In today’s Moving Forward, we feature YIP YAN-YAN, chief executive officer of Civic Exchange, one of the city’s leading public policy and environmental think tanks. The organisation, co-founded in 2000 by Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai, does research on areas such as conservation, air quality and urban environment. Yip tells Ernest Kao why think tanks are important in pushing policies to make the city not only more competitive, but also sustainable, liveable and inclusive. How influential are think tanks in Hong Kong in pushing policy? Think-tank development is still very young compared to its development in Western countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. They have a long tradition of valuing the work of think tanks - people know what they are and do and somehow it is easier for think tanks to operate in these settings. It's good that a lot more people want to set up think tanks in Hong Kong. For example, Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and former Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah are in the process of establishing ones like former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. It is good if they are really serious about conducting evidence-based research and trying to identify information and policy gaps using this methodology. A think tank produces information to help inform not just policymakers but also stakeholders such as business or those being affected by policies and the public at large. It is about getting to know what exactly the situation is, why it is the way it is and what the possible solutions might be. We have recommendations but it is hard for us to force their adoption. We can only give policy recommendations that show, by the end of this process, we can achieve A, B, C, D and E and build a more sustainable Hong Kong. Think tanks, to an extent, are idea banks. They should not be used as a platform to do political campaigning or that sort of work. We are cautious about what things we do and do not do. Advocacy campaigns and petitions are for NGOs. Could more think tanks boost the city's standing as a regional or international hub for idea banks? It depends on the focus of these organisations or think tanks. Think tanks in Hong Kong assume different policy domains. At Civic Exchange, we focus a lot on the environment. Others look at political developments or study other policy areas. There's a division of labour. Post-constitutional reform, do you feel there are some social or environmental issues that Hong Kong should refocus on? Which areas are of pressing concern? What would you change? We are not like a political party, trying to look at the pressing issues of the moment, of last week, this week, or maybe next week. We tend to take a more long-term view of things. If we're going to build Hong Kong into a liveable and sustainable city, what is needed? That is the question. The obvious areas are air quality and reducing plastic, food, solid and construction waste. The list goes on. But also policies which are often overlooked, such as the small-house policy. Who is willing to open this can of worms? It depends on what your vision is for a city. It is difficult to prioritise because it is very hard to put policy domains in a single silo. Air quality for example isn't only about air - it's also about urban setting, urban planning, city design, road and transport - all of these are interrelated. But on the social side, population policy is definitely one. This is one thing I would change. This is the foundation. Without being able to project population, age and gender and where people are coming from, it's very difficult to think through a plan and the resources you need. The population pyramid back in 1991 compared to what it was when we carried out the last study in 2011 was a complete flip. In another 20 years, the shift will be even more dramatic. Are we prepared? Are we ready? If we want to plan things in a more holistic way, we need to know what Hong Kong is in terms of its composition, who the people living and working in the city are - their backgrounds and their demographics. People aged 45 to 55 - they are a wide spectrum. Many are professionals who studied overseas and came back two decades ago to build their own families here. In 10 to 15 years' time, they will be above the age of 60. But what their needs are now are different from what their needs will be when they get to 60. By the time they get to the mandatory retirement age of 60, they may not even want to retire. Another group to look after will be people from the mainland. Whether they are young professionals coming to work or coming here to study, in terms of the talent pool we need to be asking ourselves how we will keep them. Many see Hong Kong just as a springboard to go to other places. If we're really going to build our own talent pool, we need to keep them. We live in very politically charged times. Are you optimistic that youth policies will not be affected by this? It's a completely different generation and their needs and demands are different. Many have spent the larger part of their lives growing up in the era of Tung Chee-hwa or Donald Tsang, in an era where all the talk is about China being good and Hong Kong being good. But one may ask: how come these youths have such different thinking? The environment has changed. Information technology has helped quite a bit in connecting people and ideas. For people in their 20s, 30s and even 40s, technology came in their late teens. But for the millennials, many were playing with mobile phones when they were three years old. It's a completely different mode of thinking and operation and the government must figure out whether it is finding the right way to talk to them. Do they know what they are thinking about? How they are living? How they