There is probably no topic more appropriate to choose for the first in a new series of cutting-edge symposia than “Innovation Everywhere”. The Harvard Inaugural Annual Conference will discuss this many-faceted subject this Saturday, October 24, at the Island Shangri-La hotel. “We wanted to pick a theme that every member of our audience can relate to,” explains Rita Pang, co-president of the Harvard Club of Hong Kong, which is hosting the event in partnership with the Harvard University Asia Center, the Harvard China Fund and Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Pang is also a co-founder of Bridgeway Prime Shop Fund Management. Like it or not, the innovation going on around us is transforming our lives. Rita Pang “Like it or not, the innovation going on around us is transforming our lives,” Pang says. “In recognition of that fact, we have convened a diverse lineup of speakers from government, private-sector industries and academia. We want to examine the potential changes – in fields such as education, environmental sustainability, digital marketing, technology and the shared economy – and look at the ways in which these can impact on each of our lives.” “Harvard’s professor Forest L. Reinhardt will kick off the conference by sharing the latest innovations at Harvard, and then the formal programme will cover global, US and China perspectives,” Pang points out. Amongst the programme highlights are Dr Victor Fung, group chairman, Fung Group, speaking on “Innovations for the Future – Global Perspective and Emerging Trends”; Nathan Blecharczyk’s case study of Airbnb, the company he co-founded, and of which he is now CTO; and “Innovation in China”, a dialogue between Julian Ma, corporate vice-president of Tencent, and Dr Edward Tse, founder and CEO of Gao Feng Advisory Company, and author of the book China Disruptors. Tse believes that for most traditional organisations, the implementation of disruptive innovations requires a fundamental change in their culture, mindset and DNA. “In order to make disruptive innovations work, a company has to allow new ideas to be bred within a new organisation that is developed alongside the ‘mother ship’ of the existing organisation, without overwhelming it,” he says. “On the other hand, the new organisation should be placed far away from the ‘mother ship’, so it doesn’t get the nurturing and attention. Creating that fine balance, and migrating the disruption forward in an appropriate fashion, is the key for companies when adopting disruptive innovations.” Ma says: “It would be impossible to predict specific technology innovation. The only thing I can say is that every five-to-seven years we may see a major innovation or disruption in social media, which is the crown jewel of internet services. Social media is by nature deeply influenced by culture, especially that of highly dynamic youngsters. Therefore, whoever best understands the generation change in mentality, social behaviour and, in particular, the definition of ‘cool’, will have a better chance of leading social media disruption.” However, the benefits and challenges of innovation stretch beyond the world of business. Kim Salkeld, who runs the Hong Kong Government’s Efficiency Unit, and is also Secretary-General of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Secretariat, will be speaking on “Community and Social Innovation in Solving Community Issues”. Salkeld groups the kind of community issues that are most in need of innovative new approaches into three categories: “Conditions where individuals are marginalised through prejudice or poverty and so do not have the opportunity to contribute to society to the full extent of their interest or ability; conditions in which the interests of different people within a community appear to be in conflict; and, conditions in which practices and institutions that have been developed to address particular community needs appear to be creating barriers to addressing new needs as they emerge.” As an example, Salkeld cites a fresh, creative approach used to good effect in South Africa soon after the ending of apartheid. “Scenario planning tools, developed for business corporations, were used to help radically different political parties develop a shared narrative about a preferred political future for the country, opening up the possibility of constructive political discourse,” he says. From Pang’s point of view, the conference fits with the wider objectives of the Harvard Club of Hong Kong, which are to help engage local alumni, create a connection between them and the university, and promote a spirit of fellowship amongst Harvard alumni in the Greater China region. Together these alumni form a sizeable and influential group. “Currently, we have 2,400-plus members in our database, consisting of graduates from Harvard College and from 13 graduate schools at Harvard,” Pang notes.