CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

CSI “Sign of Impact” of the week: Hong Kong

Posted by civilsocietyindex on September 14, 2009

Hong Kong: Increasing Engagement
through the Annual Social Forum

HKCSS logo

CIVICUS’ country partner in Hong Kong during the 2003-2007 phase was the Hong Kong Council for Social Services (HKCSS). HKCSS was originally founded in 1947 and is an umbrella organisation of 360 social welfare agencies. Its vision is “to build a welfare sector that is highly accountable, efficient, effective and responsive to social needs, upholding the long-term sustainable development of society and the well-being of our citizens,” and its mission is to promote the development of social welfare together with its member agencies, through:

  • enhancing accountability of social welfare service agencies;
  • promoting improvement of social welfare services;
  • facilitating agencies to better serve the community;
  • advocating equality, justice, social integration and a caring society;
  • and setting the local welfare sector as a model of excellence in the international community.

Currently, Christine Fang serves as the Chief Executive for HKCSS. The Chief Research Officer for Policy Research and Advocacy is Anthony Wong. HKCSS implemented the CSI in Hong Kong between 2004 and 2005.

The CSI findings for Hong Kong showed that while civil society in Hong Kong was fairly vibrant despite having a somewhat unfavorable environment, civil society was very weak in the dimension of structure. More specifically, different NGOs rarely worked together. Consequently, HKCSS wanted to “build up a platform which could allow all these NGOs to meet up regularly and network with each other and also learn from each other so then in two senses civil society could be enhanced.”

Firstly, the network between NGOs would be strengthened, and secondly, “through this network or platform, civil society organisations can learn and build their capacity more in terms of [community] organising.” This knowledge-sharing was seen as important especially because different social issues are becoming increasingly interrelated.

To accomplish this goal of networking and knowledge-sharing, in 2006 HKCSS began organising its first Social Forum, which was held in 2007. There was also a Social Forum in 2008, and in 2009 the Social Forum will be held in October. HKCSS hopes that the Social Forum will be “an annual gathering which all the NGOs in Hong Kong could look forward to.” In addition, it is a “platform for CSOs in Hong Kong to explore, publicize and advocate the issues of their concern.”

In 2008, HKCSS worked with 43 partner organisations to hold 30 programmes for the Social Forum over the course of three weeks. For each programme, HKCSS worked with at least one other NGO that had some expertise in the topic of interest. These programmes are very “activity-based” and often include outings. For example, there were trips to organic farms and visits to marginalised groups, such as people seeking asylum.

The Social Forum is an excellent opportunity for engagement. As Anthony Wong explains, “participants of the program are people from the general public, so everybody in Hong Kong is welcome to join any of these programmes.”

In 2008, there were 500 different participants, though since some people attended more than one programme, the head count was about 800. Participants were from “all walks of life” and “not just the ‘usual suspects’ from the NGOs.” There are civil servants that work for the government, secondary school students, and people from the business sector. In the words of Anthony Wong:

a lot of business people…are concerned with some current social issues, but actually, they don’t know much about the channels of participation. And this Forum actually opened up some channels for them to explore some of the issues which they had been very much concerned [about].

Thus, the Social Forum gives members of the general public the opportunity to learn firsthand about social issues in Hong Kong as well as the work of civil society organisations.

HKCSS hopes to continue the Social Forum in the future and make it even more visible through better publicity and involving more partners in the overall organising.

For more information about HKCSS and the Social Forum, please visit their website: http://www.hkcss.org.hk

 

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