Gary Wong says the response to government initiatives to enhance youth engagement in policymaking shows they are willing to invest their time in public service, and calls for the systematic building of a young talent pool to benefit society
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has taken concrete action to recruit young people under 35 to public service. The government also pledged to set up a Youth Development Commission in the coming year. The objective is to adopt a broader mindset and higher-level thinking for more “down-to-earth” youth policies.
The recently concluded “Pilot Member Self-recommendation Scheme for Youth”, to recruit 11 members aged below 35 for five committees, attracted over 1,000 applicants. This shows a significant number of youths are willing to invest their time in public service.
There are about 470 advisory and statutory bodies in Hong Kong, with some 4,000 community members appointed to them. According to the government’s reply to questions raised by lawmakers in early 2010, only 25 committees had members who were under 30, and the average age of unofficial members in various advisory bodies was 47. Hence, suitable young candidates must be recruited in the next five years.
Apart from consultation work, the government may also collaborate with more young people at the district level.
District officers may consider recruiting qualified youths as “social designers”, to benefit from their innovative thinking, encourage their community feelings and use their talents to build stronger connections with social enterprises and community organisations, to design better and more attractive community programmes.
This idea stems from the experience of Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, who founded the “Youth Hub” to encourage young people to join the forces of social innovation, and to increase civic participation in solving social problems. I would encourage the Hong Kong government to take the lead in promoting the concept of “community policy labs”, starting with pilot districts and collaborating with the West Kowloon Cultural District or the Kai Tak development area, for instance, to find more creative ideas. The upcoming Policy Innovation and Coordination Office may also help coordinate innovative district projects.
Hong Kong does not lack young talent. If we look at the around 100 recipients each year of the Hong Kong Scholarship for Excellence Scheme, launched in 2014, it is evident that they are all versatile and promising individuals. If we also consider the young elites studying at local universities, there is clearly no shortage of political talent in this city.
The question is, has the government been actively and strategically developing a talent pool? For example, if the government aims to promote a diversified economy in the next 10 years – focusing on sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biomedicine, smart city, and financial technology – should it be designing specific scholarships that nurture young talent in science, technology and computer science?
How then can they be invited to join relevant government committees in the future?
Hong Kong needs to build a young talent pool in a systematic way, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders to run the administration. I believe that once the government finds the right solution and dares to innovate and make a breakthrough, young people with political ability and integrity will come forward to contribute to society, and rebuild the long-lost sense of youth engagement in Hong Kong.
Gary Wong Chi-him is co-convenor of Path of Democracy think tank