Social innovator analyzes social innovation

Imagination, innovation and creation do not come only from designers, but can also be the collaborative achievements of government, business organizations, academia and the general public in solving social problems. In this issue, Director of Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation (J.C.DISI), Mr Alvin Yip, analyzed the development of social innovation currently in Hong Kong from a design perspective.

Hongkongers are not familiar with "Social Innovation". Can you please explain this term?

"Social Innovation" is a concept with more than 100 definitions. In general, it includes three standpoints - progressive social change advancing fairness and equality, entrepreneurial change by treating community needs as a business, and activist social change by responding to contemporary issues.

J.C.DISI has been facilitating the work of designers in response to the increasingly complex social challenges. Can you introduce some meaningful projects?

After two fire incidents occurred in the outdoor hawker stall area on Fa Yuen Street, Mongkok, we pulled together a team of experts in fire-fighting, mechanical and electrical engineering, design and social work etc. to design four types of hawker stalls with enhanced safety features in fire- and water-resistance. We also re-constructed the stalls for convenient assembly. Prototypes were constructed and have passed comparative and spreading fire tests. Project details>>

Tram is an important locally-made transportation industry. We wish to retain its cultural characteristics while the general public can continue to benefit from this low-cost transportation. For this purpose, PolyU has become the strategic partner of "DETOUR Tram". Applying breakthrough designs, we transformed four trams into Music Box, Library, Black Box and Eatery Trams. With new identities, these trams provide passengers with unique cultural and communal experiences.

In addition, in view of the problem of ageing population, we have launched the "Encore Fellowship" programme for retired elderly and professionals to work closely with designers and co-create new products for the silver age market.

Although social innovation has a pivotal role in social betterment, what are the factors hindering its development?

People welcome novel medical and technological innovations; they applaud commercial and service-related innovations. However, the notion of social innovation is fairly new to the Hong Kong community.

I believe, the development of social innovation shall be built on mutual trust and a sense of responsibility. Social innovation is becoming an inclusive field that encourages the collaboration and synergy among the government, public and business sector.

In fact, social innovation portrays a positive image, new aesthetics and a sense of joyfulness. As long as we can re-shape the relationship among the government, public and business sector, we should be able to find solutions for complicated societal problems through joint consultation and decision-making models with support from the academia.

Source: excel@PolyU