Hong Kong is falling behind the innovation curve

Paul Yip says a look at cities like Shanghai makes clear the need for passion and new skills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 10:03pm

Asian cities are developing to create a better quality of life, and those that go through technological and industrial innovation create new growth opportunities.

This was one theme of discussion at the recent Shanghai Forum, where I was among the 500 people gathered to discuss strategic issues for Asia's progress.

Rapid urbanisation has led to increasingly complex problems. For cities to remain sustainable and competitive, they need to innovate. And for innovation to happen, we need governments to build the right infrastructure, and individuals who strive to improve themselves and their environment.

If we look at how Hong Kong and Shanghai are progressing, it doesn't take long to realise that we are falling behind. Right now, Hong Kong is tied up in endless debates with no consensus emerging. From landfill expansion to the location of public housing, we can't seem to agree on anything. We need a workable solution for democracy. But where are the useful discussions in the legislature or the community as a whole?

Important issues such as education and housing have been neglected, while filibustering tactics have failed to achieve their intent - which is to create space for discussion and negotiation.

Our society is not innovating. Service sectors are failing to transform and move towards automation, partly because of a reluctance to invest for longer-term gains. Just take one example: while we focus on trying to catch visitors who cheat taxi drivers, Shanghai is developing an app to call for a cab. And while we diligently make preparations for demonstrations, the Shanghai government is fostering innovative industries to harness the creativity of young people.

Our government needs strategies for a proper retirement plan, while training our young, attracting foreign talent and encouraging people to have children so our population can develop in a sustainable manner. We also need to realise it's not all about qualifications; success is about having skills and passion.

We had that in abundance in the 1970s and 1980s, in our manufacturing industries. But, since then, people have become more focused on the stock and property markets, creating bubbles and a false hope of prosperity with little or no innovation to drive real progress.

Hong Kong needs to develop both its "software" and "hardware". We must of course uphold our core values; these are the areas that will differentiate us from any mainland city. But we must do more. The development of Asia and the rest of the world is increasingly driven by innovation. If we do not get on board quickly, we will simply be left behind.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong