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Redistributing social capital

Stephen Fang

Written by Stephen Fang (BCom/BLaws (Hon I) ’04)
Head of Global Restructuring and Insolvency, and Global Diversity and Inclusion Committee Member, Aberdeen Asset Management PLC
Co-founder, The Good Network
Advisory board member, Shape History

I work at Aberdeen Asset Management in London with various teams to manage some £95 billion of fixed-income assets. In recent years we’ve witnessed a trend of people increasingly searching for investments that not only make a profit but also do some good in the world.

The idea of ‘doing good’ is resonating not just with our investors but across generations. A 2017 Deloitte study found that 77 percent of millennials have involved themselves in opportunities with good causes, as it empowers them to make a difference in the world around them.1

These seem like the perfect foundations from which to have launched The Good Network – but to be honest, they were incidental.

The Good Network is a social network that breaks down barriers by redistributing social capital, so that we can all contribute in some way, shape or form to others in the world. The idea came about through a combination of life experiences, so firstly, here’s a bit about myself.

I grew up as an immigrant with very little English in the Sydney suburb of Dural. I still remember telling my kindergarten teacher in Hong Kong at the age of six that I was leaving for “Oh Zhou” (Australia in Cantonese), and feeling slightly relieved because, frankly, I was failing my Chinese dictations.

A week later I attended my first class in Australia. Back then we got those A5 books where we had to write our name on the front – but of course in Year 1 none of us could spell (or maybe that was just me, freshly arrived in a new country), so I took the book up to the front of the class to let the teacher write on it for me.

Basically, the conversation went like this:

Teacher: “Hi. What’s your name?”
Me: “Shing.”
Teacher: “What was that, darling?”
Me: “Shing.”
Teacher: “Do you mean Shane?”
Me: “Shing [turning to friend who could speak Canto, but of course he didn’t know what to do either].”
Teacher: “Aww, I think you mean Shane [pats my head].”

My parents were anxiously waiting to find out how my first day at school had gone. Had I understood the lesson? (No.) Had I made new friends? (Only the other Canto-speaking students.) And what’s this? A notebook with ‘Shane’ written on the front?

I don’t quite recall their reaction, but it’s quite funny looking back at it now. I ended up adopting an English name in Year 5, just to fit in.

Our warm and loving neighbours in Dural helped me improve my English in leaps and bounds. I used to call them Aunty and Uncle because that’s how we embraced our parents’ friends in Hong Kong, and they were too kind to correct me. Those ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ welcomed me into their homes at any time of day; one aunty even became my piano teacher. They would be my surrogate family on the weekends, as my parents worked at their fast-food store, Yummy Kitchen at Parklea Markets, to pay the rent and living expenses for three kids at some 20 percent interest back in those ‘Banana Republic’ days.

My English and my understanding of Aussie culture naturally improved and, fast-forward 11 years, I was fortunate to study a combined Commerce–Law degree at the University of Sydney, majoring in Finance and Economics, including a semester of exchange to the New York University School of Law.

I started my career with Clayton Utz, then jumped to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Bingham McCutchen (now Akin Gump), before transitioning five years ago to the investment side with Aberdeen Asset Management.

Why the Good Network?
But back to the story of the Good Network. About two years ago, I woke up one morning to the news that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. I flew home the next day. Because he didn’t have private health insurance, the next available appointment to see a specialist was in two months’ time. My family and I reached out to our closest friends to see if anyone knew of a specialist who could see Dad earlier.

Through four degrees of separation, we connected with a doctor who was willing to see him within 48 hours during his lunch break.

The early years: Stephen with his mum and elder siblings in Hong Kong, 1980sThe early years: Stephen with his mum and elder siblings in Hong Kong, 1980s

The early years: Stephen with his mum and elder siblings in Hong Kong, 1980s

Sharing our social capital

The friendships and connections we make over our lifetime are incredible. My aunties and uncles had shared with me their skills and knowledge. In this instance, it was my sister’s medical school friend who knew the specialist. My dad’s cancer scare really made me stop and think of the trust and value of our social capital.

We all have family or friends who know something or someone that we don’t have access to, and that is an incredibly valuable resource. But do you know what your best friend’s mum’s skills are? Or did you know that your dad’s colleague’s son’s best friend actually lives and works in Cuba, where you’re about to go? My best friend’s sister’s nephew connected with me, and because of the chains of trust, we had an immediate rapport. I’ve been helping him with tips on the job market in London over the course of the past 18 months (with a few pints in between).

An intrinsic network of trusted connections
That’s why I co-founded the Good Network. It’s a network of trusted connections with whom to share our skills, knowledge and connections, with the belief that all of us want to do some good in the world. Each member can only ask three of their most trusted relations – family, friends or confidants – to join the network, and in turn each of them can ask three others, and on it goes.

Integrity is introduced into our ecosystem, as every member has to vouch for their top three. Like the specialist who helped my dad, trust is intrinsic, so we wanted to capture this in chains.

An ecosystem for everyone
The Good Network works best when it works for everyone. It’s free to join, and there are no barriers to participation – we help to distribute social capital. Gone are the days when one would have to be part of an old boys’ network in order to benefit from those connections. New chains can start, and you and I may not ever be part of the same chain (we’re not all Kevin Bacons) but that is also the beauty of The Good Network. People control who, when, how and how much they share with someone else. A Good Networker might decide that anything beyond seven degrees of separation is too tenuous, and so their seventh connection’s top three will not be able to see them in the chain.

The Good Network allows users to post and respond to requests and questions, and search through the network for a particular skill or knowledge that someone else in the ecosystem might possess. Think of The Good Network as a combination of LinkedIn and Facebook, but where everyone in your chain is a trusted connection.

With technology, and the belief that all of us want to help contribute to doing some good in the world, why not make tomorrow a better place? A 2014 study found that 94 percent of millennials wanted to use their skills for good2 – and I’m hopeful that this figure is applicable to non-millennials alike. I think we can all be (and do with more) aunties and uncles in our lives.

The Good Network is currently undertaking beta testing. If you’re interested, please register online.


1. Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.html
2. Cited in Sara Horowitz, 2014, ‘94 percent of millennials want to use their skills for good’, Huffington Post, 24 July, www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-horowitz/94-ofmillennials-want-to_b_5618309.html