Young dreams deserve a boost as jobs dwindle in Hong Kong

Ken Chu welcomes the Youth Development Fund as, even if a start-up fails, it lets entrepreneurs explore their full potential and learn invaluable lessons

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 9:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 9:01am

Youth economic and social mobility is a global issue today. There are many reasons why young people have slid down the economic and social ladder over the past decade, including a lack of job opportunities – especially for low- and semi-skilled graduates and workers in a mature industrialised economy – as well as shrinking middle management and professional corporate positions. Youths in Hong Kong are treading the same path as their counterparts in Western industrialised economies some time ago.

Over the years, many advanced economies have tried to improve young people’s well-being. It is imperative for a government to create jobs for youths. But if a society cannot offer adequate opportunities, why not help them start their own business?

From Dell to Microsoft to Apple, global conglomerates often had humble beginnings

Many countries are doing just that. In the US, a programme called Student Startup Plan, through the White House-led Startup America Initiative, was launched in 2013 to relieve young graduate entrepreneurs of the burden of repaying student loans. In Europe, a programme called Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, financed partly by the European Commission, has been around for some time to help aspiring entrepreneurs acquire the ideas, knowledge and skills needed through on-the-job training in an SME or through collaboration with an experienced entrepreneur in a participating country within the EU.

From Dell to Microsoft to Apple, global conglomerates often had humble beginnings. They share a common thread: the creator’s innovative mind and vision to utilise technology and realise their dream. Today’s mobile digital technology should make it easier for our brilliant young minds to blaze a trail in the business world. More importantly, social media platforms should help them connect with consumers or users, piercing barriers created by big corporations.

Starting a new business is full of obstacles and risks. In Hong Kong, the challenges are tremendous: capital, high rents, lack of experience, a small domestic market and market dominance by entrenched corporations. So I am delighted to see the government tackle this issue head-on. The Home Affairs Bureau, together with the Youth Commission, has just launched a HK$300 million Youth Development Fund to assist young people in launching their own business or rolling out creative projects. This initiative deserves our support and praise, and our youths should take advantage of it.

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However, some people contend it is a waste of public money as the majority of new businesses fail to make it through the first year. But, to me, even if a new business collapses, the lessons learned are invaluable. Helping young people to be entrepreneurs brings many benefits to society. First and foremost, it enhances the character and mind of young aspiring entrepreneurs in driving a complex business venture and dealing with difficulties and hardships so they may one day become our community leaders and apply these personal attributes to move Hong Kong forward. Besides, if their business succeeds, it will create jobs. Even if a new business eventually goes under, we may alter the attitudes of our young people such that, to succeed, one has to dream big, take risks and be ready to rise to the challenge.

Young Hong Kong entrepreneurs want help, not just money for setting up businesses

Other benefits include maximising the full potential of young people and inspiring others with vision and creativity, to buttress a country’s economy and competitive edge in the global market. In Hong Kong, this may lead to further economic diversification.

To help our young people launch their own business, we should encourage collaboration with business and community leaders to provide mentorship and guidance. This exchange of fresh ideas and tried methods could lead to groundbreaking innovations. It will be a win-win for both parties, and definitely for Hong Kong in the long run.

However, given the size of the Hong Kong market, our young entrepreneurs should also consider the enormous opportunities on our doorstep. If Westerners are learning Putonghua to explore opportunities on the mainland, why shouldn’t our youths, who already have the advantages of language and proximity?

Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference