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More than money: Reimagining social innovation policy in Hong Kong

Author: Marco Shek Ka-chun
Published Date: 13 November 2019
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

On 15 October 2019, the Hong Kong SAR government published the 2019/20 policy address, which is the annual address by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Under Diversified Economy - Innovation and Technology, the HKSAR government will inject another HKD$500 million into the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (‘the Fund’) to further promote social innovation, adding up to a total of HKD$1 billion in the Fund.

Without a doubt, it is good news to have more money funnelled into social innovation to promote positive social change. In the past 5 years, the Fund has acted as an enabler of social innovation for the city by engaging intermediaries - from foundations to the council of social services, to universities - in building capacities and incubating innovative projects focusing mainly on social entrepreneurship. More than 100 innovative projects have been supported over the years, which is an encouraging figure. 

As an advocate actively engaged in building the social innovation field in Hong Kong, I argue whilst the injection of more money is a good thing, it won’t realise its full potential if there is not a fundamental mindset change that goes alongside it. We need to shift the way we think about funding, ensuring we shift the culture to ensure long term impact. Below are three shifts this Fund should consider beyond funding, based on my experience and observation during my time spent in the UK/Europe:


Going beyond entrepreneurship and promoting a culture of experimentation and research

Much of Hong Kong’s narratives of social innovation focuses on the development of social enterprises and social entrepreneurship. In a talk given by Alex Nicholls (Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford), while social entrepreneurship focuses on “organisations, projects, social movements that enact social innovation”. And social innovation focuses on “ideas, models, discourses, frames, inspirations focused on structural changes”.

We have to acknowledge that entrepreneurship is only a part of the social change picture. To attain systemic social changes, we need to move away from the concept of anticipating a heroic entrepreneur to address the social issue. It should be a collective instead of individual effort. 

During the decision-making process, the Fund tends to focus heavily on the business models and potential revenue they will create. I believe the Fund should lead in creating experimental and reflective spaces that encourage new ideas to flourish -- considering the social value, not just the potential economic value created by the projects. Indeed, the Fund has started to support more experimentation and research projects, such as BRICKS - a pilot to encourage collaborative social innovation research - and Enable Foundation - a participatory design process to engage the public in the discussion of our ageing society. The Fund should create more of these experimental spaces in the future. 


Building a shared understanding among players by encouraging collaboration 

Most of the funding schemes in Hong Kong commission only one organisation. How can Hong Kong funders be more intentional in their role as fostering collaboration between different organisations? From my experience working on major social innovation projects in Europe, such as Social Innovation Community (SIC), SIKE, SCALINGS, funders such as the European Commission often build in a framework of collaboration from the start. The partners need to create a consortium across sectors and borders in order to win the bid.  

To achieve true cross-sector collaboration and grow the field of social innovation, the Fund can take the lead in enabling collaboration, and the framing of the application process can be the first step. This can help build stronger ties among players in the field and ultimately cultivate a social innovation community in Hong Kong.


Reimagining how different government departments can facilitate and support social innovation

At its core, social innovation is about creating better lives for people, and deep engagement with social innovation by the government can help them achieve this more systematically. Can the Fund and the Bureau enable change from within the system by facilitating different government departments to collaborate and experiment together with the innovators, ultimately, to bring system changes? The Fund and the Bureau can act as a door-opener for social innovators to get their ideas tested and uptaken by different departments. 

For example, Nesta’s People Powered Results team developed a methodology, The 100 Day Challenge, which enables frontline staff from across a system to collaborate and rapidly experiment with new ways of working, to achieve real results for people and communities. This breaks down silos between departments and services -- for example, between health and care services.


Social Innovation: a way out for Hong Kong?

Following all the months-long protest and unrest, social innovation is needed now more than ever in Hong Kong. A new social contract has to be re-built between our political institutions and the citizens. If the Hong Kong government is determined to promote social innovation, a value-driven decision-making process should be considered. 

To achieve this, all sectors (not just the government and the fund) and people in Hong Kong need to work together to find our own narratives in building social innovation. Hong Kong can continue to play a key role in the region and the world, and social innovation must be core to this renewed vision. 


An invitation for discussion and collaboration

Exchange sits at the heart of what SIX does. We welcome comments and different perspectives to enrich the discussion. Write to us and have a conversation!


Marco Shek

Capacity Building and Marketing Strategist

Social Innovation Exchange (SIX)