During their time serving as teaching fellows at elementary schools in Hong Kong, Matthew Kwok and Raymond Yang found that many youths struggled to express and manage their emotions. The lack of emotional education in the city’s exam-oriented system inspired the duo to establish Just Feel, a social enterprise with a mission to enhance local schoolchildren’s emotional well-being.
“Hong Kong has invested lots of resources in mental health services in schools, but they mainly focus on having social workers to intervene in intense cases,” says Kwok, cofounder and executive director of Just Feel. “We don’t want to start curing the students only after they have developed mental health problems. We want to build a culture that can prevent it from happening.”
Kwok and Yang, who made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list this year, joined forces with former JPMorgan trader Anthony Ngai to launch Just Feel in 2018 with the aim of teaching students, as well as their parents and teachers, to articulate their feelings and communicate with empathy. The social enterprise recently secured new funding to expand its impact beyond school activities, parent workshops and teacher training thanks to a HK$3.3 million ($420,980) grant in May from the philanthropic arm of Hong Kong conglomerate Swire Pacific. Now, Just Feel is bringing emotional education to more local schools over the next three years.
“We are impressed by Just Feel’s innovative whole school approach to supporting student mental well-being,” says Tina Chan, head of philanthropy at John Swire & Sons in Hong Kong, which controls Swire Pacific, in a written response. “They have developed a scalable yet tailor-made model that caters to the needs of students, educators and parents.”
So far, Just Feel has raised about HK$31 million from several prominent Hong Kong families and corporate philanthropic organizations, including Nan Fung Group honorary chairwoman Vivien Chen’s the D.H. Chen Foundation, New World Development CEO Adrian Cheng’s WEMP Foundation and the charitable fund of luxury goods distributor Jebsen Group. The social enterprise claims nearly 26,500 students have benefited from its programs, and 29,600 parents and 5,100 teachers have been trained.
“Seeing issues concerning children’s mental wellbeing are rapidly increasing, the Foundation thinks that it is crucial to join hands with like-minded nonprofits to offer possible solutions with the aim to tackle the root cause and drive systemic change in the community,” Karen Cheung, trustee and chief strategist at the D.H. Chen Foundation and daughter of Vivien Chen, said in a written response.
Cheung added, “Just Feel’s preventive approach of increasing self-awareness and mindfulness of oneself aligns with our values of building harmonious and respectful relationships with one another, setting an essential ground of fostering a compassionate society.”
With one of the most competitive education systems in the world, Hong Kong has been criticized for failing to address students’ mental health issues. The city saw suicide rates among children under the age of 15 rise to a record high in 2021, according to the latest data from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention. Experts have attributed the rise in youth suicide to prolonged class suspensions during the pandemic.
It takes time to transform culture, so Just Feel is looking to raise up to HK$5 million over the next year to help fund its operation. The social enterprise hopes to tap funding from businesses that have committed to corporate social responsibility. By partnering with Just Feel, these businesses are helping to equip the next generation with improved interpersonal skills, which help boost their performance at workplaces in the future, says Kwok.
“Communication is the foundation of every company’s work,” Kwok adds. “When we are transforming the communication culture in schools and families, we are actually also transforming how students interact with others when they grow up working for companies.”