Hong Kong trip and thoughts on social business

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Click image to view slideshow of the Hong Kong trip, May 22-23, 2009

The last time I visited Hong Kong was in 1989.

Some things have indeed changed. For one thing, it’s part of China now. Also the skyline has many new additions, including the 88-floor (415m) 2 International Finance Centre tower, which is apparently the world’s 8th tallest building and tallest in Hong Kong. This will be soon surpassed by the International Commerce Centre being constructed across on the Kowloon side which will stand at 118-floors (484m).

Hong Kong also has a shiny new Norman Foster designed airport. Clean and efficient and the landing is not as super-hairy as the old Kai Tak airport. At the old airport you passed through mountains, cleared slums and then after a steep bank landed on a strip that seemed to go out into the water. As much as this is thrilling to some, I would prefer something a lot less eventful.

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009
Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Many things haven’t changed. Hong Kong still maintains itself as one of the financial capitals, a shopping haven, one of the world’s most important shipping ports and trading gateway to China. And trams still run through its streets as do ad-covered double-decker buses.

I did the usual touristy things. I wandered through the infinitely looped and connected shopping malls and made the trip up to the Peak via the Peak Tram. Another new thing, there they built the Peak Lookout and charged HK$20 to take the escalators to the top for the view down to the skyscrapered financial district. What a rip-off! But I had to commend the thorough capitalistic mindset of extracting (extorting) money even for the view.

Even as a tourist, I was very impressed at how efficient a city Hong Kong is: The 24-minute train ride from the new airport to the center of the city. Buildings connected via covered walkways so that you don’t get wet and remain chilled. Public transport is cheap and fast. HK$5 (=US$0.65) for a 4-stop trip on the MTR from my hotel in Causeway Bay to Central. And apparently this efficiency is the reason people choose to do business here, reflected in the minimal red tape. When I asked my brother, who works for HSBC, where Hong Kong citizens’ loyalty lies, it is indeed money over state. Many Hong Kong businessmen fled to Canada, Australia, UK and other countries before the handover in 1997 only to return after they secured their citizenships.

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009
Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Hong Kong is by far one of the most cosmopolitan places I have been to. They don’t care where you come from, just as long as you have the money or you are willing to do business. Given how global Hong Kong is, it’s still amusing to see that taxi drivers and clerks at 7-Eleven don’t speak English and didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about. And Statue Square in front of HSBC which is the heart of Hong Kong still gets inundated with Filipino maids on Sundays, which is their only day off.

The weather was awful most of the two short days I was there, so I hung out a lot indoors. I ended up buying 2 books: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism” by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, father of microfinance and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 2006.

It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since I visited Hong Kong, which was half a lifetime ago. now that I have reached about the halfway mark of my life, I think it’s about time I figure out how to spend the rest of my life. I now realize the irony in my second book selection, given that I am was in one of the most capitalistic cities in the world. But it seemed appropriate that this is at the core of a decision that lately I have been thinking very hard about: whether to pursue capital gains or social gains.

According to people like Muhammad Yunus and Bill Drayton the world is changing. There is emerging a new type of business: Social business or social entrepreneurship. You know it’s gathering steam with you can see it appearing as MBA tracks in major business schools such as Oxford, Duke and Stanford just to name a few.

According to Yunus, Social Business is defined as:

Social business is a company that is cause-driven rather than profit-driven, with th potential to act as a change agent for the world.

Bill Drayton elaborates in an interview in 2007 that:

In the last two and a half decades we have seen all across the world, the structure of the social half of the world become as entrepreneurial and competitive as business.

They both forecast that we will see radical change in the way business will be conducted in the future, especially given the backlash against the greed of the past decades and the present danger to the world not being nuclear annihilation as it was in the 60’s and 70’s but the destruction of our life-giving environment and the fragile state of the world’s economy.

The current economic crisis is indeed a harsh wake-up call that there needs to be a fundamental change in attitude and values and not only in way we conduct business. If we can put our minds so singularly to solving business issues and the generation of wealth, it can also be applied to solving the crisis in environmental and social justice we are facing.

It’s strange how physical trips often lead us on thought trips.

More photos from the trip on Flickr.

Hong Kong May 22-23, 2009

Hong Kong is a harbor/port in addition to being a financial capital and shopping haven.