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Speech by SLW at the International Conference on Social Capital and Volunteering in Ageing Societies: Intergenerational Social Inclusion (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the International Conference on Social Capital and Volunteering in Ageing Societies: Intergenerational Social Inclusion today (December 15):

Professor Ko (Ellen Ko, Vice President (Administration) of City University), Professor Ng (Ng Sik-hung, Chair Professor of Social Psychology at City University, Conference Convenor), distinguished audience, ladies and gentlemen,


     I am honoured to be invited by the conference organisers to address this prestigious audience on the topic of "Social Capital Development in Hong Kong".  This special symposium will also take a collaborative cross-sectoral approach typical of social capital development, with my colleague Dr Alice Chong of the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund Committee (CIIF Committee) explaining the strategies, and our NGO partner Ms Irene Leung sharing practical experiences.

Social capital

     Social capital fosters social harmony and creates the necessary conditions for inter-generational social inclusion.  Social capital is considered by expert economic development agencies such as the World Bank, and by sociologists such as Robert Putnam, to be the essential social glue that strengthens the resilience of a community during times of major social and economic changes.  It is regarded as the essential fourth capital, along with human, financial and infrastructural capital, to achieve enhanced social and economic outcomes.  It does so by changing mindsets, building relationships and creating new opportunities through institutional collaboration.

     I congratulate the conference organisers on their foresight in choosing this topic for this international conference at this time.  Social capital development and its strategic application are very relevant today, when innovative solutions are needed to address the downstream impact of the "financial tsunami" - perhaps more so than it was in 2001 when social capital development was first systematically introduced into Hong Kong.

     Let me provide a brief context for the introduction of this policy initiative.  At the turn of the new millennium, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, Hong Kong, like most of its neighbours, was experiencing rapid, sometimes radical and often unprecedented changes that brought about new socio-economic challenges.  The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) was committed to operating, funding and supporting what had been generally regarded as relatively comprehensive and increasingly sophisticated social welfare provisions.  The new social and economic challenges, however, would suggest that traditional social welfare services alone were no longer adequate.  There was an urgent need for different types of competence, adaptability, resilience and entrepreneurship at the individual and community levels.  Against this background, in his 2001 Policy Address, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR announced the establishment of the CIIF as a new policy initiative.

     The HK$300 million CIIF seeks to promote the development of social capital in Hong Kong.  More specifically, it provides seed funds to community projects which help build the capacity of the disadvantaged, encourage mutual support, and develop cross-strata neighbourhood networks as well as new social and economic opportunities through cross-sectoral partnerships.  

     A CIIF Committee, comprising independent members and charged with the responsibility to manage the fund and advise the Government on social capital development, was formed in 2002.  The first 12 projects they approved were launched in one of the most difficult times, on  April 1, 2003, when Hong Kong was hard hit with the SARS epidemic.  To make an impact in such circumstances is no easy task, but adopting the right strategies is already a move in the right direction.

Social capital strategies

     The majority of Hong Kong people are housed in "vertical" communities stretching over 20 or 30 storeys or even 40 storeys high.  Such vertical communities call for different neighbourhood development strategies.  I am delighted to note that indigenous models in social capital building are emerging, such as flexible neighbourhood-based, mutual-help after-school care; volunteer floor stewards and estate mentors who form the core of neighbourhood support networks, particularly in public housing estates.  Unique forms of "modern apprenticeship schemes" are made possible through tripartite partnerships; and projects such as the Elder Shop and "Community Grannies" (which Ms Irene Leung will discuss more fully in her presentation) are helping to promote inter-generational social inclusion and positive ageing.

     I am also pleased to see that social capital development strategies are raising social and economic participation, especially amongst the disadvantaged through the 3,500 full-time or part-time, paid or volunteer jobs that have been created through cross-sector partnerships.  Such participation is necessary for creating gainful employment and fostering community leadership.

     Organisational cultures are hard to change.  It is most encouraging that the culture of cross-sectoral collaboration is also gradually gaining roots.  Over 4,000 partners, including businesses, NGOs, schools, professional groups, residents' associations, hospitals, district councils and government departments, are jointly implementing projects funded by the CIIF.


     More than five years have passed since the CIIF was first established, and the expected policy impact of the CIIF is clearly emerging.  By now, we have accumulated a critical mass of social capital development initiatives, totalling nearly 190 projects that reach out to all the 18 districts in Hong Kong.  Some 300,000 people from different age groups, social strata and cultural or ethnic backgrounds are participating in these capacity-building, networks- and community-building initiatives.  These amount to about 4% of the population.  They involve communities at different stages of development, including new towns, older and redeveloped communities, where social and neighbourhood networks have to be built or rebuilt.  That the CIIF projects are able to mobilise the community in support of families is evident in Tin Shui Wai, a fast growing new town in the remote northern part of Hong Kong.  As a result of concerted efforts, the CIIF is now supporting over 20 projects, involving over 100 collaborators and effectively covering over 80% of the public housing estates there.


