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What Leung needs to say in his 2015 policy address

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will deliver his annual policy address on Wednesday. There is speculation that he may announce new measures to help the younger generation climb up the social ladder, through initiatives such as fostering youth entrepreneurship.

In this article I would like to share some of the suggestions I had put forward to the government last month on promotion of entrepreneurship, education and the use of information technology.

Recently, new mobile phone apps for booking minivans became a sensation in the city. While some startup companies in the field attracted investors and received huge capital injection, some of them simply went out of business, which underscores the fact that it always takes more than ideas and innovation to start a new, successful and sustainable business.

There are a lot of other factors that determine whether a new company can stay on top of the game and prevail. Among them is the support of venture capital investors.

I have been urging the government to create a business friendly environment where new entrepreneurs can raise funds in a relatively easy way by promoting co-investment between local and foreign investors.

One way of doing is by setting up a new fund based on the former Applied Research Fund run by the Innovation and Technology Commission. Placed under the management of professional investment managers, the new fund can proactively seek out and invest in new business projects that demonstrate potential for international success. And by doing so, we can also attract business talent from around the globe.

Meanwhile, the government, the Monetary Authority and the Securities and Futures Commission can also study the feasibility of laying down legal framework that helps regulate new financing means such as “peer-to-peer lending” and “crowdfunding”, so that new businesses have more channels to raise money.

To foster entrepreneurship, the cultivation of talent is also crucial.

Countries like the United States are already putting a lot of resources into fostering their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) talent. In Hong Kong, however, the number of students enrolled for STEM subjects has been declining since the adoption of the new DSE syllabus in secondary schools.

The plunge is particularly noticeable in the subject of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), where the number of students has been declining for three consecutive years, and the number of female students has dropped almost 20 percent.

Successful nurturing of local talent is instrumental to develop our innovative technology industry, and therefore the government should encourage more students to take up the STEM subjects.

I also suggest that our government offer more funding for cooperation projects between local universities and their overseas counterparts, under which Hong Kong students can be sent to leading entrepreneurship hubs such as San Francisco to take up courses related to hi-tech ventures. After graduation, these students can work as interns in startup companies there to learn more about business ventures and broaden their horizons.

Apart from adjusting the education policy, the administration should also promote the use of information technology among the general public by opening up government data for public reference, streamlining the process of obtaining official information and easing the limitation of using these information, so that we can enhance innovativeness, the power of observation and the receptiveness to change among our youth.

Greater use of information technology will not only benefit our daily lives and provide momentum to our economy, it will also encourage public participation in social affairs.

In order to regain public trust, the government should also make use of information technology to make its policy-making process more transparent and democratic.

Opening up government data for public reference can provide a more decent platform for policy researchers and members of the civil society to understand and participate in public affairs.

I also suggest that the government learn from foreign experience on ways to improve administrative and service efficiency, with inputs gathered through “crowdsourcing”.

For example, the government can collect public opinion over various policy issues through its 1823 hotline, the social media and other applied apps and promote more online discussion and interaction between officials and civilians, thereby creating a social atmosphere that encourages innovation, openness and participation.

Democracy is not only realized through the ballot, but also by our leaders’ sincerity and willingness to listen to our fellow citizens. The government should spend less time on publicity stunts and more on engaging the public.

The year 2015 will definitely be challenging for Hong Kong. I hope the policy address this year will demonstrate vision on the part of the government over issues such as promotion of entrepreneurship, education and community policies.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 12.

Translation by Alan Lee

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)