The co-founder of the Good City Foundation explains why Asian cities don’t have to be clones of Singapore or Hong Kong to be successful
Andre Kwok is fostering Southeast Asian city leadership through human-centric, technologically inclusive and sustainable solutions. In his final year of university, he founded the Good City Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental development organisation that started as a conference, Future City Summit, and has grown to five staff, plus a network of 35 city partners in Asia, representing politicians, academics and business leaders.
Here, he details his organisation’s inception, evolution and future.
People have been talking about smart cities for decades, but city-level issues aren’t taken seriously in developing Asia. We address or highlight issues, not at a national level but city level. Bangkok and Chiang Mai have very different local cultures and economic dynamics, so the way we address economic or social issues should be very different. The Foundation is a platform for smaller cities to learn from more developed ones. It might not be appropriate to copy Hong Kong or Singapore exactly, but they can learn how Hong Kong overcomes certain challenges that they may share.
We specialise in connecting leaders from well-developed cities to those from emerging cities. Future City Summit attracts young, professional leaders in Hong Kong, who see Southeast Asian cities as market opportunities, and connects them with mayors, urban planners and economic leaders from smaller cities. After our conference, we identify challenges and build development projects in particular cities based on which cities want to take a step ahead. Our work ranges from projects like helping Denpasar, Bali move towards a more climate-friendly circular economy to building climate resilience frameworks and addressing flooding in Gampaha, Sri Lanka.
While studying international relations, I travelled in Southeast Asia, which taught me a lot. I was amazed by the diversity of cultures and the beauty of historic buildings. But there was also so much construction going on, most of which was foreign investment. I thought, how can the balance be maintained? After two start-up ventures failed, I considered just getting a normal job after graduating, but chose to do something that spoke to my heart.
This year, we signed a collaboration with the World Economic Forum, and will establish a Hong Kong hub for urban transformation next year, and are designing a festival here that the world can embrace. We see ourselves as the last mile: big organisations like the World Economic Forum or the United Nations Development Programme collaborate with us, as they don’t have the capacity to reach the smallest cities, and we are good at reaching out and identifying young, emerging city leaders.
My parents taught me integrity, honesty, hard work, diligence and entrepreneurship and I want to pass on those values. Running the Good City Foundation allows me to use those traits. Seeing young leaders being empowered and receiving “thank yous” from governments is why we do this. We’re not just creating reports in meeting rooms: if I died today, my child would know that there was positive change in the world because of me.