As CEO of New World Development, a Hong Kong–based real estate development firm, Adrian Cheng '98 oversees large-scale construction projects, but he and NWD found a way to quickly help those in need in another way. "We realized that we could quickly create a mask production line, having built hospitals and surgery rooms."
AS HE WITNESSED THE RAPID SPREAD of the COVID-19 outbreak, Adrian Cheng '98, knew that he had to do something. And while in his role as CEO of New World Development, a Hong Kong–based real estate development firm, he principally oversees large-scale construction projects, Cheng found a way to translate some of the company's existing skill set into a program that could help those in need. "In Asia, there was a shortage of masks, and even though we weren't in the mask business, we'd built hospitals and surgery rooms," he explains. "So we realized that we could quickly create a mask production line."
The first step in establishing the new venture was ensuring that every mask would be produced to the highest possible standards. "We needed the best materials, the best filters, and they had to be very resilient," Cheng points out. "Not to mention that, in order to get the masks certified, they have to be produced in a very clean environment, a 'clean room' free of bacteria or viruses."
Working around the clock, Cheng and his team soon had the initiative up and running. "In two months' time, we built a small factory in Hong Kong producing 7 million ASTM Level 1 surgical-grade masks per month," he says. "But it wasn't just producing the masks, it was also creating an intelligent distribution method," he adds. "We had to ensure that the masks were safely distributed to the people who were most in need.
"So we created mask vending machines and placed them in 36 nonprofit NGO centers across 18 local districts in Hong Kong," he continues. "We asked the NGOs to identify the people who needed the masks most. Then we gave those people, many from low-income families, a QR code. Once they received the code, they were able to scan it at the machine and collect the masks on a daily basis."
Already, "Masks to Go" has reached 40,000 beneficiaries in Hong Kong, but as Cheng is happy to say, "It will continue to evolve. We're in this for the long term. Post-COVID, masks will be an indispensable necessity for a long time, and we're considering making masks that are more sustainable, recyclable, or made from different materials."
New World Development's swift and generous response to the COVID crisis— which also included instituting a $1.3 million pandemic relief fund in Hong Kong and donating millions of masks to mainland China, South Korea, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and UNICEF—is the latest in a long line of socially conscious moves that the company has taken in recent years.
At the core of everything that he does, Cheng says, is the concept of shared value: "Businesses should be connecting with social programs and sharing our resources to solve problems."
With this principle as a guide, Cheng has also worked to share his personal passion for the arts with the Hong Kong community. In 2008, he founded the art fashion brand K11, and two years later set up the K11 Art Foundation to "propagate and promote contemporary art, design, and culture in Asia and incubate local creators and artists," he says. "We want to create a movement to democratize art and help people learn about and appreciate art."
In the past decade, Cheng and his team have built a number of museums and cultural centers, curated exhibitions of contemporary Asian artists, and opened the K11 Art Mall, a retail experience that integrates art and design into every aspect of the customer experience. "It's not only a retail space, it's a cultural hub," Cheng says. "We are incubating local art and design, and visitors can also takes classes or go to the museum inside the mall."
This dedication to making a positive contribution to society extends to Cheng's future projects as well. "At New World Development, our commitment to sustainability is great, and by 2030, we plan to reduce our carbon emissions and energy consumption by 50 percent," he says. "And we're finding ways to lower the amount of waste going into landfills, preparing for extreme climate in the future by constructing more resilient properties, and exploring circular economies where everything is recycled or upcycled. We're always looking for innovative, creative approaches to solving problems."