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Hong Kong is diverse, but far from inclusive; here’s how we can change that

[Sponsored] Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice; these two words are often used in unison, but they have distinctions. While diversity simply comes down the to mix of differences that exist among people in society, social inclusion is about deliberate efforts to welcome and integrate those differences to make the mix work for the betterment of that society.

As a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant and unique history of immigration, Hong Kong is one of the most multicultural cities in East Asia. For example, ethnic diversity is only increasing, as the non-ethnic Chinese annual population growth rate is at 5.8% as compared to 0.5% for the general population according to a new report issued this month. So, diversity really is a fact in Asia’s World City.

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Photo: Resolve.

But with one of the highest inequality rates of any city in the world, coupled with four piecemeal discrimination laws and weak social protections, we may be enabling an environment of exclusion and marginalization of whole segments of society. That same study found that the poverty rate among non-ethnic Chinese has been steadily increasing, even if employed and after welfare interventions.

As a city, are we realizing the full potential that diversity has to offer? At Resolve Foundation, we believe that conversations about diversity and inclusion are not to be relegated only to workplace discussions; they need to also be had at community, government and societal levels.

That is why our mission is to empower future community leaders through a fellowship programme. Resolve stands for Rights, Equality, Solidarity, Organization, Leadership, Voice and Empowerment. Our vision is for an inclusive Hong Kong, where every voice has a say in its future.

So what is social inclusion and why does it matter?

Poverty and social exclusion: again, what’s the difference? Many countries define the latter as occurring when people cannot fully participate, realize their potential or contribute to society because of denials of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Poverty is therefore only one manifestation of social exclusion which includes not just symptoms of material deprivation but also of marginalization, discrimination or a lack of agency and voice in society.

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Photo: Resolve.

The United Nations defines social inclusion as “a process of improving the terms of participation in society, particularly for people who are disadvantaged, through enhancing opportunities, access to resources and respect for rights.” Inclusive societies embrace equality, dignity and tolerance. These are places where everyone understands their rights and is empowered to claim them and participate in decisions that affect their lives, with equal representation.

The concept emerged in the 1990s and gained traction in the discussions around the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global blueprint that all UN member states signed up to for saving people and the planet through 17 Goals to meet by 2030. Social inclusion is interwoven into many of these goals, particularly on ending poverty for people everywhere for all people (1); making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (11); and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development (16).

Slavery or colonialism are historical examples of egregious forms of social exclusion but young people unable to access affordable housing, precarious working conditions for migrants, homelessness, sexism, xenophobia, climate or conflict-induced displacement are all types of social exclusion that pervade today. Left unaddressed, social exclusion costs societies – in crime, instability, reduced life expectancy and wellbeing, lack of intergenerational mobility, reduced tax revenue and GDP, to name a few. So investing in social inclusion is important.

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Photo: Resolve.

Investing in community leaders today for a more inclusive tomorrow 

Programmes that promote inclusive education, social participation and conversations about inequality are key for social inclusion. At Resolve, we do all three through a social justice fellowship for emerging community leaders, particularly from marginalized and underrepresented communities, which builds their capacity in rights awareness, campaigning and communication skills and leadership development.

“Educating people about equality and inclusion is like planting seeds to bear fruits of positive change, generation after generation. I do this to help the next generation of ethnic minorities and other socially disadvantaged people to not be victims of the same thing I’ve been through.” – Darius

The fellows receive group workshop training and one-to-one mentoring. They collaborate on a final project around the theme of the fellowship. Our inaugural cohort kicked off last December on the issue of racial equality and inclusion and finishes in April. We envision the theme of each fellowship changing from year to year.

What did we look for in our fellows? Five simple things, that they 1) showed a demonstrated commitment to serve 2) had signs of great potential, but could use more support 3) cared about the fellowship theme and wanted to take action 4) came from different walks of life and 5) are good role models for others.

We focused on qualities in people, rather than designing the programme for a specific “group”, and it is the first nonprofit programme to bring such a diverse group of people together. Empowerment is not just a vertical process; when different, sometimes isolated, communities come together, there is also empowerment in peer support and empathy-building horizontally across movements.

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Photo: Resolve.

Who are our final fellows? Earlier this month we released their biographies on our website. They include, for example, Arista, an Indonesian domestic worker who is an avid storyteller and photographer raising awareness about her compatriots’ situation; or Darius, team captain of a refugee football club promoting integration through sports; or Sabrina, a Chinese Hong Konger and law student passionate about human rights education.

Individuals like Arista, Darius and Sabrina might not otherwise meet in this city, much less work together the way they do through Resolve.

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Photo: Resolve.

Reading all their biographies paints an untold story – of people who are giving their time selflessly because of their love for Hong Kong, but who, in their words, often ask what it takes to qualify as a Hong Konger.

We believe the fellows are the people who will build up their own communities and create a bridge to other ones in ways that haven’t been tried before. At Resolve, we invest in them because they are proving themselves to be the future generation of catalysts for a more socially inclusive Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is diverse, but far from inclusive; here's how we can change that