• Wed
  • Jul 23, 2014
  • Updated: 3:06am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Narrow minds hamper Hong Kong's search for social innovation

Ming Wong and Philo Alto say the best solutions to Hong Kong's problems can only be found with genuine collaboration across sectors

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 2:57am

Hong Kong today faces unprecedented challenges hindering its pursuit of a better and more sustainable future. Persistent environmental problems along with social issues, including our worsening wealth gap, lack of affordable housing, ageing population and growing community discontent, hold us back even as our city continues to garner top spots in many world competitiveness surveys.

One might think that the sheer diversity and number of players addressing Hong Kong's various social and sustainability issues would be sufficient to lead to new and innovative solutions. On the contrary, in many instances, efforts are duplicated, resources are wasted, results are not achieved and the impact is dissipated rather than multiplied.

While some duplication might be healthy for promoting competition and innovation, widespread siloed thinking unfortunately leads to insufficient collaboration overall.

Three major gaps need to be addressed.

Allocation of funding needs to better align with the real needs in society because most grant-makers do not really know where the critical needs are. Smaller non-profit organisations and social enterprises often struggle because funders are reluctant to provide grants to untested ideas or "risky" start-ups.

Other than complaining about the environmental issues, conversations on how to address them are also notably lacking. As one participant in our EngageHK study wryly noted, "People vote; trees don't." A bolder and more balanced approach towards shared social and environmental goals, in addition to economic ones, is definitely required for Hong Kong to prosper.

Next, despite our high standard of living, Hong Kong's civic engagement still lags behind many advanced cities. People in Hong Kong are self-starters in maximising financial gains but many tend to wait for the government to take the lead to address social and environmental inequities and will follow only when compelled. This mindset needs to change. Well-written research on these topics has been produced in the past, but few recommendations have been implemented.

Finally, as a community, we need to rethink whether the current culture of primarily having "safe" careers with established organisations is the way to foster social innovation and entrepreneurship in our city. We are not saying that there is no place for experience and tradition. But we need to be cognisant that innovations, whether in policies, technologies or services, come from mindset shifts. To do this, we need to be informed by the activities and priorities of sectors other than our own, to facilitate collaborative efforts.

Despite these gaps, we are encouraged by the increasing number of people who understand the need to approach societal challenges holistically.

But time is running out. We must now move quickly beyond discussion to action. These gaps must be bridged or Hong Kong will risk losing its competitiveness and further alienating the vulnerable and excluded.

Ming Wong and Philo Alto, co-founders of Asia Community Ventures (www.asiacommunityventures.org) recently launched their EngageHK report, an ongoing study of Hong Kong's social ecosystem

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