Social diversity can enhance Hong Kong’s innovative capability

Dr. Winnie Tang, Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Hong Kong

Acquiring innovation and technology talents from overseas has proven to be a shortcut to improve the economic development of a city and even a country. According to a study from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), immigrant inventors owned twice as many patents as that of the native Americans in the United States from 1990 to 2010. That’s the reason the Hong Kong government is rolling out a fast track immigration scheme to attract more technology professionals.

Not just tech

However, the same WIPO study also pointed out that social diversification is more conducive to social and economic development.

This is because the key to innovation and technology is novel ideas. The top U.S. universities which are famous in science and technology, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, have recently encouraged students to pursue a “joint major” in computer science and other disciplines, such as language, music, or economics. Their coursework also aims at integrating both disciplines, hoping to create a spark of creativity through  the interaction of diverse subjects.

Social diversity is also a common characteristic of the highly competitive and innovative countries. If you map the top 10 countries from the Global Innovation Index 2017 Report (“Report”) with the talent profile of LinkedIn, the professional social networking website, you can see the close relationship between diversification and innovation.

LinkedIn categorized the distribution of its numerous members by geography in nine fields of study which include:

(1) Arts and humanities,

(2) Business administration and law,

(3) Education,

(4) Engineering, manufacturing and construction,

(5) Health and welfare,

(6) Information and communication technologies,

(7) Natural science, mathematics and statistics,

(8) Services, and

(9) Social sciences, journalism and information.

According to the Report, the top 10 countries – including Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the U.S. and more- have a relatively equal distribution of members across the above nine categories. In short, these countries are more diversified in terms of talent variety.

For example, Switzerland, which ranked first in innovation, has the largest number of talent in three categories, namely (2) business administration and law, (6) information technology and well as (9) social sciences. Having said that, each of them only has less than one fifth of the whole talent population. Among the nine professional fields, five of them each only constitutes 10% to 20% of the total number of talent of the country. A similar distribution applies to The Netherlands.

Moreover, these countries have no shortage of “uncommon” talents, such as artists. In the U.S., art practitioners constitute 9% of the overall talent pool. On the contrary, in some countries, a certain category of professional is particularly plentiful. For example, Uruguay has nearly 40% adults specializing in information technology, being the highest among all countries, but its global innovation ranking is not outstanding.

Don’t forget the arts

In addition to training in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, Hong Kong education should add art into the mix to promote humanistic qualities and to cultivate a diversified intelligence, promote imagination, and inspire students to think out of the box.

In addition to the rule of law and the free market system, Hong Kong has the strength to accommodate and be open to the world, according to Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba while speaking recently at the University of Hong Kong. Education is the best way to reinforce these strengths. Ideally, Hong Kong’s government will not forget to nurture our younger generation while introducing scientific and technological professionals. This is the way to succeed in the long run.

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Winnie Tang

Dr Winnie Tang is Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong and Advisor of Our Hong Kong Foundation.