By Richard Welford, Chairman, CSR Asia
To reach our goal of creating a better Hong Kong, we need more businesses on board.
Hong Kong faces a growing list of pressing social and environmental issues, from life-affecting pollution and unaffordable housing to a lack of skilled labour and an aging work force. These problems are so taxing that they can’t simply be left to the government: instead we need an innovation revolution where businesses recognise that tackling problems can be lucrative in more ways than one.
Raising awareness of the concept of shared value (SV) – that companies can enjoy a competitive advantage by creating social value – took a giant step forward with last year’s Shared Value Forum. Held in collaboration with the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund), this was the second forum held in Hong Kong after the inaugural event in 2015. Attendance was high with more than 150 people from Hong Kong corporates, government and civil society groups there to learn more.
While the previous forum was more about the broad strokes of SV, the second forum was more interactive and focused on the innovation required for companies to create successful SV initiatives. Isabella Lau, Chief Customer Officer at Manulife Hong Kong, talked about how as a leading insurer the company is in a unique position to tackle health issues in Hong Kong such as rising obesity and stress levels. All of these issues can be mitigated through leading an active life and this, combined with the rise of wearable technology led to the creation of their ManulifeMOVE program. The proposition is a textbook example of SV: active customers get discounts on their premiums, while Manulife pay out fewer claims because customers are active which means healthier customers.
Following the main event, we also ran a series of seven immersion visits which saw people from the private sector engage with some of Hong
Kong’s major challenges, from supporting Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, engaging at-risk youth, tackling food waste and unlocking the potential of people with disabilities.
During these half day sessions we prompted participants to think about what kind of opportunities there might be. At the plastic waste session it was clear just how rudimentary the recycling process is in Hong Kong – at the Kowloon Bay Plastic Sorting Centre there were five people putting a massive number of plastic bottles from a single Hong Kong hotel into a compressor. What came out was bailed into large pallets and sent it to China. Now China isn’t taking the world’s waste anymore it’s unclear what will happen to the ‘recycling’ from Hong Kong. There is very clearly an opportunity here for business to help provide solutions that also bring profit.
We hope these sessions spark a flame, encouraging businesses to recognise the significance of SV. It’s clear however that awareness of the concept is still low compared with other countries: in Australia, for example, the idea is very advanced with SV put into practice by many major companies including banks like National Australia Bank (NAB) and insurance giants like AIA Australia.
Hong Kong is playing catch up. Plenty of Hong Kong companies are generous in terms of handing out money but that’s easy – creating SV requires more thought because it’s about innovation and changing the way we do business. However once you start talking with senior management here they get enthusiastic. There is an energy around SV – it appeals to business people or anyone with a strategic mind.
We know that change takes time, and we’re certain that SV represents a catalyst for change and innovation. Neither government nor companies acting alone can solve the issue which is why we need to bring together actors from across all sectors to work together, to help find a solution to Hong Kong’s challenges.
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