Operation Santa Claus: Chasing Targets of Goodwill in Hong Kong

Operation Santa Claus and CUHK Business School

Operation Santa Claus is a big event in Hong Kong – and one that has been keeping a team of MBA students from CUHK Business School as busy as some of Santa’s elves over the festive period, as part of the initiative’s MBA challenge.

Not to be confused with the US Postal Services’ efforts of the same name aiming to help the man himself respond to 'Dear Santa' letters, this Operation Santa Claus is an annual fundraiser organized by the South China Morning Post and Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), and one that has become a fixture in the region’s calendar by raising more than HK$211 million (c. US$27 million) for charity over the past 26 years. 

Past events from some big-name donors have included a Citibank employee jumping from Macau Tower (now home to the world’s highest commercial bungee jump) and staff at Credit Suisse engaging in some costume sumo fighting.

To give a sense of the sheer scale of Operation Santa Claus (OSC) - last year’s MBA challenge raised the impressive sum of HK$190k (c. US$25k), but one that was still dwarfed by the overall event’s total of HK$21.1 million (c. US$2.7 million).

This year, OSC’s MBA challenge involves taking a seed fund from one of the event’s principal sponsors and – by investing in social enterprises – generating as much profit as possible for the initiative’s charity causes. Meaning that students must utilize all the business acumen they can muster in the name of Santa Claus during the process. 

Santa Rocks sees MBA students put experiential learning to good use

Santa Rocks MBA students‘Santa Rocks’ is a team of MBA students representing CUHK Business School in OSC this year. They chose to invest in hand-crafted silk Christmas decorations (ornaments) produced in Cambodia and these proved popular when the team ran a booth at a Christmas Fair in Hong Kong’s Quarry Bay area.

“That went pretty well,” says Jason Yeung, one of the six MBA students in the CUHK Business School team: “The most important thing is the ornaments are prepared by disadvantaged Cambodian people and, by selling them, we hope the money raised can help people around the region.”

Of course, the home-baked cookies the team had to offer might also have helped in attracting people to their booth.

The fair, together with a charity run and an auction that gets CUHK faculty involved, represent a few of the festively-themed activities devised by Santa Rocks when they first drew up a business plan for their OSC campaign, which runs until the end of the year.

Jason says the team signed up for this year’s MBA challenge because of the opportunity it provided to combine experiential learning with meaningful work that channels the Christmas spirit of goodwill towards the community – in Hong Kong and beyond. Collaborating with one of OSC’s chosen nonprofit beneficiaries on the Cambodian decorations, for instance, was a key objective for Santa Rocks in furthering their understanding of Hong Kong’s social enterprise industry. 

The events themselves, meanwhile, have allowed the MBA students to interact with the community and spread some Christmas spirit, as Jason explains:

“During the sales we wore Santa hats to spread the message that it’s Christmas time and we want to share our love and caring to the poor people in need and hope that they will better understand what we’re doing and why.”

Drawing on knowledge acquired at CUHK Business School

As heartwarming as this may sound, the MBA students’ professionalism has permeated throughout the campaign as they seek to build the skills required to operate a successful business:

“We can hopefully leverage OSC – the Operation Santa Claus – as a simulation of running our own business and hone our personal and team skills,” says Jason.

Treating the campaign as they would a real-life company helps explain the attention to detail seen in their fundraising target – a quite specific HK$63,500 (c. US$8.2k) that stems from an estimation they drew up when they first submitted their business plan.  

Since then, they’ve already drawn on plenty of the knowledge acquired on CUHK Business School’s MBA program, particularly two of its core elements:

“The knowledge that we have learned from marketing and finance has definitely helped us to make better decisions,” he says talking through the hard work behind the jolly name of Santa Rocks in terms of budgeting expenses, sourcing products such as the Cambodian decorations, and planning a marketing strategy.

Of course, as you might expect from MBA students, the team has been exploring other sources of funding aside from the initial seed money received:

“We are now approaching a potential donor, a company, which would like to understand our whole campaign and what we’re doing – and we expect that we will get even more funds from them,” he confides adding that Operation Santa Claus has also allowed them to network with like-minded professionals and entrepreneurs.

Learning more important than winning in seasonal MBA challenge

The Christmas campaign is one that could greatly aid the MBA students as they look ahead to their future careers. For example, with a background in accountancy prior to joining the CUHK MBA, Jason hopes the qualification can help him change career function and explore opportunities elsewhere in finance.

As a Hongkonger, he felt the MBA programs in his home region offered the best mixture of international regard and proximity to Asia’s economic pulse:   

“I believe the 21st century will be a century for Asia and doing an MBA in Hong Kong – the heart of Asia – will be a wise choice because I will be able to learn the latest business knowledge and practices within the financial hub with which I will be working in the future.”

Other schools featuring in this year’s MBA challenge include HKUST and Manchester Business School (which has an international center in Hong Kong). But, the CUHK Business School MBA student says it’s not a zero sum game:

“Our concern is to help the people and learn from it, and whether we are ultimately the winner is not the most important thing that we have in mind.” 

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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