Getting to know David Nesbitt
David M. Nesbitt
B.A., M.B.A., Dip. Company Direction
Founder, The Nesbitt Centre Ltd.
Place of Birth:
Year of Arrival in Hong Kong:
Year of Departure from Hong Kong:
What brought you to Hong Kong?
My employer at the time always had an executive from Canada appointed to the Company's Hong Kong office. I was Senior VP, and worked in an office of 40+ staff, including 20 brokers. I moved on to other financial service firms over the years.
Why did you leave Hong Kong in 2022?
To focus on a long-term plan for our daughter with special needs, in Canada, to ensure she has a program for life as we become older. Such a program for life, for a non-Chinese speaker, is not readily available in Asia.
Were you able to find the appropriate support for your daughter when you first moved to Hong Kong?
Moving to Hong Kong when she was six years old, the English Schools Foundation ("ESF") had streams in junior schools which included children with SEN and we had to ensure our daughter was both motivated and had a good quality of life in the ESF system. On balance, because several School Principals and staff were focused on SEN, our daughter enjoyed her time with the ESF.
Other challenges were to have her enjoy activities outside of school, and the Ladies Recreation Club plus the Hong Kong Football Club provided many such attributes/activities.
How did you get involved with the special needs community?
Our daughter spent several years at the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, managed by the ESF, for SEN individuals and persons with disabilities (“PWD”) up to the age of 18. After the age of 18, there was nowhere to go or work, as an English speaker, so a small group of parents, each with 18/19 year old SEN children, approached the Hong Kong Government - under Chris Patten at the time.
The Social Welfare Department allocated funding to a niche SEN NGO Centre which was originally called The Hong Kong Vocational Centre. When a name change with Limited Liability status was required, the Board renamed the centre The Nesbitt Centre Ltd.
How did your original goal for The Nesbitt Centre evolve over the years?
Our original goal was to provide living skills and quality of life. We have now moved forward to providing skills training, and employment opportunities for both PWD and able-bodied individuals.
Please tell us about the Nesbitt Centre.
The Nesbitt Centre empowers individuals with disabilities to live more independently, and to care and advocate for themselves with the least amount of support.
Through our Preparation for Life programme, we collaborate and partner with parents, NGOs, media, businesses, academia and government to offer work training, leisure activities, life skills and planning for the future, with the goal of helping each Learner build their confidence, self-esteem, and also social and communication skills to help them thrive in life and work.
We operate four Social Enterprises through which we employ 35 PWDs on a full and part-time basis: The Nest coffee shops at St. John's Cathedral in Central and St. Andrews Church on Nathan Road, Café 8 above the Maritime Museum at Pier 8, and The Nest Bakery in Sai Ying Pun. There are two new Social Enterprises due to open in the fall of 2023.
We provide work experience for some of our members at various clubs and businesses in Hong Kong with opportunities for community engagement through charities and our Social Enterprise coffee shops.
For Learners with medium to higher support needs, we offer a wide variety of programmes, including literacy, numeracy, well-being, yoga, dance, vocational education, and IT.
In addition to our Centre in Sai Ying Pun, we were allocated two flats in the Pamela Youde Hospital Complex by The Hong Kong Government. We currently use one as a Day Activity Centre, and the second as a residence for two of our high-functioning SEN staff. We plan to offer limited overnight stays for members with low support needs in future, to encourage their independent living skills.
Who is eligible to apply?
Any SEN individual approaching the age of 18 who speaks or understands English to a reasonable degree. Not all of our Learners are able to speak. We currently have more than 12 nationalities of Learners at the Centre.
Are you able to accommodate different types of special needs?
Yes, we have a range of severely intellectually and physically challenged Learners, and we have Learners who are independent and have received skills training for a variety of occupations.
What are some of the positive outcomes that you have noticed over the years in those who have joined The Nesbitt Centre?
The key outcome is a more positive quality of life. We have severely challenged Learners who participate in music and drumming, plus we have less challenged individuals who are now coffee baristas and accountants. The Nesbitt Centre has many positive stories of how PWDs are engaged, enriched, and empowered in Hong Kong.
What advice can you offer parents in terms of preparing their child for life after they leave school?
Depending on their home country offerings, or if they are Hong Kong-based families with SEN school leavers, parents should learn what is available for life skills and enjoyment of life. If the family has plans to move to another country, such learning may be web-based and/or social welfare-based research. If in Hong Kong, parents should meet with Nesbitt Centre staff as their children approach the age of 16 or 17, to learn what the next chapter can be, including life skills training.
What other resources outside of the Nesbitt Centre did you find useful in Hong Kong?
Church-based Sunday Schools can be supportive, and also sporting activities (soccer). Most importantly, Sailability at Hebe Haven Yacht Club provides sailing for wheelchair-bound and able-bodied PWD individuals at the weekend.
How has support for young adults with special needs evolved in the past 10 years and in what ways is it getting better?
There are now more organisations (such as retail chains and clubs) that provide employment and training opportunities. As mentioned, there are now also more organisations which provide quality of life and enjoyment via sporting activities.
What are some areas that need improvement?
Education in both the local school system and the international schools often does not include opportunities for SEN individuals: money is available, but often not allocated specifically to those with challenges. That said, The Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association and the Autism Partnership Foundation are providing support.
What are your views regarding the long-term prospects for employment and independent living of persons with disabilities in Hong Kong?
Long-term prospects depend on the actual abilities of the individual. But there are new entities that have allocated funds to assist PWD individuals, such as CareER, which assists higher-educated SEN individuals who have attained a certification or degree, to gain meaningful employment.
What advice can you offer parents who are struggling with the question of financial planning for their child's long-term future?
All parents should speak to a lawyer about guardianship and setting up a trust. It is important to have someone who will take over as your child’s guardian, if needed. Ensure that your will includes specific instructions for your assets, that may be required by your child with special needs, to be put into a trust that can be managed by someone in the family or someone trustworthy.
Where can parents find more information about The Nesbitt Centre and how to get in touch?
The Nesbitt Centre has a website: www.nesbittcentre.org.hk
Enquiries can be made by contacting the Executive Director by phone: 2813-4550