Hong Kong PolyU's 50+20 Collaboratory, Conference and Benches

August 13, 2014 | By | Add a Comment

Riding up the elevator of the brand new building of the Design Faculty at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sets the stage:

…4th floor Collaboratory

…8th floor Innovation Think Tank

I haven’t seen the use of “Collaboratory” formally used to designate an entire floor of a building! We must be in the right space! Clearly Cees de Bont from the Design Faculty and Alison Llyod from the Business School are not only an experienced but also a very creative and effective team. Everything was set for a memorable first Collaboratory event in Asia!

Cees’ design students have worked over the past weeks to create more than half a dozen of benches made out of recycled or repurposed material. Special acknowledgment goes to Claudius Bensch, Art Director of the project, for developing the original Bench Circle installation concept. As we walked into the space, our jaws dropped at the sight of these benches! True beauty and an astounding variety! Each bench was designed by a known designer and produced by design students.

Here is a short time-laps film that shows them at work:

Allison’s business students had masterfully arranged the space into the signature inner circle held by two rows of outer circle chairs. They had helped to mobilize the key stakeholders for the event and ensured that all concerned parties in Hong Kong concerned by “Green Living in Hong Kong” were not only present but had been briefed in great detail on what to expect. An energized group of approx. 50 engaged citizens, representatives of business, consulting, real estate, NGO, social entrepreneurship as well as various relevant faculty members and students was curious to see what would happen next. Everything was set for an intense 3 hours of co-creation!

The first hour served to lay out all the different perspectives on the topic of what Green Living in Hong Kong might mean, why it was possible, impossible, covering current important issues such as air pollution and the impact of the increasing inequality, the high dependency on the “Hong Kong shopping center”, the dramatically negative impact of the recent frugality strategy of the Chinese and the sky-high real estate prices that drove social entrepreneurs out of town. Yet, the fact that 40% of the land was labelled as national parks and only 30% of the surface was actually built, opened up a discussion around the potential of Hong Kong with its 70+ islands, beaches and many hills and hiking trails for every level of difficulty. We heard stories of permaculture, roof-top gardens, and the need to go beyond organic food to radically re-localize food (the footprint of organic food not being sufficient to balance population growth). A young social entrepreneur shared his initiative of in-house gardening and tourist operator a dream around eco-tourism. The elevator was introduced as a highly sustainable solution to save land (vertical city) and elegantly delegating the cost of mobility infrastructure from government to private investors (well, that’s the real-estator’s perspective). The idea that if green choices need to come more attractive (adding a price on unsustainable living), they would take off. The question of how design can help advance green living in HK. The dilemma of the importance of education and the fact that it takes too long to produce results. The businessman’s pragmatic perspective: “how much are we willing to pay to make Green Living a reality?” countered by the psychologist who believes that it is all a question of behavioral change. One sentiment expressed the rather upbeat sense of the discussion best: “If there’s anybody who can do it, it is Hong Kong!”, this despite the fact that a concerned voice reminded us that returning to a simple living also implied consuming less and that companies would need to radically reinvent themselves. A final voice made a historical comparison, reminding us that in 1972 the Hong Kong government campaigned against corruption which was considered mission impossible and today in Hong Kong corruption was largely gone. So why not campaign against unsustainable living? Well…

After a break, we shifted into the visioning phase of the process and went on a journey where we collectively dreamt up a Hong Kong that had realized Green Living. The traditional sharing round among all participants was among the richest I have experienced today: a new vision for Hong Kong came alive! A vision where Hong Kong would adopt Singapore’s positioning as an education hub to become Asia’s Sustainability or Green Living Hub. Conscious of the fact that Hong Kong in many ways plays a role model function for many cities and people of mainland China, the power of such a transformative change was palpable. Descriptions of such a future vision of Hong Kong included clean air and blue skies, a slower pace and fresh vegetables at hand anywhere to eat. Shopping as a way to secure happiness was replaced by more profound offers that would lead to a more sustainable well-being and happiness. People would come to Hong Kong to “slow up”, to recharge, re-energize and to co-create and develop great ideas.

