A social conscience in action
Interview by Quinton Chan
The name of our organisation, the 30SGroup, may sound a bit strange to many people. Some consider us a think-tank; others wonder if we're a political party.
Actually, we're a forum - a bunch of young professionals who care about all aspects of Hong Kong. Not just democratisation or economic competitiveness, but also more ordinary things that affect us every day. We are interested in clean air, education, labour rights, local arts and culture, poverty, town planning ... and a host of other issues.
The group was born out of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic of 2003. We were all grounded at the same time, when our overseas trips were cancelled. Three of us went out to a housing estate, one day, and joined others in cleaning the flats of elderly and disabled tenants.
Afterwards, we had a lively debate. I argued that it was more important for us to understand what people really needed before delivering services. But my buddy Brian Wong, a senior manager in the tourism sector, said it was more important simply to work hard at the task at hand. Another friend, a young industrialist named Cheung Leong, did not have a strong opinion either way.
But all three of us wanted to do more, so we decided to form a group. All of us were in our early 30s, so we called ourselves the 30SGroup.
Since then we have maintained our commitment to social service. Last year, we ran a project in Mongkok, Yau Ma Tei and Tsim Sha Tsui to take underprivileged youngsters out to see other parts of town. We recently started a pilot project to provide business consulting to non-profit social enterprises. Our team boasts a senior fund manager, two marketing professionals, a human-resources manager and a former head of a non-governmental organisation.
Sars was followed by the massive public marches of July 1, 2003 and 2004. Naturally, our group was interested in public-policy issues, but we wanted to do more than voice slogans and high-sounding principles. As professionals, we like numbers and analysis.
So we tried to educate ourselves about the basic facts, and both sides, of an argument. Take the poverty issue as an example. We met government officials and social workers, then organised a series of 10 visits to meet different types of people in need. We learned there is no magic-wand policy solution for such cases. Instead of criticising each other, it is much more meaningful to deal with individual, concrete problems.
On democracy, our analysis focused on how to manage the process, not whether there should be universal suffrage.
The group celebrated its third birthday, recently. We were really amazed and moved by the number of people who have joined us along the way. We grew from three people to nearly 500 participants, from a wide spectrum of professions.
Many people consider us an incipient political party, and think we are politically ambitious. But we have no political position and are not affiliated with any other organisation. Nor do we get any financial support from other groups or outside individuals. We don't even have a membership system.
I believe many young professionals, like us, want to deepen their understanding of issues confronting our community and to contribute something back to society. Through independent, well-informed discourse, we hope to reach and voice an informed opinion on issues that are important to this city.
Laurence Li Lu-jen is a barrister and an organiser of the 30SGroup.