Lingnan University Hong KongTackling Hong Kong youth unemployment through community networks

Tackling Hong Kong youth unemployment through community networks

With inequality rising across Hong Kong and policymakers slow to directly tackle unemployment, Lingnan University’s Power-Up Programme is creating community support groups for young people to enhance their career prospects and improve working conditions

Youth unemployment is a problem that few in Hong Kong society are willing to recognise and fewer still willing to tackle directly. Pun Ngai, chair professor and head of the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, wants to change this.

Pun, who joined Lingnan because the institution prioritises social impact, says the institution’s strategy for youth unemployment takes two approaches. One involves raising awareness. Ahead of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Lingnan ran a public policy forum and a report documenting precarious working conditions – especially in the creative industries. “In Asian society, young people are usually portrayed as [the] hope of future and, hence, even if they encounter problems or difficulties, they are not able to voice it,” she says. “Most of them keep silent, and hence no social or labour policy is worked out to address their problem.”

The other approach involves young people directly, providing resources that enhance their employment prospects. Situated in a working-class neighbourhood of Hong Kong, Lingnan launched its Urban Commons Incubator Summer Programme in 2022 to challenge the status quo and give young people more agency over their careers. “We provide pilot training on our youth Power-up Programme to nurture new initiatives and new hope for the young people,” she says. “During the summer of 2022, we provided incubator training on three types of commons: cultural commons, creative commons and education commons.”

These commons, and the practice of commoning, which emphasises shared needs and understanding, are inspired by workers’ cooperatives and offer alternative and self-sustainable approaches for young people to support each other. Lingnan has nurtured six such groups so far and plans to consolidate them in the iCommon digital platform, which links these community partnerships across the city. 

“Commons is a term that covers support groups, even individual work, workers’ cooperatives,” Pun says. “Because in the UK, and in mainland China, you have a longer history of workers’ cooperatives. In Hong Kong, you have a much shorter history. Some of the names of the workers cooperatives are really old-style, traditional. We are not able to connect with young people. That is why we need to create these new concepts and terms to attract young people.”

Oxfam Hong Kong’s research discovered that in 2019, the richest decile of households made 34.3 times more than the poorest. By the first quarter of 2022, the richest decile was over 47 times better off. Reversing this trend will not be easy. Finding decent work as defined by the United Nations will be key.

Pun is placing her hopes in the power of community organising. “Hopefully, the community can generate some kind of cultural empowerment programme so that they can rely on the community network for resources,” she says. “Then we can use those resources to create some kind of commons, and they can use this for finding meaningful work.”

Find out more about the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University.

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