Support innovators to take HK into future
Last month Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor officiated at the opening of the Good Lab, the first co-working space for social entrepreneurs in Hong Kong.
Her appearance at this event was noteworthy for two reasons. First, it signals the current administration's recognition of social entrepreneurship and innovation as valid tools to solve our city's many social and environmental issues. Second, it highlights the increasing need for government, business and civil society to work closely together to address these pressing issues.
But the Good Lab is more than just a place to work; it is a hub where people with ideas can connect with people with resources. Yet such a place is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that forms the Hong Kong social sector ecosystem.
In her speech, Lam talked about the need for Hong Kong to take a "major step" in social innovation and entrepreneurship. She also made it clear that the government is open to ideas on how best to utilise the [proposed] HK$500 million social enterprise development fund announced by our chief executive recently.
The simple solution is to maintain the status quo and allow the Home Affairs Bureau to continue looking after social enterprises. But that would be a grave mistake because this bureau is ill-equipped to handle this responsibility for it has simply not demonstrated any ability to look beyond its narrow portfolio.
The logical place for it is the chief secretary's office where Lam will have the mandate and power to come up with well-co-ordinated solutions to multi-departmental issues.
Lam also mentioned in her speech that our government is willing to consider seed funding. If she follows up on this pledge, she will also need to engineer an entirely different mindset in the administration.
A seed fund might be an excellent idea on paper but for it to succeed it will also require a willingness to accept that failure is an integral part of the innovation process.
The government's rightful role is one of an enabler - to provide the seed money and a supportive environment for entrepreneurs to start hundreds of experiments.
Many will fail but the few that succeed will transform how we approach and solve our social and environmental problems.
Our early business entrepreneurs transformed a fishing village into a global financial centre. It is time to empower our social entrepreneurs to do the same.
Ming Wong, co-convenor, EngageHK