FEATURE:Tomorrow’s leaders

HONG KONG (China Daily/ANN) -Young people trying to make a difference in the world meet at One Young World summit in Bangkok.

The summit, running from November 18 to 21, was in its sixth edition since the pilot event was held in London in 2010. More than 1,300 delegates from some 190 countries gathered in Bangkok, inspiring and cheering on one another as they tried finding solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

William Luk, 24, is upbeat about his involvement in a project in his hometown Hong Kong to help migrant groups and make their voices heard.

Luk, through weekly volunteering and previous experiences with NGOs, is no stranger to the lack of opportunities faced by migrant groups in Hong Kong.

He works at the Hong Kong regional headquarter of a multinational banking and financial services company. He is an active member of the company’s corporate social responsibility program, offering personalised job-hunting skills and conducting mock interviews with secondary school students who have little exposure and training to plan their future career development.

Voice of the marginalised

Luk said a lot of these students never imagined someone from a big company coming over to their schools to interview them on a Saturday. “That kind of personal connection is very important. It gives them hope that they are not left behind,” said Luk.

Recently, he went volunteering at a drug rehab center near Sai Kung, New Territories. He partnered with an ex-offender, and after chatting for a while, found they shared the same birthday.

Knowing that his criminal record and lack of education cannot get him a decent job, the young man told Luk that his goal was to be a sales person at a cosmetics chain store in Hong Kong.

“We are of the same age, but we are in so different places. I was humbled and felt so privileged by the experience. I could very well be in the same position if I had made wrong decisions,” he said.

Many young people of Pakistani and Indian origins whose families moved to Hong Kong seeking opportunities seem to hit a ceiling after a point, despite their being bright and even fluent in Cantonese. Luk said he would try to convince the HR department at his company to give more support to these ethnic minority students, perhaps offer them internship opportunities.

In October, Luk and his colleagues ran an interview workshop. Before taking the interviews, participants noted being a “doctor” or a “lawyer” was their ultimate ambition. But at the workshop, nobody said “interview me for the position of a doctor”. Three Nepalese students told Luk they wanted to be interviewed for the job of hotel staff or a nurse.

Luk is planning to invite a Pakistani reporter, who speaks perfect Cantonese and used to work for a local television channel in Hong Kong, over to share her experiences with young aspiring ethnic minority students.

“She is a perfect example of someone who broke the barrier,” said Luk, adding that he wants to launch mentorship workshops with students who are younger than the current batch, so that they can receive advice early on and set achievable goals leading to a productive life.

Stopping child labor

Liu Guangtong, 30, with years’ experience working as purchasing manager, said he had initiated a project to promote international production capacity cooperation, the target areas being Latin American and Africa. Liu said his company, a global conglomerate in the shipping, logistics, and oil and gas industries, will involve China and build more infrastructure in these regions. They will also hire more locals and empower them to reap more benefits from such cooperation.

Liu envisioned that the “shared value creation” process will improve the old business model. When a multinational company extends its operations to a less developed country, it tries to buy labor cheap. Liu said he had hands-on experience screening and investigating suppliers in the Chinese mainland who were suspected of employing child labor, and followed up on the suppliers’ actions.

Now based in the Netherlands, Liu said he will make a formal presentation to the management of his company in December, and is confident of having their support in implementing his action plan.

Liu also cares about the upgrading of the economic structure in China, and in particular, in his home city, Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, notorious for air pollution caused by manufacturing and heavy industries.

He sees hope emerging from the central government’s 13th Five-Year Plan, outlining the road map to address environmental deterioration and promote greener technologies. Liu notes that China is investing in many green initiatives, like electrical power, which will attract a lot of labor. And the same trend is expected go upstream in the entire supply chain, generating positive impacts, he said.

Both Liu and Luk are aware of the importance of harnessing the skills of young talents in helping realise these policy goals. Many of China’s metropolises, including Hong Kong and Shanghai — a city Liu hopes to settle down in one day — have room for improvement to hold on to the young and the bright.

In Liu’s view, Shanghai can pull up its act by creating more favorable policies and reducing unnecessary barriers for skilled young professionals, to help them build careers and settle down there.

Hong Kong has some stocktaking to do in this respect as well, if it’s serious about retaining the people who have worked here, contributed to the society, but are considering moving elsewhere because of unaffordable housing, and politicisation in the society, Luk said.

“In Hong Kong people believe those who come here want to stay,” he said, adding this may not be the case for much longer.

Learning life lessons

Angelica Cheung, 39, editor-in-chief of Vogue China, attended the One Young World summit in Bangkok last week as one of the mentors, sharing her personal journey of overcoming challenges and finding a balanced approach.

Vogue China was a success in its launch year. Cheung said then she experienced a dull period. She began asking herself if a life in the glamor world, spent hobnobbing with celebrities was what she wanted.

Her daughter was born around the same time. Cheung was thinking of a lot of ways to ensure her daughter had a good life when she grew up. It was only later she realised material wealth was not the most important gift parents could give their child. Instead, Cheung now hopes her daughter might have a positive outlook on life and could make a contribution to the world, while being aware of how to dress and be fashionable.

Cheung set a similar goal for her readers. She applies a similar set of principles while choosing photographs or an article for her magazine, going by whether she finds the piece impactful or not.

She was candid about the snobbish fashion industry she found herself in 10 years ago. In the beginning, she approached established photographers, believing everybody would want to work with her. “Nobody did,” she said.

Some photographers had reservations about whether Chinese readers understood fashion. Some of them were doubtful if Cheung and her team knew the photographer’s style, or how to communicate with them.

Cheung said she survived by not taking these negative vibes personally. She said she persuaded people by insisting she had a crack team, quick on the uptake and also solid financial support from her company.

“Asia in general needs to be more confident in who we are,” Cheung said, adding that having a balanced attitude was key. “I always tell young designers having confidence doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Asking questions when you don’t understand is not showing weakness, rather, it means you are strong.”

Be humble when needed, and be confident when it’s needed as well. The ability to learn things quick helps people navigate through uncertainty and solve tough problems, she added.

In the shadow of the gun

Even as the One Young World summit was on in Bangkok, 21 people, including Chinese nationals, were killed in the terrorist attack on a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital last week.

Delegates to the Bangkok summit joined state leaders and the international community’s condemnation of the horrifying act. Some delegates had lingering memories of being stuck in a similar situation.

Liu Guangtong from the Chinese mainland worked in Mozambique years ago. “I felt very sorry about what happened in Mali. I was also in Africa. I felt a very close tie to the locals in Africa and the Chinese based there,” said the 30-year-old.

Weapons were rife in Mozambique. Liu recalled people held guns at the local store, and he kind of got used to a certain level of insecurity. One day in 2010, someone held him at gunpoint, asking for money.

Liu, like his fellow expatriates in Africa, learned to take more precautions, avoiding going out alone. Some companies based in particularly perilous areas have hired local armed guards to escort their staff.

William Luk, 24, said he was present during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, cheering on a friend who was running. “We heard two loud bangs. We thought a truck had rolled over. Later the police told us to run,” recalled Luk.

Two months after that incident, Luk graduated from Tufts University and decided to come back to Hong Kong, saying a major motivation had to do with safety.

“At least in my experience, I did not need to worry about my safety in Hong Kong,” he said.