catering business through which students receive training for employment in the restaurant. “Redundant teachers are idle human resources while restaurants have idle spaces. I pondered how the two sides may collaborate,” Jack explained.
Yet to put the idea into practice was not an easy job. “Restaurant owners may worry that our food would ruin the restaurant’s reputation. The chefs may be reluctant to share the kitchen with outsiders.” The team thus decided to build trust through a trial run at a restaurant for one and a half years to gain hands-on experience in cooking, customer serving and cleaning. Eventually, four restaurants lent their spaces to Project LEARNT and more than 20 underprivileged students benefitted.
While performing multiple roles of an evening school teacher, a private tutor, a catering instructor and a restaurant manager, Jack nevertheless admits that he is better at teaching than catering. Having reviewed the project’s strategy, the team decided to focus on providing study spaces and tutorial services for the time being. Yet Jack expects to work with restaurants again when the number of students grows. Has the project succeeded? Not quite yet. Why persist? Jack paused, and then answered gently, “This is an opportunity to try things out. I know from the beginning that not every startup could make it through. However, if I give up, this experience will be wasted. But if I can tackle the root of the problems, there is always a chance to succeed.”
- The SIE Fund has provided funding for the prototype project “Project LEARNT”. More information about the project can be found here.
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