Learning to ‘think, try and improve’ to help local communities

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The Hong Kong Council of Social Service
  • The Hong Kong Council of Social Service helps secondary students learn more about social innovation and helping communities in need
  • This year, teens heard about the difficulties faced by residents in the North District near Shenzhen and came up with ideas to help them
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The Hong Kong Council of Social Service |

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Secondary students and teachers attended Zoom training sessions that offered them opportunities to think about communities and people in different ways. Photo: Handout

As part of the third “Social Innovation Community 4.0” competition, Hong Kong secondary school students attended training sessions to learn about a local community, its residents and the organisations that support the community.

Organised by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the competition emphasises the importance of building strong communities and introduces the concept of social innovation.

Social innovation is the process of developing and implementing solutions – products, services or models – which meet social needs or enhance community connections.

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Each year, participants are tasked with learning about a community through sharing sessions and interviews with residents to hear how they live and, in particular, discuss any unmet needs. This year, students learned about the North District, where residents face a number of distinct challenges.

When participants were asked what they knew about the area before attending the training, they mentioned poor transport links, parallel imports, bordering the Mainland, and that new towns had been built in Fanling and Sheung Shui. For the most part, students didn’t know much about the area and the issues faced by residents.

“I wasn’t familiar with the area when we started training, but I have learned so much from the many NGO volunteers and residents who donated their time to speak with us,” says Sam Cheng, a Form 5 student at Bishop Hall Jubilee School. “Before taking part in the sessions, I only knew what I had heard in the news about the area – the parallel imports, poverty and its proximity to Shenzhen.”

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“I hadn’t visited the New Territories or the North District much before taking part in this competition,” says Cheung Ho-yee, a Form 4 student at St Mark’s School. “But I learned about its rich cultural heritage and the traditional wai tsuen (walled villages) there. The residents we met also mentioned a lack of nearby shops and places to dine out.”

For Mia Lim, also in Form 4 at St. Mark’s School, the training gave her insight into some of the issues youth in the area face. Being near the border, some students in the North District travel from the Mainland to Hong Kong daily to attend school. They are faced with the stress of traffic congestion as well as communication challenges in Cantonese or English every day.

Allison Chu, a Form 4 student at Bishop Hall Jubilee School, was especially keen to learn about women’s issues and the extra support needed in that area. Learning about the work being done by the likes of the Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres and the Jockey Club NOW Plus Project to offer practical advice and assistance encouraged her to learn more.

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The training sessions also introduced the concept of “design thinking”, which gave students a new way of looking at problems and enlightened them about the possibilities that could be explored.

“Dr Tim Woo, from the engineering school of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, explained the principles of design thinking and encouraged us to ‘think, try and improve’,” said Allison. “He told us the first important task was to understand the needs of residents. Then, we should take care in designing a solution before moving on to prototyping and testing – to make sure the ‘product’ works and will really help end-users.”

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At the end of the training sessions, students were able to understand that the implementation of social innovation solutions often requires active collaboration between government departments, businesses and non-profit organisations. The students were able to gather information from NGOs and residents through sharing sessions to better understand the district and its needs and abilities, and to have constructive dialogue with their target end-users.

They will submit their project proposals, and participants who enter the final round will create prototypes to further illustrate their ideas to the public.

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