2018-05-08

Making innovation serve humanity

Yang Han

Panelists consider challenges that must be overcome to ensure tech-driven disruptive change is used for the good of society

Innovation is a word used frequently in this era of disruption. But aside from the excitement of all the technological advancement, of equal importance is how to harness it to promote humanity, harmony and stability.

Nicholas Ho, deputy managing director of Hong Kong-based hpa (previously known as Ho & Partners Architects Engineers & Development Consultants) sees the conflicts in innovation as coming from trade and society. His company undertakes projects across Southeast Asia, the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

“The vision (of innovation) has to be set right,” said Ho, speaking in Singapore on April 28 at a panel session during the 15th ASEAN Leadership Forum. The session was themed Innovation That Matters: How Innovation Can Transform Societies, Business and Social Enterprises.

Ho took one of hpa’s projects, the New Manila Bay-City of Pearl, as an example. Though the government will play a vital role in it, the 407-hectare reclamation project in the Philippines gives half of its land to participants from the private sector and actively engages in public consultation.

Innovative programs have also been formed under the public-private partnership framework to encourage technology companies to set up training programs with local universities as a way to improve education, according to Ho.

As one of the key China-Philippine projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, the New Manila Bay-City of Pearl aims to be a high-tech commercial and tourism center.

“Government has a very visible hand in trying to support the society’s vision and the people’s vision, especially in cities that see constant changes,” said Ho.

Laurence Lien, cofounder and CEO of the Singapore-based Asia Philanthropy Circle and chairman of the Lien Foundation, said instead of figuring out what innovation is, the bigger issue is to work on the culture, the mind-set, the fears and anxieties that prevent people from changing. “What is more important is to create an ecosystem that will make the innovation sustainable,” he said.

“The impact that you can address in the social enterprise can be at the micro or SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) level,” said Aman Neil Dokania, managing director and head of Accenture Cloud for Asia Pacific. He said there is huge potential for tremendous business outcomes.

Meanwhile, Dokania said that NGOs need to reflect back on their business models to be more relevant, and they should leverage disruptive change for themselves. One possible way is to look for collaborations with the private sector and governments for broader impact.

“Governments really need to think carefully about having their resources, their money, their people work harder on this matter,” said Kate Duff, Australia’s deputy high commissioner to Singapore. “We have to be clear about the fact that social and economic productivity, harmony and stability are pins on a more inclusive approach.”

For countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it is crucial to think about how to make use of the region’s talent pools, whether as consumers or inventors that bring about new innovations, said Jose Luis Yulo, Jr, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands and former secretary-general of the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Established in 1967, ASEAN grew to embrace today’s 10 member states — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Brunei and Cambodia.

“Today, innovation serves as the driving force for economic growth. It is the internal impetus for companies to sustain and develop,” said Xu Ningning, executive president of the China-ASEAN Business Council.

Noting that 2018 is China-ASEAN Innovation Year, Xu said he expects deeper cooperation in innovation, between China and ASEAN as well as other countries, to promote regional economic growth, a more harmonious society, closer relationships between neighboring countries and, most importantly, to build a community with a shared future for mankind.

“Innovation that matters is at the heart of everything we do,” said Penny Low, president and founder of Singapore’s Social Innovation Park.

“At the end of the day, it is about promoting humanity. It is not just about something functional, machines or factories, but it gets into the ecosystem as well as our daily lives.”

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