Commission on Poverty
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Engaging Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship to Address Poverty

 

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Last October, at the time of establishing a Commission on Poverty, the Government announced the creation of a HK$500 million fund to focus on promoting social innovation and entrepreneurship. A task force, which I chair, was set up to bring community and expert input into the process of establishing this fund. Given that the money will be coming from the Lotteries Fund, which, by its legislation, requires that monies be applied to welfare purposes, you will appreciate that use of the fund will be directed towards innovation and entrepreneurship that is being applied to the problem of poverty. However, the Commission has taken a broad definition of poverty.

 

We are concerned as much with the building of ladders that help individuals and communities climb up to greater opportunity and security as with direct relief. Relief measures will be the focus of other task forces. My group is expected to direct its effort towards the building of ladders of opportunity, building the bridges across which people can connect, encourage and support each other in the task of creating sustaining cities and societies.

 

We need new approaches to address social needs in ways that energize and inspire the community. We need to create opportunities for those with ideas to interact with those with money to invest and networks to bring them together. Finding ways to encourage more experiments in social investments and establishing consistent methods to assess impacts and share information so that we can all learn from experience are, to my mind, one of the key areas for action.

 

The Task Force has had two meetings so far. We will put our ideas to the Commission on Poverty on specific objectives and methods for using the fund in the next few months. We have also been reaching out to many groups and individuals and have been greatly heartened by the liveliness of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem that has already taken root in Hong Kong. We are determined that the direction of the fund should add to that diversity, not diminish it in any way.

 

We have also been heartened that there is no preconceived view from the Government on how the fund should operate. The Government sees the fund as an enabler, testing new methods to assist social innovation and entrepreneurship to tackle the problems that poverty and exclusion cause for our community. In my view, this experimental approach, trying out new ideas and learning from them, will itself be a useful innovation in the application of public money.

 

With our diverse membership from the community, business, academia and government, I am confident that the Task Force will be able to develop a broad overview of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem. As we identify gaps in provision, or areas of complexity and frustration for prospective social entrepreneurs and impact investors, we can help craft interventions and projects that work to bridge the gaps and build better connections between government, NGO’s, private investors and individuals with the ideas and passion to bring benefit to society.

 

Hong Kong has long prided itself as a natural home for entrepreneurship. Coupling entrepreneurial skills with the ideals of young people, and of the young at heart, with the ideas and insights of minorities and disadvantaged groups can become a powerful tool for improving society. I do not think there is any shortage of people with ideas in Hong Kong. There is certainly no shortage of money. Establishing and sustaining more good soil on which the seeds of ideas and fertilizer of finance can come together and grow strongly is the simplest description I can give of my vision for the impact that the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund will have in the years to come.

 

I welcome the work of Asia Community Ventures, the new initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation and all the other ideas being pursued by other actors in this field. The diversity of activity is to be welcomed and celebrated, even as we build stronger connections and networks between ourselves.

 

The challenges of poverty that we face in Hong Kong, or in other communities, the challenges of inequity, overburdened ecosystems and other social and economic ills are not easy matters to deal with. Rising to these challenges will require all our powers of reason, our business sense, our financial skill and, above all, our passion and commitment to serve each other and sustain our communities.

 

 

(Remark: Speech by Professor Stephen Cheung at the East and South East Asia Impact Investing Forum at the University of Hong Kong 14 March 2013. He is a Dean and Professor (Chair) of Finance, School of Business, Hong Kong Baptist University; and the chairman of Commission on Poverty's Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Task Force.)

 




14 March 2013

 

 

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