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Notwithstanding its reputation as a free market bastion, Hong Kong has long been home to a well-developed, government-supported "social sector." Although many non-governmental social service organizations began as purely private and charitable, the government, over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, began to pay an increasing share of their budgets through payments known as "subventions." In the mid-1990s, however, the leaders of nonprofit social service organizations become increasingly concerned that the conditions under which their organizations receive public support--including pay scales, job descriptions, and staffing levels set by the government-allowed too little management flexibility. This case describes the evolution of a replacement "subvention" system one which, instead of providing support for specific positions and supplies, would instead provide the social service nonprofits with "lump sum" grants--a single pot which NGO managers would apportion. The case details the complexity of planning and implementing such a transition, focusing among other things on the transition arrangements required to ensure continuity of services and minimum of workforce disruption. The government must deal specifically with fears of senior social workers that the new system will give managers an incentive to replace them with new, more junior hires.

Learning Objective:
In addition to allowing for discussion of the specific dilemmas faced in Hong Kong, the case can be a point of departure for a more general discussion about the variety of imaginable relationships between the public and nonprofit sectors and how such arrangements are, as a practical matter, effected.

Other Details

Case Author:
Howard Husock
Faculty Lead:
Herman (Dutch) B. Leonard
Pages (incl. exhibits):