     The above may give you a rough idea of what the CIIF has achieved, but actually we attach great importance to the scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of the CIIF's operation and the social capital development strategies that it seeks to promote.  In 2004, we commissioned a consortium of seven research teams from five universities to undertake an independent evaluation of the overall effectiveness of the 56 projects supported by the CIIF at the time.  These independent evaluation studies were completed in March 2006.  Their findings were reported to, and generally acknowledged by, the Legislative Council.  They are also publicly available at the CIIF website.

     Overall, both the academic evaluation and participants' reports have affirmed the effectiveness of the social capital building strategies promoted by the CIIF in: undoing negative labelling effects, transforming social roles, building the capacity of disadvantaged groups and empowering them to become self-reliant.  Over 20,000 participants who may otherwise remain as passive recipients of welfare services and financial assistance have been transformed into volunteers and project organisers, serving others in need, contributing actively to the development of their respective communities and increasing their own employability.
     Thanks to the hard work of the project teams and their supporters, neighourbhood relationships have become closer and stronger.  Over 340 mutual help networks have been established, connecting people from different ages, social backgrounds, and ethnicities in support of some 20,000 families.  Over 1,000 volunteer mentors from a variety of occupational backgrounds and corporate volunteers have become "life navigators" for families in need and re-connected over 3,000 marginalised youth to mainstream society, reducing the risks of inter-generational poverty.  Such cross-strata networks serve to broaden peoples' perspectives and motivate them to change.  The us-versus-them way of thinking is set to change.  Dr Alice Chong in her presentation will speak more about the rationale for the CIIF emphasis on promoting bridging and linking social capital across organisations and strata rather than on bonding social capital within homogenous groups.

     The CIIF also encourages a different perspective on achieving sustainability.  It is observed that initiatives such as mentoring which build in-depth relationships are more instrumental than one-off programmes in fostering trust and reciprocity at times of need.  The CIIF generally supports projects with funding for up to three years.  Project teams are required to plan for sustainability from the start to ensure that social capital outcomes such as positive changes to participants' attitudes, mutual help networks, shared ownership by collaborators and work opportunities, etc, will become sustainable after the expiry of project funding.  A number of successful projects do not require continued funding from the Government because of the support networks established, partnerships formed and changes entrenched.  The Lok Kwan Home Repair Co-operative project, which aimed at changing the mindset of a group of middle-aged and older unemployed tradesmen and home decorators and re-engaging them with the community, is such an example.  CIIF funding for this project expired in 2006, but the co-operative, having earned over $10 million in business turnover to date, now has over 250 members, and is self-managed and self-sustained.  Also sustained are the many social outcomes achieved, including community partnerships, improved family relationships as well as the participants' commitment to serving others as volunteer mentors.

Looking ahead

     These are just initial successes, encouraging but in need of continual and vigilant enhancement.  To this end, we are extending the CIIF's influence through a variety of strategies, including the recent launch of the Social Capital ĄD Net (SC ĄD Net).  The SC ĄD Net is a network of people who support the CIIF and are willing to help promote the concept of social capital to enable more people to benefit.  Apart from consolidating successful experiences, this platform will also serve to proactively engage new partners with strong community networks and private companies.  We will encourage the development of flagship projects to serve as models that inspire others.  

     We will continue to host a unique type of CIIF learning platform that brings together project participants, business collaborators and policy makers to reflect on progress, achieve policy integration and envision new initiatives and practice.  Road shows and media engagement are in place for knowledge transfer to the general public, and generation of data and publications of relevance to university students and professors in support of social capital research and courses both locally and abroad.   

     We are also planning for a second evaluation study to review the outcome indicators, assess the impact of the projects on the community and identify critical success factors in ensuring the sustainability of social capital outcomes.  This will enable an evidence-based approach to facilitate the application of social capital concepts to regular welfare services or other policies where appropriate.

     We are grateful to the many local and international academics for their continuing interest in, and support for, the development of social capital in Hong Kong, not least the organisers of this conference who have initiated such a timely and important intellectual exchange on the subject.  We certainly appreciate opportunities such as this to interact with you all, and I wish this conference every success.  Thank you.

Ends/Monday, December 15, 2008
Issued at HKT 11:15


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