Funding for collaborative research to improve Hong Kong communities

The BRICKS project is inviting researchers, social changemakers and community representatives to join its new SIRCP platform and is offering funding for innovative and collaborative research projects that address social challenges in HK.

The project initially seeks to recruit a total of 90 academics and practitioners (e.g. from social enterprises and NGOs) to join a two-day workshop in May that will be facilitated by prominent academics.

The aim of the workshop will be to foster collaboration between the academics and practitioners, who will then be invited to co-design research proposals and apply for seed funding from the project.  

What is BRICKS?

BRICKS (Building Research Innovation for Community Knowledge and Sustainability) is an ambitious project that aims to find innovative solutions to social challenges in Hong Kong by fostering collaboration between higher education institutes, NGOs, social enterprises and other organisations that deliver public services.

BRICKS is funded by the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fund (SIE Fund) and is led by the British Council in a consortium with all eight of Hong Kong’s publicly-funded universities and higher education institutes, the Good Lab, and the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), with strategic support provided by Professor Alex Nicholls, Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. 

What is SIRCP?

The SIRCP (Social Innovation Research Collaboration Platform) facilitates connections between research-track academics and community-based changemakers in order to develop socially impactful collaborations and new approaches that produce innovative solutions to challenges faced by communities in Hong Kong. A pilot initiative of the BRICKS programme, SIRCP also aims to build an infrastructure that can support experimentation and risk taking in addressing systemic social challenges.

Between May and August 2019, the SIRCP will deliver:

  • a two-day collaboration workshop in Hong Kong (10-11 May)
  • the award of seed funding for up to eight research projects focusing on one of the tracks described below that demonstrate collaboration and potential to achieve social impact. (deadline for proposals mid-June 2019)
  • a potential opportunity for these seed-funded projects to pitch for additional funding from the SIE Fund in order to scale their impact.

SIRCP Details:

Date: 10 & 11 May, 2019 (Attendance is mandatory for both days)
Time: 10:00 - 18:00
Venue: Stan Group - Innovation Hub, Address: 2/F, 1163 Canton Road, Kowloon (nearest MTR station: Prince Edward C2)

 Who should get involved with SIRCP?

SIRCP provides a powerful, funded platform for research academics and community changemakers who:

  • want to collaborate, break down silos and form unusual partnerships to achieve social impact through research
  • are currently conducting, or intend to carry out research that relates to the tracks and social issues outlined above
  • want to connect with thought leaders in Hong Kong and around the world who are leading research efforts in these areas
  • seek an opportunity to form new partnerships and bid for seed funding to kick start a research project, with the opportunity to bid for further support from the SIE fund.

How can you get involved?

60% of participants of the SIRCP 2019 will be:

  • Doctoral candidates: researchers currently engaged in doctoral studies.
  • Post‑doctoral researchers and early career researchers (i.e. researchers with up to four years’ experience post completion of their doctorate).

40% of participants will be nominated from the following groups:

  • Knowledge transfer offices: staff in university departments responsible for providing support to translate research outputs into societal impact. 
  • Research output users: staff in organisations working at the frontline of poverty relief in Hong Kong. We have deliberately not defined the organisational type, but we would this to include NGO, charity and social enterprise leaders alongside government and business. 
  • Representatives from communities (service users): people who have direct experience of using services that relate to the issues that have been identified above and are interested in playing a greater role in supporting the design of these services.
  • Sustainability, innovation and R & D: staff working for corporates who are engaged in developing products and services that address the issues to be addressed by SIRCP.

Research Focus

Social Innovation and Systems Thinking

Social challenges are often complex and interconnected. Rarely does a single technical solution, that involves just one academic discipline or skillset work. Instead, a systemic view is required, which attempts to understanding the complexity of our external environments and design solutions accordingly. There is a growing field of research on systems thinking and how this can be applied in practice, including areas such as:

  • funding innovation
  • experimentation and co-creation
  • collaborate and learning

The SIRCP utilises a systems thinking approach in designing research projects, which it is envisaged will enable researchers to think more collaboratively around addressing social challenges in Hong Kong.