In the final third phase of the Collaboratory, we asked the question: so what can we concretely do in the next 2-3 months to make steps towards this utopian future. To enable this, we transformed the center space into an entrepreneurial brainstorming space: at least 20 ideas were developed and any last signs of Asian shyness disappeared. The spark of a shared and embodied vision had triggered not only enthusiasm but also creativity. I was challenged to summarize and group the many ideas into 8 main prototypes of which each participant would choose one he or she wanted to spend the last hour of the Collaboratory exploring. We initially thought to vote the best 4 of these 8 ideas but there was enough energy for all of them that we split the circle into 8 sub-circles and empowered each group to self-organize and further develop their ideas. After 40 minutes each team was ready with a solid prototype idea and had identified one responsible person among them who was willing to carry-forward the project until Alison and Cees would decide on how to proceed with a next Collaboratory event to further develop if not all, at least some of them.

Here is an overview of all the ideas:

  • Introducing positive discrimination coupled with transparency to enable green organizations to perform better and attract the talent and to individuals to the incentive to change behavior. A radical shift requires radical support including the development of broader well-being measures on the macro and micro economic levels (lead: Shrikant Ramakrishnan, four members)
  • Eco-tourism: slow up in Hong Kong and relax into great ideas! Various steps needed: a) turning the city green (greening the roofs), accessible hiking trails for all levels, transforming hospital into wellness clinics, turning public spaces into oasis, taking the noise out, developing eco-tourism in the islands, etc. (lead: Stella Kwan, four members)
  • Transforming universities into practical learning centers in society, by reducing the current disconnect particularly in CSR, changing the pedagogy to include in-company learning, integrating self-realization as an integral part of learning (lead: Alison Lloyd, nine members)
  • Fostering cross-sectional stakeholder dialogue through collaboratory discussions: not a solution in itself but an enabler to contribute to a new mind frame and to rally for a common vision (lead: Philo Alto, two members)
  • Copy-cating the best green solutions and branding for massive globe scaling, by applying a rigorous process of a) what is the problem), b) who is the leader in the world to solve this, c) how can we adapt to Hong Kong, d) how can we brand to enable scaling, e) how do we commercialize globally – example: Starbucks vertical farming wall (lead: Lydia Guett, six members)
  • Developing a sharing culture towards a new governing model by bringing in relevant ideas to Hong Kong and by working with students as activists and promoting a culture of sharing, e.g. electronics (lead: Ming Ho, three members)
  • Becoming a personal role model first and then contribute to the sharing culture (see 4), supported by government actions such as theme Sundays to re-develop relationships at all levels as they used to be (lead: Match Chen, six members)
  • Developing a new mind frame: business needs new managers and leaders, current people in charge can’t lead the transformation, a higher consciousness is needed, achieving this by a significant focus on personal health for every employee at all levels (top particularly) since a better life will result in a better business as it triggers a shift in focus; also: embracing the consumer-side of the people by initiating new consumer demands which will result in new business opportunities (lead: Eric Chu, 2 members)

Cees and Alison have expressed an interest to integrate the first three into their current project development structures which are available in both Faculties. Furthermore, the PolyU business school has platforms on which other prototypes could be further developed. Both of them will communicate with everybody involved in the Collaboratory shortly to ensure that these prototype will start to be realized where possible and where the teams feel energized to further work on them.

Walking into the Silverbox Conference room at the ICON hotel in Hong Kong the next day felt VERY similar to walking into the UN RIO+20 PRME Business Education conference back in June 2012 when we launched the 50+20 agenda: 3 benches were lined up as I walked off the elevator towards the registration desk and the back of the room was displaying with 6 more benches. Awesome! It is amazing what kind of difference some real art can make. More on the conference: http://www.fb.polyu.edu.hk/50_20asiaconference/ and a short video summary shown below.

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