Founded on international trade, having grown with trade, and now the 8th trading wonders of the world -- Hong Kong can begin another new chapter in 2017. But can we?
Should we? Can Hong Kong rise to the next level of transformation? What is indeed Hong Kong Vision 2.0? What are we talking about?
Hong Kong 2.0. Can this be a new vision for Hong Kong? Sadly, not everyone shares this vision or the possibilities in this reality because not much is known. This new vision can only be seen through new lens, new thinking, and mindful of our current challenges we are facing in Hong Kong. Today, we are trading more on information and know-how. And as we exit the information era and enter into the digital era, we should not forget who we are and the current opportunities that only Hong Kong in a position to claim. The Belt and Road Initiative is here, like it or not.
This time and oddly similar to 1967 when China closed its borders, Hong Kong stands at the tipping point for change. When China closed its borders, trade went through principally Hong Kong and this gave Hong Kong unprecedented stimulus for growth and increasing sophistication. Now that China is opening up to their West through the Belt and Road Strategy, Hong Kong stands to leverage as well, but this is only possible, if we can see the new landscape and dare to take on a new role for ourselves.
Vision and change requires leadership. If our leadership can prepare our economy, and persuade our youths and our population to this next level of prosperity, I believe we can. In fact, we should aspire to have a new Chief Executive (CE) for the HKSAR who can show us the way, inspire us, and who can let loose other leaders to change the game.
The secret to Hong Kong 2.0, and some of us at Invotech believe this, lies in identifying and persuading pioneers among us -- particularly those in good health, adventurous, and young – to step up and lead this charge to China’ West.
Oddly enough, it is not about China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This is just an opportunity, albeit a huge opportunity that looks to an average US$ 800 billion per year just for infrastructure building, according to the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. For us, it is really about Hong Kong setting up a clear vision and preparing our young leaders for this adventure now that this opportunity is in front of us. The Belt and Road Initiative is now our Yellow Brick Road, an opportunity to be taken … or not.
For this new vision to have any chance, my personal belief is that we need to consider 7 pillars that would be needed to frame this vision…along with the next CE who can articulate this vision.
7 Key Elements for Exploration?
Let loose our SMEs: Currently, over 100,000 SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in HK are involved in trading and most have less than 10 employees. Hong Kong must invest in our SMEs so they may become our ambassadors to over 60 countries under the Belt and Road Strategy. Let’s help them help themselves. Government can set up a new SME Advisory Services with a Secretary, similar to the level and funding of the Small Business Administration in the United States; and staff them with Silver Angels (experienced business persons over 65).
Encourage Innovation and Digitalization: Promote digitalization to these SMEs, while recognizing the disintermediation of trade, and mindful of trade practices that have remained true since the days of Marco Polo. Next, invest in our young entrepreneurs and those of our counterparties in identifying these next markets. Surely, we can train and place a thousand young entrepreneurs abroad and open our doors to the same number from our partners.
Professionalize and Brand our Trade Expertise: Educate, promote, and professionalize international trade and best practices. Hong Kong can and should codifying Hong Kong’s integrity, can-do pragmatism, and trade experience in dealing with China, US, Europe, and others. Teach our counterparts how to trade with the Chinese and Americans through certified programs for example. Give the training tools and competency sets to our youth so they can share with their friends abroad.
Promote cultural inclusiveness and understanding: Trading and understanding of new ideas, new information, and new practices is beneficial for all sides. We really don’t understand our counterparts like we should, and an investment in education in this space is important. “Comparative History” and not just “Chinese History” should be a main staple for our youth. Guiding principle should be “seeking first to understand before one is understood.” It cannot be about just Hong Kong or China. Let’s open our borders to these visitors and invite more tourists, student exchanges, and joint development studies in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Let’s help them connect with one another: Hong Kong can help these 65 countries connect better with one another. Perhaps we can set up a new Hong Kong Academy of Modern Trade Practices to house and educate trade representatives of 65 countries and link the Academy to all our universities. By placing them in the same building, we can begin to connect them so they can co-create. Proximity brings new connections. Perhaps the Hong Kong Jockey Club can be convinced to sponsor such hardware.
Ride on Hong Kong’s Financial Platform: Trade is not only about the movement of goods and services, but how to pay, receive, and reconcile disputes among parties. Hong Kong can extend, connect, and even create new payment platforms and practices with oversea buyers and sellers. We have the know-hows, the RMBs, the Fintechs, and the mechanisms for trade.
Engage our Elderly as Mentors and Connectors. Although disintermediation is coming, for many of these countries whose citizens still want the assurance of a handshake and reliant more on trust built on years of relationship, a friendly face is key. A few of the mentors have already gone to these places, started a business, and have established meaningful contacts, as early as 1967. The government can simply task an NGO to set up a program to match mentors with young pioneers. Let’s imagine a Hong Kong that allows its young people to take this lead, to be pioneers in connecting dots, and enabling our silver haired seniors to mentor the ways. Perhaps the government can honored such citizens with a “Silver Angel” honorary badge? We live in a city that is heavily aging and many need to be cognitively aging involved as well. Let’s celebrate “Smart Aging.”
We often forget that Hong Kong has been built on trade and that a huge proportion of employees are in this broad industry. The successes of trading have made some of us manufacturers of components and even exporters. Our banks became more sophisticated, building on letter of credits to now funding new property developments because at the end of the day, many of us still prefer to live in Hong Kong, even if we have to work in China. We used to move so many things that our ports and logistic centers have become some of the best in the world.
Building on this backdrop is this new opportunity now for Hong Kong. We need to solidify this vision by working on these seven pillars at the very least, and certainly by defining that vision through engagement with countries outside Hong Kong. In fact, our new mission should not only to help define the role of Hong Kong and China in the international area, but through defining we would help to create and carve a role for Hong Kong in the international space vis-à-vis China. We may even become an international advocacy by setting this pace for change.
Given the chance, can our young people be tested with an opportunity as trade ambassadors to China’s West, becoming the modern day Marco Polo for Hong Kong as we take our role on this Road and Belt Initiative?
For some of us at Invotech, the simple answer is yes.
But first, we need to find a new Chief Executive who can argue cogently for this new vision, gather us together, and marshal the resources and commitment needed from within and outside the government, so our young pioneers can set foot onto this new Yellow Brick Road.