This year’s policy address brought welcome news for Hong Kong’s budding young entrepreneurs when the city’s leader announced a pilot scheme to subsidise local start-ups setting up shop in the “Greater Bay Area”.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the initiative was one of a string of policies to encourage young people to set their sights beyond Hong Kong.
“In collaboration with NGOs, we will roll out a pilot scheme to encourage young people to utilise entrepreneurial bases in the Greater Bay Area,” Lam said in her second policy address on Wednesday.
The bay area is a project backed by Beijing to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in neighbouring Guangdong province into a technology and innovation powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley.
Officials are pushing for greater integration in the region, and want young people to take advantage of the economic opportunities. Lam plans to set up a high-level steering committee to coordinate the city’s participation in bay area development, with herself as chairwoman.
On Wednesday Lam said the Hong Kong government would inject cash into its Youth Development Fund to subsidise work by local NGOs to provide young entrepreneurs with start-up support and incubation services north of the border.
Under the government’s existing Entrepreneurship Matching Fund, eligible businesses can already receive up to HK$3 million each and individual entrepreneurs up to HK$300,000 to help with start-up costs.
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But the chief executive did not specify how much the new scheme would offer businesses launching in the bay area.
Lam did disclose however that a series of programmes to facilitate young people’s study and career chances would receive about HK$500 million. That sum is half of the HK$1 billion earmarked for the government’s Youth Development Commission, which aims to improve communication with local youths.
The commission, a high-level advisory body set up last April and chaired by the chief secretary, the city’s No 2 official, would be invited to explore ideas for implementing the bay area pilot scheme, Lam said.
Also announced in the policy address were schemes to encourage greater political participation in Hong Kong.
One programme, titled “Be a government official for a day”, will be expanded next year to include more senior officials.
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“I will also … let students shadow the chief executive for a day,” Lam said.
Another pilot scheme for young people which allows them to become temporary policy advisers will be made a regular feature, with two rounds of recruitment every year. It will also be extended to more boards and committees.
University students passionate about volunteering or overseas experience will be able to sign up for an internship organised by the government and the United Nations Volunteers. Destinations for 2019 will include Kazakhstan, Laos, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
Naomi Ho Sze-wai, a founding member of concern group Youth Policy Advocators, said Lam’s policies were “not attractive at all”.
“Sending young people to the ‘Greater Bay Area’ is more of a political task of the Hong Kong government,” Ho said.
“Large sums of money have been allocated to accomplish this task instead of solving the most painful and pressing problems faced by young people in the city, including suicide, poverty and a lack of social mobility.”
Under existing Youth Development Fund schemes, winning participants had been handpicked by the government and were mostly pro-establishment or members of mainland-funded organisations, she said.
“This is political filtering instead of political participation, and young people are being managed instead of empowered.”