Businesses in Hong Kong can help break stalemate by promoting change

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 10:09pm

Hong Kong is facing unprecedented political gridlock. Yet, amid all the economic, social and environmental challenges, the city can ill afford to stand still. It is high time businesses, philanthropists and foundations provided the impetus needed for change.

The economic and social well-being of a community is closely intertwined with business performance and profitability. More and more businesses now understand that corporate social responsibility as a marketing concept is no longer adequate. To attain sustainable growth, a business has to first and foremost address the needs of a society and give due regard to the interests of multiple stakeholders. “Doing good” is not a responsibility and an afterthought, but a prerequisite to “doing well”. More business leaders have adopted this view and are taking a more proactive role in addressing economic and social challenges.

Unilever and GE are clear examples of how firms can turn social and environmental problems into new business opportunities through innovative offerings and practices.

The Itasca Project in America’s Minneapolis-Saint Paul region demonstrates how businesses can work together for the collective good. Established in 2003, it is an employer-led alliance seeking to revive the economic competitiveness and the community well-being of the region. Working closely with the government, educators and NGOs, business leaders lead task forces on key strategic issues such as generating quality job growth and forging stronger collaboration between firms and universities. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg led a new approach to philanthropy with a limited liability company for for-profit investing in new technologies and public policy advocacy to solve the world’s biggest challenges.

Traditional philanthropists and foundations can also become drivers of change by investing in start-ups that can make a difference. Earlier this year, the Rockefeller Foundation and Unreasonable Institute in the US launched the “Future Cities Accelerator” to encourage revolutionary solutions to complex urban problems.

Hong Kong has a vibrant business community and a strong freewheeling tradition. The current political stalemate is no excuse for doing nothing. The above international best practices show that businesses can take the leadership role in driving economic and social prosperity. The dividing lines between for-profit businesses and NGOs (or social enterprises) are blurring.

These best practices have also shown that philanthropists and foundations should innovate their charity-giving approach by supporting for-profit start-ups and creating innovative and sustainable social change. More funding also needs to go into public policy research.

Rachel Chan, Causeway Bay