Joint Efforts to End Poverty by Transforming the City

Executive Director, Hong Kong Search Network for the Poor, Ms Susanna Ma

The wealth gap in Hong Kong is officially one of the widest among all developed regions, with its Gini coefficient reaching an alarming level. In this regard, all sectors in Hong Kong should not overlook the SDGs of the United Nations, especially the first SDG of “No Poverty”, but should work together to transform the community and speak up for the poor.

The poverty problems that Hong Kong is facing are unique. Examples include the persistently high Gini coefficient in tandem with rocketing property prices, a poverty rate of 19.7% , and an influx of over 50,000 new immigrants from Mainland China every year. These issues bring about severe brokenness and difficulties to the city. Unlike other cities, Hong Kong’s poor population is distributed all over the territory. The poverty rate in the “poorest” district is as high as 26%, while that in the ”wealthiest” district also reaches 13.1%, a difference not as great as that reported in the media. “Poor people are found in every district” is an appropriate description of the poverty situation in Hong Kong.

However, each district has its unique set of skills and capacities to channel for community development. Through the participation of each and every community member, poverty problem can be reduced by asset-based community development. In the course of doing so, people of a community can build up the ability to solve their own problems and take control of their lives, thereby promoting holistic development of their physical, psychological and spiritual well-being as well as improving the various aspects of their community such as health, education, work and relationship.

As such, an asset-based community transformation model should involve partners from all sectors and strata. Tung Chung district on Lantau Island is a case in point. Yat Tung Estate in Tung Chung is the largest as well as one of the poorest public housing estates in Hong Kong. Only 9% of the youths in this district have got a college degree or above, which is much lower than the average rate of the city . As a result of low enrollment rate and high cross-district employment cost, many local youths with low educational attainment can only take up low-skilled jobs in Tung Chung. This has in turn restrained their upward mobility, resulting in a vicious circle of inter-generational poverty.

To address this problem, Dr. Philemon Choi Yuen Wan, Vice-chairman of Hong Kong Church Network for the Poor (HKCNP), assisted the formation of the “Youth-Up” Program in Tung Chung, partnering with Mu Min Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Lantau Development Alliance, Vocational Training Council, and secondary schools in the district. The Program provides youths in Tung Chung with study and internship opportunities within the local community, as well as career planning support. There are mentors guiding the participating youths step by step, giving them relevant training before they enter the workplace, and helping them combat inter-generational poverty.

The Program mobilizes enterprises in the Tung Chung district to provide internship opportunities, while the mentors are also local residents. “Although I have been living in Tung Chung for seven years, I have little knowledge of the community because of my long working hours every day. This Program is really meaningful by linking residents of the same community that who are not known to each other,” said one of the mentors. This reflects the result of asset-based community transformation, where communities are no longer thought of as complex masses of needs and problems, but rather diverse and potent webs of gifts and assets. Based on the success of this district-based program, HKCNP has started the corporate-based “Youth Upward Mobility Mentorship Program” to relieve inter-generational poverty.

Every person is an asset to the community he or she lives in and is essential to its development. Dr. Philemon Choi said, “Transformation should start with ourselves; transforming a city does not merely mean serving the poor but also aims to eliminate poverty and take a bottom-up approach to start the movement.” From meeting basic needs, removing barriers, upgrading skills, promoting economic development, building community capacity, to achieving community outcomes, each aspect of the movement requires the participation and coordination of different people, who bring their assets and abilities into play to transform the Hong Kong society. To this end, more partners are needed for implementing the community transformation movement and fulfilling the mission of poverty alleviation, with HKCNP serving as a bridge between partners.

In response to the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17 each year, HKCNP has been inviting all sectors in Hong Kong to take part in the “HKCNP 10.10.10. Campaign” since 2012. By caring for the poor and turning the Campaign into a citywide transformation movement, we hope to raise the awareness of poverty problem in Hong Kong. The Campaign targets to reach the United Nations’ SDGs through activities aimed at eradicating poverty and destitution and through joint actions to ensure everyone's human rights are respected. Last year, 524 partners participated in the 5th “10.10.10. Campaign”, showing their support to this citywide movement by different actions, experiential activities and donations.

To tackle poverty and transform the community, HKCNP actively builds partnership opportunities in the city. We will continue to organize the citywide “10.10.10. Campaign” , including “Oct 17 Fast-a-Meal” which encourages participants to skip a meal and experience hunger, and “Oct 17 Arts and Photography Competition” which raises people’s awareness of poverty through arts . As Advisor to HKCNP, Dr Ricky Szeto said, “Action is much more crucial than mere compassion”. Please join us in the HKCNP anti-poverty movement and respond to the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. May our joint efforts transform the city of Hong Kong!

About the author

Ms Susanna Ma is the Executive Director of HKCNP. HKCNP is a close network that supports various sectors to work together to improve the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of poor people, with the ultimate goal of forming an inclusive and loving community and alleviating inter-generational poverty in Hong Kong. Tel: 36899810.