are obtaining their information? In 20 years' time, will this generation of millennials be able to run this city? What about our youth policy in Hong Kong? Are our youths equipped for the future? Keeping talent in Hong Kong is not a unique problem to Hong Kong. But the question to ask is: are we preparing our youths well enough that they are ready for the job market, which is changing very quickly? Before the IT bubble burst, a lot of students were rushing to study IT. By the time they finished, the bubble had burst. How are we going to give these people a sense of what they really need? Are we giving them the training or education to adapt to the changing environment? The government has been promoting the creative industry, for example. Sure, you have slogans and you have taglines. But you need a budget, a policy and an infrastructure to support all these things. If you want to develop culture-related industries and groom local talent in this area, you need to figure out whether you have the resources, both hardware and software. The government wants to keep and develop the talent pool here, but at the same time it encourages people to go away. The thing is, going away is fine but they only place hope in them returning with added value. Yet the government also needs to make sure this is a place that these people want to come back to. Is Hong Kong becoming less liveable? What areas are there for improvement? I wouldn't say it is becoming less liveable but there are certainly a lot of areas that we can do to improve the city's liveability and sustainability. Take air quality, for example. We acknowledge the government has spent a lot of effort and money to help improve air quality but we're not going to see blue skies tomorrow. The policies such as the old diesel vehicle replacement scheme and ocean-going-vessel fuel switch will take some time to take effect. In the meantime, what we can do is reduce exposure. To protect our health, the government needs to ensure that people are not getting too close to these polluting vehicles. This all comes down to urban planning and design. The Transport and Housing Bureau, Development Bureau and of course health officials will all have to play a part to create a more liveable city. The social divide is another thing. When we talk about liveability, we're not just talking about the environment. There's the social aspect too. Inclusivity - how inclusive do we want to be? When we talk about a liveable and sustainable Hong Kong, it also implies a sense of inclusiveness. You want to listen to different views, respect each other. Inclusiveness means equal opportunities and fairness. It relates to a lot of different policy areas. We're not just talking about women and people with disabilities, but others in the community. What about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and ethnic minority communities? How inclusive are we towards them in society? Why is inclusivity important in making Hong Kong a more liveable place? I would like to see a broader definition of inclusivity in Hong Kong. When people talk about inclusiveness, people quickly think about people in wheelchairs or elderly people. What I'm talking about is way broader than that. Not just people with special needs - but everybody. This is something I learned from a friend who has been in the inclusive design field for over 10 years. It's not about specifically singling out this community because they have special needs and doing something to include them. It's about doing something that's suitable for everybody. Regardless of your capacity or your ability, you will be able to use these facilities or services. Promoting walkability for example is for everybody. We want to make sure the walking environment in Hong Kong is suitable for all people, meaning even if I'm a tourist, I'll be able to enjoy the walking environment alongside others. This again all comes down to urban planning and design. The government can encourage people to walk but then you're walking next to busy traffic lanes. Is that enjoyable? Probably not. Things will have to come in a package. Hong Kong's little life warrior takes on all and sundry From the chambers of the old Legislative Council to being in the top job of one of the city's most influential think tanks, Yip Yan-yan is no stranger to the public policy scene. Armed with a degree in political science from Baptist University, Yip started her career as a legislative assistant to then lawmaker Christine Loh Kung-wai under the environmentally minded Citizens Party, where she helped spearhead roadshows and election campaigns. She furthered her education with a master's degree in international relations at the London School of Economics, researching wars, weapons of mass destruction and money laundering before returning to Hong Kong to join Loh's newly created think tank - Civic Exchange - as project coordinator. The think tank was a perfect fit for Yip, who had already been engaged in issues such as feminist philanthropy and charity work on children's health care issues. A cancer survivor herself, Yip was a founding member of the Little Life Warrior Society at the Prince of Wales Hospital. She became chief operating officer of Civic Exchange in 2008 and then chief executive officer in 2012, replacing Loh who left to join the government as undersecretary for the environment. Under Yip's leadership, the non-profit has delved into topics such as pedestrianisation, walkable cities, the socio-economic status of women in society, water resource management and the small-house policy. Yip, 38, says she will continue to steer the think tank's focus in the direction of the environment and well-being. This will include more research in areas such as air quality, nature conservation and urban environment, as well as increasing inclusivity for everyone.