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SHA's speech on "Volunteerism" (English only)

    Following is a speech delivered by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Ho, on volunteerism at the 10th International Association for Volunteer Effort Asia-Pacific Regional Volunteer Conference today (November 7):

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     I would like, first of all, to say how deeply honoured to be invited to address you here on a subject that is so dear to my heart.

     Social development, in our increasingly globalised world, can no longer be pursued on a single agenda.

     We cannot simply opt for economic growth without giving equal emphasis to factors such as social equity, cultural vibrancy, social justice and environmental responsibility.

    To promote a self-supporting, self-invigorating society, effective governance has to acknowledge changing norms and take account of multiple agendas that embrace the whole spectrum of social issues.

     In Hong Kong, for example, the norm until recently had always been that economic growth was paramount and that everything else followed in a descending scale of priorities.

     Now, from all that one reads in the press and gathers from public opinion, that pattern is neither acceptable, nor does it any longer hold true. We have learned that, if necessary, economic growth must be reined back to ride in tandem with those other prerequisites for a balanced and integrated community.

     The whole world is moving towards multiple-agenda, comprehensive development, and anyone who falls out of step with this trend risks losing both flexibility and balance.

     To my mind balance is vital for any successful society, and by this I mean also the balance between the non-profit sector and the business sector.

     How to bring the two together, to join hands in building a cohesive and harmonious civil society, has been one of the issues closest to my heart. Traditionally, the non-profit sector in Hong Kong has relied almost entirely on government funding to provide social and community services for the general public.  

     On the other hand, the private sector has been primarily concerned with making profits in the commercial world.  Allowing for the exception of a few companies which have occasionally made cash donations to charities - one suspects primarily for the tax benefits thereby derived - the private sector has had very little to do with the non-profit social services sector.  

     As Kipling expressed it, in the context of the dichotomy between East and West, "never the twain shall meet".  There has been no real contact between the two, and indeed, quite a serious gap in understanding has persisted in the intervening no-man's-land.

     Today that gap is closing. In recent years, there has been a gradual paradigm shift whereby the profit and non-profit sectors have been moving towards, rather than away from each other.  

     I am encouraged to note how far the non-profit sector has increasingly been striving to adopt a more enterprising approach to the provision of services, paying greater attention to organisational efficiency and effectiveness, as well as accountability and transparency.

     Coincidental with this trend, if not literally in parallel with it, business enterprises are becoming increasingly aware of the need to be responsible not only to their shareholders, but to the community within which they operate.

     The leaders in this field - and there are a few notable examples - have been seeking to achieve commercial success in ways that honour ethical values and respect people, communities and the natural environment.

     Whatever the cause - whether it stems from unprompted initiative or a response to public calls on the business sector for greater social awareness and responsibility - one can only welcome the outcome.

     Yet I, for one, wish for more of the same. I believe that, as two important components of our civil society, both sectors should sit down together and seek ways to further collaborate, not only for their mutual benefit and healthy development, but also for the common good of  society at large.

     Volunteering can be a key plank bridging the closing gap between the two sectors.  And we are beginning to see it in the way that certain of our larger corporations are moulding their staff attitudes and encouraging greater community participation by volunteering their time and services. They are devoting greater cash and manpower resources to achieve the charitable goal. In the meantime, the non-profit sector is deploying volunteers to provide services for fee to plow back in support of its non-profit-making projects. It also utilises volunteers from the private sector who have business know-how and experiences to organise its service provision into enterprising institutions. Indeed, the twain shall meet, through volunteerism.

     The underlying sense of care and concern for the needy in our community can serve as the spur for this volunteering movement. Through joining hands in volunteer work, the non-profit and private sectors can get to know each other better, learn from each other, and work together to make our community a better place, both now and in the future.

     Those same model corporations that have served as exemplars of this trend have also discovered that such benefaction is not entirely a one-way street.

     Those employees who have contributed their voluntary services, either in caring for the elderly, taking needy youngsters out on excursions, helping to refurbish derelict buildings or whatever other charitable acts they have elected to pursue, have invariably come back benefiting themselves from the lessons learned.

     Through volunteerism, it's time for the profit sector and the non-profit sector to join hands together, get to know one another inside out, concert forces and strengths, and synchronise intentions and tasks to achieve a more monumental impact on the community.

     Rodgers and Hammerstein put it into a song whose words I am sure all of you will remember - "Getting to know you; getting to know all about you". For all of us, it's a life-enriching experience.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Monday, November 7, 2005
Issued at HKT 11:34


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