Billionaire Entrepreneur Adrian Cheng on the Importance of Social Innovation
When I think about what the New Asia means to me, I think about the power of creativity, culture, innovation and sustainability. Adding to this, the word ‘community’ is going to be interesting in the future, because until now, we talked about Asia as individual countries. We talked about Thailand or Singapore or Indonesia, but now we are beginning to think of Asia as one community where everyone, young innovators and the older generation alike, comes together to exchange ideas and create new initiatives together. That collective force should be a part of the New Asia, too.
Look at how we talk about sustainability. It’s a very broad concept. Some people are not facing reality, or some people, I think, just don’t understand. But the younger generation, who have been taught about climate change since elementary school, are very aware and they are much more knowledgeable. And now they need empowerment.
Building a sustainable future
When I was younger, I didn’t see bushfires like what’s happening in Australia. I didn’t see temperatures so hot in Hong Kong that they set a record high this winter. It’s just so strange to see this disparity. But they’re seeing all this when they are young, so they feel more urgency to discover why this is happening and they’re hoping to provide a solution. But there’s still some gap of understanding between generations, so first we need to create a bridge between them.
People used to talk about social responsibility as a separate thing from what was happening in the rest of a company—being responsible by giving some profits to charity—but today you need to figure out a 360-degree approach that considers how the needs of your own little ecosystems converge with the broader ones of society as a whole. You need to build businesses that are not just about innovation, but that are socially innovative, and to think about sustainability not as a PR thing, but as serving humanity for the next many, many decades.
At New World Group and K11, for example, our Sustainability Vision 2030 concept is based on a platform of shared social value. We pledge to reduce our carbon and energy intensity by 50 per cent, build sustainable buildings, adopt more renewable energy, waste less and help our tenants go green.
The younger generation have a lot of hope for the future. Our role is to empower them and make sure they’re on the right path— Adrian Cheng
Giving back to society
This year, we are implementing new policies that focus on Creating Shared Value (CSV), which shows that we have an obligation to take care of other stakeholders in our community, especially people in need, to the mutual benefit of corporations and society. Profit-making will no longer be the sole goal for which we strive. We are now striking out in a new direction by connecting business success with social progress, thus enabling us to thrive in partnership with society. And in light of recent events, we have taken the lead role in creating a HK$10 million fund to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, distributing surgical masks, hand sanitiser and wipes throughout the community. We were also the first company in Hong Kong to take proactive measures to better protect the health of our staff and their families by pausing our construction projects and offering flexible working hours. After all, our staff are the group’s most important asset.
These are the pillars of our vision to create a better society. Living well and working in a green building like K11 Atelier King’s Road, where 20 per cent of the building is dedicated to greenery and we even have a running track and herb garden on the rooftop, inspires imagination. Through Impact Kommons, a startup accelerator in Hong Kong that offers a common platform for high-impact startups to collaborate with New World Group businesses, we have also created a programme that provides business solutions that are socially innovative.
For example, there are five selected startups (ARSIR, Catalyser, Entrak, Life Wellness and Urban Spring) with whom we will be working over the next three months to address United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with technology. Each will embark on a journey of co-creating businesses that tackle real sustainability and business problems by leveraging their own technologies. We also held our first Sustainability Forum here in January that brought together key business leaders to inspire and build knowledge on sustainable living. I believe we can work together to adopt a circular economy model for more sustainable consumption and build more sustainable communities through green buildings and low-carbon projects, while also encouraging more investments focused on social impact.
At this point, I think that in Asia, we actually working much faster than the rest of the world. My personal journey started simply from recycling food waste at home, and then I started to grow my own herbs and vegetables, and that inspired me to include urban farming projects at all the K11 properties. Then I started to understand more about agriculture, water recycling and using biowaste to create fuel, but it was not until I hired a team of experts that I learned exactly what sustainability is. They looked at the entire company and realised that there are so many things we can do better, so we immediately established energy monitoring centres in all our office buildings, and then slowly we were able to create this building as a showcase to the staff of 26,000 people. If I can empower all of them, think about what that means.
A forward thinker
K11 has always been about art, people and nature, but we were so busy with other things that we hadn’t committed to creating a social mission until we realised that humanity is part of nature, too. And that’s when everything crystallised.
You can’t just wake up one day and say, I want to do sustainability. There’s no way. It’s a growth process. A great entrepreneur asks: what gap do you think society needs for you to fill? And when you answer that, the buy-in from your staff will come very quickly. Generally, the younger generation has a lot of hope for the future. Our role is to empower them and make sure they’re on the right path, whether it’s art and creativity, social innovation or sustainability.
You just need to reverse their thinking, meaning there are some codes and conduct and some ways of doing things that have never changed, like you’re entering a computer program for how to work and live. But who actually typed those codes into the computer system and why have they never been updated? Can that code be changed? And if you disrupt that code, how can you do it in a way that will be harmonious for everyone? If you take too drastic an approach, sometimes the code will fail. That’s why the mentality has to be reversed.
When I created K11, I didn’t create it as a shopping mall. I treat it as a museum, so I see things immediately from a different perspective. Even when I talk to the brands, I say I’m going to pick ones that fit this curatorial direction. K11 Musea becomes an exhibition, a place for the incubation of 100 designers, where people participate as a community, and that legacy will always be transmitted to future generations. It’s never a shopping mall.
Anyone can be part of that connectivity. First, we need to change our habits to encourage sustainable living, and then connect with people, participate and create. Create your own company! Why not? Think like an entrepreneur and break that societal code, but the key, the most fundamental thing, is to be bold enough to do it. And I don’t mean being daring, but rather being different. Just for once, be a little bit different. If you want to create your own startup, just do it. Don’t think too much. You know, it’s good for the world.