This year’s Davos has been and gone. While the headline act was president Trump’s America first speech, the meeting’s theme of “Creating a shared future in a fractured world” was designed to recapture some of the high ground lost last year. As the WEF warned in the 2018 program, “citizens yearn for responsive leadership; yet, a collective purpose remains elusive.” Not a new message but a timely reminder of the implicit social contract that exists between business and society. The importance of nurturing it has never been more pressing, as many businesses found to their cost last year.
Hong Kong’s local businesses have traditionally taken a pragmatic view on why they exist. With 98% of the economy’s 330,000 businesses in the small to medium category, many of them family owned and operated, their purpose is to provide for their family. The wider community is served by their success, enabling the continued growth of an upwardly mobile middle class.
Today, there is an opportunity for Hong Kong businesses to reflect on the values that have made them successful in the past – resilience and entrepreneurialism – and embrace a new purpose fit for new times. Business, at its entrepreneurial best, can be an avenue for self-expression and individual purpose. This is exactly what is needed to reignite the spirit of Hong Kong: A business-led renaissance that gives youth hope for the future – one they have a role in shaping.
Some businesses in Hong Kong are already doing this. Apple, for example, through deliberate programming, is creating experiences to inspire people to learn and create something new. It wants to extend people’s thinking and imagination beyond their current experiences and create forums for the exchange of ideas.
It also using its stores to provide education in creative disciplines such as photography, movie making and coding. Of course Apple’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic; these initiatives get people spending more time in stores, while deepening Apple’s relationship with a group of authentic, and therefore powerful, consumer influencers. But that’s the point. Purposeful business can be smart business. A win/win. Fulfilling both shareholder demands and a brand’s social contract.
The communications industry is well placed to help business create a shared future for Hong Kong’s youth. We can be the bridge between young people and business, helping to provide platforms for engagement and an environment conducive to creativity. Here are five ways we can harness the creative energy of Hong Kong’s youth, starting with people in our own circle of influence:
- Tell your story. Organisations such as Time Auction provide a great platform for Hong Kong’s leaders from all walks of life to tell their story to students and young people on the verge of their careers. Shared in an informal setting, the leaders’ stories offer a rich mix of inspiration and practical advice that is then packaged for social media—amplifying it for a global audience.
- Mentor a young person different from you. They can be a different gender, different socio-economic background, or different ethnicity. You will learn as much from them as they will learn from you. One of your key tasks should be to give them confidence to voice their views and perspectives as part of the creative process.
- Encourage young people to believe in their own creativity. Many young people in Hong Kong believe the stereotype that they are not creative and therefore struggle with the creative process. Free them from the burden of being creative with a capital “C” by encouraging them to think of creativity as problem solving. “Creativity” then becomes a more practical exercise and accessible to everyone.
- Provide platforms for the democratic generation of ideas. Traditional brainstorming can intimidate some young people but if you ask them to write their ideas on anonymous post-it notes you will generate free thinking and great ideas from unexpected quarters. Set them a task and tell them to break the rules when thinking of solutions. This often gets past the mental barriers that exist for them in the creative process.
- Think about what you stand for. Authentic, purposeful leadership has never been more important. Young people gravitate to people they believe in. Marketing and communications leaders should lead by example. By positioning idea generation in your organisation as a deliberate process in which everyone can participate, you enable young people to build the skills of the future and for the future. This has never been more important.
Rachel Catanach is senior partner and president, Greater China for FleishmanHillard and a board member of the Council of PR Firms of Hong Kong (CPRFHK).