Thursday, August 02, 2007

Chevening Fellowship

Personal Statement for the application of Chevening Fellowships 2008 - Course Title: "Reform, Regulation and Public Service Provision"

Name of applicant: LEONA(Ms)
Employer: XXXX
Position: Editor (Opinion Page)



At first glance, 2006 was a year with little significance on Hong Kong.

Our local economies had strongly rebounded since the outbreak of SARS in 2003, and 2006 was not the best or the worst one in Hong Kong's history; the CE Donald Tsang had smoothly taken over the responsibilities from his predecessor for a year, and yet to run the next CE election; political reform policy papers had been ruled out by the Legislative Council the year before, while a revised one would only be ready by 2007 . There's a year to go to celebrate for the 10th anniversary of sovereignty handover.

Nevertheless, the history of Hong Kong will remember 2006.

In 2006, a policy that was fundamental to Hong Kong's economic miracle for the past 50 years, "positive non-interventionism", was announced dead by our leader.

In the 1960s, then a tiny poor island on the Far East, Hong Kong's average per capita income was 28 percent that of Britain. By 1996, one year before sovereignty handover, however, our capita income had surpassed our former mother country by 37 percent. According to Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel laureate in economics, "the only plausible explanation for the different rates of growth is socialism in Britain, free enterprise and free markets in Hong Kong." And he gave the credits that brought about the city's economic prosperity to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite, our financial secretary from 1961-71. When Britain was moving to a socialist and welfare state at that time, Milton claimed, Cowperthwaite insisted that Hong Kong practice laissez-faire. And that built the territory's prosperity.

Positive non-interventionism, "cornerstone of the success of Hong Kong" as the textbooks phrase it, is something I'm so familiar with since I was a primary student, died all in a sudden. Last year, as an editor of the opinion page of a financial newspaper, I noticed that I was not the only one feeling confused, if not sad. Therefore I invited contributors from different sectors to comment on the government's change of approach. That wasn't very successful. People bearing different ideologies seemed to have little intersection on this topic and they went to extremes. Little insights were generated.

And it seemed that the debate was not heated enough. The Competition Policy Review Committee submitted a report to the financial secretary and recommended a new legislation to regulate competition in Hong Kong last year. To many people's surprises, a policy that was supposed to enhance economic efficiency and safeguard the SMEs from large corporation's anti-competitive conduct, ended up being opposed the most strongly by SMEs themselves. Meanwhile, the possible introduction of minimum wage legislation created similar rows. Instead of addressing the hardships faced by low-paid workers, many people argued, a wage floor would only make the disadvantaged of the society to suffer even more. I was completely baffled. I was eager to hear a rational discussion between the two poles. It was not until a few months ago that an opportunity finally came.

My job as an editor is two-pronged. On a daily basis, I contact our regular writers for commentaries, handle incoming contributions, manage the publishing schedule etc.. But on the other hand, I maintain a weekly column myself. I go to seminars and conferences around the town and compose articles in more or less 1200 words (so people can finish each one in 3 to 5 minutes) afterwards , telling people the cream of the best speech I attended that week. After maintaining this column for a year or so, my supervisor suggested me going further by conducting in-depth interviews with top people, and writing one more article on top of the column article every other week.

My supervisor's order for me was a headache at first. After graduation I didn't join the media straight away. Instead I worked at a Hong Kong-based multi-national apparel company for three years. Then 18 months ago, I quit to pursue other career options. Incidentally, a part-time lecturer from my alma mater, now my supervisor, was looking for someone to take care of the opinion page as well as to be his novice - one day this person should be able to take over his job and write editorials for the paper. That was me. All of a sudden, I jumped into the media world, with no experience, no expectation, and worst of all, no network.

How can one conduct “in-depth” interviews with top people without even knowing their names? Since I attend a lot of seminars, I take the opportunity to exchange cards with people I encountered there. One day when I went to a talk given by a former Apple Evangelist named Guy Kawasaki, I ran into a young man who didn't look like a typical journalist. We exchanged contact info and chatted afterwards. He was the owner of a web start-up company based in Hong Kong. Through this young man, I came to know other up and coming local young entrepreneurs; there are a handful of them. Apart from conducting individual interviews with four of them, I held a dialogue between these young men and Regina Ip, founder of a think tank (Savantas) and the former Secretary for Security of Hong Kong. My purpose was to foster a rational conversation to study whether the new regulations might have any distorting effices on resource allocation and income distribution - a topic I had pondered over for months.

The debate was constructive. Regina Ip criticized the colonial government's "maximum support, minimum intervention" approach, claiming that such laissez-faire ideology would marginalize our role and diminish our competitiveness. And she advocated the government taking a more proactive approach to encourage high technology development. The young entrepreneurs, on the other hand, embraced Milton Friedman's "free market" believes and suggested government intervention should be minimized, if not avoided, at all times. When the market was efficient enough under the existing rules to pick the winners, the young men argued, the government should not meddle or introduce any new rules.

We didn't draw any conclusion from the dialogue but the readers had a chance to review arguments from both sides to make their own judgment. The series of articles generated good feedback. Bloggers exchanged their views about the young entrepreneurs, as well as about the roles of the government, online.

The success of the series was not totally accidental. Apart from being very lucky, I guess there's one more reason that helped me accomplish it. I'm a dedicated blogger myself. I opened a blog ever since I joined XXXX a year and a half ago. And the young entrepreneur who attended the same event as me, happened to be a reader of my blog. And that's why he recognized my name right away and was happy to chat with me after the function. If I were given the chance to take part in the coming Chevening Fellowship courses, I'm sure I won't be the only one to benefit; my readers would benefit as much as I do.

*** *** ***

敝報提名我參加上述課程,收到通知時是一個周五的晚上十一時許,彼時我正和三十會的朋友吃飯喝酒,只有不足四十八小時準備這個personal statement.
完成後自知時間太緊張,瑕疵處處,多得宋漢生,他英語好,花了十分鐘為我作了第一次粉飾(我的原文起碼有五分之一提及aNobii與有關web2.0的訪問)。

數天後面見了負責的領事,他似乎頗為受落,但他說該課程競爭異常激烈-去年獲提名有關課程的兩位,都是在政府裏主理competition policy的公務員。
它的目標學員是“Mid-career officials from Ministries, the public sector and large regulated industries, and economic journalists”。
我不是上述任何一行的“mid career official”,又不是財經記者,入選機會微乎其微。但領事說他喜歡我的“readership”(即使那是多麼微不足道),著我改寫一下該statement再提交。

又花了一個周末。
幸好MAX替我推薦了幾本書作速讀;而JOE CHAN幫忙提供一些彷彿很內行的經濟用語,並且,著我把有關Greg/aNobii的部份全部剷掉,因為:
你唔使話佢地幾勁,你話你自己幾勁就得啦(我原意是:嗱,宋漢生咁勁,都是我的讀者喎,我幾勁)。
遂成上文。

寫得還不賴吧,可是英領事館上午通知我,還是另外挑了別人進行下一階段的面試了。
有點失落;倒不是完全因為那個課程,而是因為那三個月不用上班的日子…(真沒志氣!)
唯有放在這裏,公諸同好。

4 comments:

VC said...

危機?

Leona said...

VC:
不懂。

VC said...

just want to know more about the 危機 you mentioned in the last paragraph.

leonablogspot said...

VC:
呵,就是因為那位高人的提醒,所以危機從未發生。