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Innovative Students Milk Idea for All It's Worth

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"I found this empty milk carton beside a rubbish bin this morning. Does anyone want it?" asked college student Wang Kaizhe as he stood on a stage in front of 300 people at a charity event in Beijing. "Nobody wants empty milk cartons but when we turn them into useful things, people are happy to take them," he added.

Wang was the team leader of SIFE, of one of the 27 winning teams in the annual Lenovo 2010 Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition, which ended in July this year.

His team consisted of a group of students from Zhejiang University committed to collecting empty milk cartons and turning them into notebooks and pens. Lenovo selected the winning 27 teams from 16,000 competitors throughout the country during the event. It rewarded them with 10,000 yuan each and a Lenovo laptop to help them to continue with their environmentally friendly activities.

The Lenovo Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition is aimed at helping China's university students to learn how to start a responsible business.

"Thousands of university graduates cannot find a job after graduating these days," said Chen Shaopeng, senior vice-president of Lenovo Group, "We want to help them set up their own businesses in the environmental protection industry."

Lenovo set up a 2-million-yuan fund in China to support charitable activities three years ago. It launched the first annual Lenovo Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition in 2009. The project collects green business proposals from Chinese university students and then rewards and provides support to selected teams for them to fulfill their proposals.

"Fifty-thousand participants submitted 10,000 proposals last year," said Lenovo's Chen. "This year we got 18,000 proposals from 100,000 students."

Du Jianhua, vice-president of Lenovo Group, said participants were judged on their passion, the sustainability of the proposed business model and their teamwork spirit.

"Lenovo will help those teams which have strong sustainable development potential, such as the SIFE and Green Finger teams," said Du. The team Green Finger, formed by students from Beijing Forestry University, makes soap from waste cooking oil thrown out by restaurants. The team wants more restaurants to donate old oil.

Liu Meichen, team leader of Green Finger, who is studying environmental engineering, said she had found a way to combine her major with an interest in protecting the environment through the competition.

"I am happy to turn waste oil into something useful," she said.

Xu Yongguang, vice-chairman and secretary-general of China Youth Development Foundation, one of the most successful charity organizations in China, said at the reward ceremony that China was facing a transition from government-oriented charity activities to individual efforts.

He hopes the country will lend more support to the young. "If more enterprises like Lenovo can offer a hand to youth charity, young volunteers will be better accepted by society," he said.

Traditionally, Chinese families do not consider charity to be an official job. As a result lots of young charity volunteers in China are under huge pressure from their parents and society to find a "real" job, Xu said.

"We are trying to offer some help to those young university graduates for a career in charity," said Chen. He said the company adopted the concept of social entrepreneurship three years ago. He defined it as a charitable organization operated using corporate principles and aims in order to further social and environmental goals.

The Lenovo Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition is part of its corporate social responsibility activities. "Lenovo Group has sponsored 15 charity organizations across the country for supporting our charity programs," Chen said.

(China Daily September 27, 2010)

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