26 June 2019
Imperial College's west London campus is inspired by London's aspirations to be a 'Science City' and 'Medical City'. Photo: Imperial College London
Imperial College's west London campus is inspired by London's aspirations to be a 'Science City' and 'Medical City'. Photo: Imperial College London

What HK can learn from innovation experience overseas

In this article, I would like to continue to share with readers with what I came across at the APAC Innovation Summit in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Last week, I mentioned the innovation experience and policies Swedish and Singaporean officials shared with attendees. This time, I would like to bring up the example of Britain and then conclude how Hong Kong can benefit from the experience of foreign countries.

At the summit, Professor David Gann, pro-vice-chancellor in charge of development and innovation at Imperial College London, one of the world’s top 10 tertiary institutions, briefed attendees on the college’s new development program at Imperial West, its new campus in west London.

The concept of the 10 hectare site, which was built at a cost of £3 billion (US$4.7 billion), reflected London’s latest themes: “Science City” and “Medical City”.

The campus was built with a view to creating a culture of research and innovation, thereby giving the college a new face and revolutionizing the way science parks are run and developed.

Gann shared with us how new ideas are generated through experiments and demonstrations, and, with policy support, how they are put into practice on the campus.

London City Council announced in December last year its “Smart London Plan”, in which it outlined the seven major directions of London’s development toward a “smart city”.

The plan suggested the necessary policy actions to support the city’s growth and help its management bodies, infrastructure and services to be more responsive to Londoners’ and investors’ needs.

There is a lot about the “Smart London Plan” that Hong Kong can learn from. Examples include its proposals to promote a “smart” power line network; to improve the city’s management of the demand and supply of resources; and to use digital technology to help recycle and reuse solid waste and to build a 3D map of underground London to identify and locate underground pipelines and cables so as to avoid accidental damage caused by excavation.

Several different speakers at the conference shared the same view, that innovation is a long journey requiring long-term investments in the public interest and the boldness to topple the status quo.

It is undeniable that Hong Kong has put a lot of effort into economic restructuring over the past decade, but the fact that our economy still remains sluggish indicates that it takes not only new technologies but also a new mindset to achieve breakthroughs in social development and innovation.

In his opening keynote speech at the summit, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying spent a lot of time enumerating the impressive statistics relating to Hong Kong’s technological innovations and detailing its scientific exchange with the mainland.

However, I think he could have delivered more about his vision and the details of policies in the pipeline.

The newly created Innovation and Technology Bureau has indeed set out its vision, but when new ideas are being executed, I wonder if the bureau will still follow the existing pattern, in which government funding initiatives dictate how things are done.

Or can we instead explore a new direction?

I really hope Hong Kong can create an environment that truly welcomes new ideas. I think the key to success lies in the degree to which we are willing to give up our short-sighted culture, which puts too much emphasis on short-term return.

Success also depends on whether parents are willing to encourage their children to take risks, pursue new technologies and embrace entrepreneurship instead of climbing up the social ladder in the conventional way, just like other “good kids”.

To promote industrial innovation, resources must be allocated and applied effectively. And in the process of policy formulation, interaction among the academic sector, businesses and civil society is also crucial.

Since scientific innovation is not limited to information technologies, I suggest that the current “Digital 21 Strategy” devised by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer be upgraded to a more comprehensive “Innovation and Technology Development Strategy” so as to boost the overall innovativeness of Hong Kong.

Many countries around the world look to the long-term future when making their development plans; some even include the word “future” in the name of the relevant government body.

In Finland there is a “Committee for the Future”, which is charged with the responsibility of evaluating anything that concerns technological innovation and assessing the influence of scientific developments upon society.

Last year, in my proposal submitted to the administration about the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau, I suggested the bureau identify some of the major trends in global scientific advancement and carry out extensive studies over the influence they may have on Hong Kong.

It’s a big world, and Hong Kong, often thought of as a cosmopolitan city, should always look beyond the mainland and keep abreast of “what’s hot and what’s not” around the globe.

By spreading the seeds of innovation on Hong Kong’s soil, I hope we can eventually nurture a local environment that truly encourages innovation and new ideas.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

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A Legislative Council member from the information technology functional constituency

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