Run to serve, and serve to lead
“It was my childhood dream to become an entrepreneur, and do something I am passionate about and meaningful to society,” said Andes Leung (BBA Marketing, 1994). At the age of 40, Andes left his then senior management role in the brewing industry, and spent a ‘gap year’ in search of a breakthrough in life.
In 2014, after competing in one of the ‘hardest ultramarathons in the world’ in the Gobi Desert, he decided to realise his childhood dream by co-founding RunOurCity (ROC), a social enterprise aiming to transform lives through running, and provide support to underprivileged youth.
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes to achieve your dream. What matters is that you take the first step and keep doing what is right towards your dream, and you will make it eventually.”
Life is a marathon
The marathon enthusiast recalled the days and nights in the Gobi Desert where he survived on tiny portion of foods and very little sleep. Extreme temperatures ranging from 6°C to over 40°C, and the 250km of inhospitable desert, placed great demands on his stamina but he managed to get through, all on his own.
“The 7-day ultramarathon struck me with the learning that how little human actually need to survive even under tough conditions, and how perseverance can make impossible things possible,” said the CEO. “Besides, running helps reduce stress and clear my mind, which is very useful for busy and stressful Hong Kong people!”
Andes set out for a marathon year in late 2014, aiming to explore his own possibilities, and experience and learn from world-class races.
The experience inspired him to spread the spirit and benefits of marathon to a wider community. He decided to start by planting seeds among the younger generation.
“Running is for one’s all-round developments. From self-confidence and self-discipline, to resilience and time management – these are also essential elements we need to lead a healthy life.”
Andes keeps walking his talk – after establishing ROC, Andes set out for a ‘marathon year’, running 12 marathons in 12 cities in 12 months, from the burning Atacama Desert in Chile, to the freezing Antarctica. As of now, he has finished 100 marathons and ultramarathons in 22 years, and still counting.
Innovate and adjust to find your way
A sustainable social enterprise is no charity. It requires a balance between the business and the service sides, emphasising ethics and responsibility. The way Andes does it is by continuous innovation and being open to criticism.
On the business side, Andes has introduced a number of ‘firsts’ to the Hong Kong running scene – first ‘STREETATHON’ in 2014, first carnival-style running festival in 2016, many fun-themed races from TOTEM Run to the latest ‘Run to the Moon’ campaign. The innovations are all based on the goal to nurture fun and compassionate running culture in the city, and to rebrand running into something more fun and approachable, while sourcing sponsors and funding.
Undoubtedly, ROC has fueled the booming awareness of a healthy lifestyle in Hong Kong over the past 6 years, having organised 30 big-scale races, attracting over 110,000 runners to sweat together and support the cause.
Being innovative does not necessarily mean constant success though. “There were controversies over some of our new initiatives.”
“We listen, we learn, and we adjust.”
“Social enterprise was a rather new business model to many, including us. We do it learning and adjusting along the way. Our commercial experiences definitely help us understand and handle critics more effectively and wisely, while our business knowledge and connections play a huge part to seek and secure sponsorship.”
The marathon experiences and his business background have made a perfect combination to equip Andes with a global perspective to be a social entrepreneur, a businessman, a race organiser and a runner.
Andes continues innovating in the service part. ROC’s pioneer programme, Youth.ROC, partners with secondary schools to conduct training and develop teenagers’ interest in long-distance running while enhancing their self-confidence and physical strength, and expanding their social networks. Professional coaches become life mentors for the teenagers. They guide them to run from 0km to 10km nonstop, while attending to the ways they think and deal with daily problems. To date, the programme has trained over 12,000 teenagers to complete a 10km run, including socially vulnerable groups, youth at risk, juvenile home, drug rehabilitation and ethnic minorities.
The power of positive thinking & continuous learning
Social distancing has now become the new normal. While this has become a challenge for many, Andes turned it into an accelerator for their e-programme, an idea that had been brewing in his mind.
“It’s a matter of choice of how you see a problem. We hesitated because we thought running had to be physical and face-to-face. But kids nowadays are used to online learning, and they are more willing to open their heart through online communication for us to provide assistance. It turned out that the e-programme was so well-received and provides a new channel for us to serve.”
With all the challenges facing Hong Kong and beyond, how should youngsters search for a way out?
“My advice is one word – learn.”
“Keep up the spirit and grab every opportunity to learn. Every challenge can be an opportunity, so don’t stop learning and trying. If you ever feel stuck or too tired to think, try running, it helps clear your mind and move forward!”
From serious races, like ‘The Last Desert’ in Antarctica, to fun-oriented marathons, like the Marathon du Médoc in France, Andes has experienced the numerous possibilities of marathons, and hence aspires to rebrand running into something more fun and approachable for Hong Kong people.