Our Hong Kong Foundation

    Professor LING Kar-kan - Director, Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

    The Innostars Award 2021 winner:

    “Even a small innovation can stimulate social changes from the bottom up.”

    Professor LING Kar-kan

    Since leaving the post of Director of Planning of the HKSAR Government, Professor Ling Kar-kan has devoted himself to social innovation and led the Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. To him, this signifies a career switch to a new profession where he would meet new challenges. As he often reminds himself: “Every individual is like ‘a frog at the bottom of a well’. We have to come out of our own well in order to broaden our horizon and gain a more comprehensive view of the world.” 

    Improving Welfare for Seven Million People with “Participatory Social Innovation” 

    With decades of work experience in urban planning, Professor Ling promoted “Hong Kong 2030+”, an outline that sets out the long-term planning vision and strategies for Hong Kong. During his strategic planning research, he noticed a “double ageing trend” in both Hong Kong’s population and buildings. It is his hope that the Government and the society will wake up to this issue and address it as soon as possible. 

    Professor Ling led his team in launching the PolyU Jockey Club “Operation SoInno”. Through organising the “One from Hundred Thousand” symposium and co-creation workshops, they presented ingenious solutions targeting different social problems such as transitional housing, empathising with elderly in workplace, and building intergenerational communities. 

    “If we can gather one out of a hundred thousand Hong Kong people—around 70 citizens—to pay attention to each specific social issue, and pool together their time, knowledge, and creativity, this will definitely bring about innovative solutions,” said Professor Ling, who believes that “participatory social innovation” is the way to promote multi-faceted community participation and cross-sector collaboration.

    A Multi-generational Human-centred Perspective and Bottom-up Approach to Social Innovation 

    Professor Ling believes that the most important element for social innovation is empathy—to profoundly understand the pain and needs of those you serve. For example, there are many grassroots elderly in Hong Kong who make a living by scavenging waste. Their contribution to society may be insignificant in the eyes of ordinary people, but Professor Ling regards their work as crucial. 

    After observing in the community and communicating with the elderly, Professor Ling’s team spent eight months collaborating with the elderly to design and modify the carts they use for scavenging. The team fixed problems with steering, lifting, and holding the waste cardboard. They also installed practical add-ons such as brakes and anti-theft devices. These changes help reduce the physical strain that the carts cause on the elderly and improve safety, enabling them to work in a more dignified manner. 

    “Social innovation does not necessarily result in earth-shaking changes,” said Professor Ling, but he believes that improving the lives of the grassroots through innovative projects can influence government policy planning, raise government and public concerns on social problems, and stimulate social innovation from the bottom up.