In addition, after extensive consultation with the academic community, three key systemic level research themes have been identified for 2019:

Track One: Funding and financing social change

In recent years, a range of innovative financial instruments have emerged which challenge traditional grant models in supporting organisations to deliver social change. These include impact investment and venture philanthropy as well as crowd funding, match trading grants and community shares along with new contracting models such as Social Impact Bonds. Together, these innovations represent a seismic shift in the way in which capital is being deployed and underscore the potential for structural shifts in the relationships between resources providers and service delivery organisations. They also demand a fundamental reimagination of the role of capital and of business in society. These approaches have the potential to foster greater collaboration and enhanced engagement between funders and delivery organisations in designing more effective interventions. Social finance, as these approaches are collectively known, has generated significant interest in Hong Kong, but there are questions among academics and practitioners alike about the readiness of frontline social purpose organisations to absorb different types of capital, particularly repayable finance. 

Track Two: The challenges of scaling social enterprises

Social enterprise is both a social movement and an organizational model that has gained traction in Hong Kong and across Asia. However, there is limited research into the social enterprise models that can scale to achieve transformative sector level impact. There is also limited knowledge of whether social enterprises are actually a more effective model for solving social problems. Finally, scale is an often-discussed issue, the nuance of which is little understood. Scale needs to be considered in terms of impact and not turnover and often the correlation between the two is not positive. Social enterprises operate in a range of sectors and adopt a range of business models, which typically determine their ability to scale. This area requires greater evidence and research to enhance understanding and the potential impact of social enterprises in Hong Kong.

Track Three: Community led social innovation

There is growing interest in how communities can play a bigger role in designing the services that impact upon them. At the same time, researchers are introducing innovative approaches to ensure that communities are more actively engaged and empowered in research projects, so that both the research process itself and the research outputs can deliver a social impact. And as a result of the digital revolution, knowledge is increasingly generated in many areas of society and the relationship between the university and society is changing. Models such as Design thinking and ideas around the commons and platform cooperativism are gaining traction and challenging the ways in which services are designed and organised.

The ideas and innovations that are emerging in these three areas are beginning to challenge the traditional relationship between government, the third sector and the private sector and they are providing us with the opportunity to reimagine how societies can address the urgent challenges they face. The practice of social innovation (and social entrepreneurship) is progressing far more quickly than the nascent academic field and there is an urgent need for more research to be carried out in these fields and for the research itself to demonstrate the values, principles and methods of social innovation itself. 

Skills and knowledge transfer for impact

Cutting across the systemic level themes is the challenge of developing the skills that are required to engage, and be successful in, this increasingly complex environment within the context of the changing role of the university in society.

Social issues

In addition to the three track themes, there are a number of other critical issues that have been identified as potential areas for more research that would benefit from socially innovative approaches, namely:

  • ageing populations and community-based solutions to issues of care and support
  • disabled people, inclusion and employment
  • ethnic minorities, inclusion and employment
  • twenty-first century skills in the context of AI
  • pathways out of poverty for low income families
  • second language acquisition
  • housing, notably co-living approaches
  • social inclusion and cohesion, with a focus on marginalised communities
  • youth skills and opportunities

Next steps

Please apply to join SIRCP by completing this simple registration form. Registration is now closed.




5 March (Tuesday)

Applications open for the two-day workshop 

4 April (Thursday)

Information and learning session for participants as part of the Poly U and Cambridge University Social Innovation Conference 

26 April (Friday)

Applications close for the two-day workshop

10-11 May (Friday & Saturday)

SIRCP workshop held in Hong Kong

19 June (Wednesday)

Deadline for seed funding applications

Confirmed academic contributors

Yanto Chandra
Associate Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU)

Dr. Jane Lee, JP
Chair of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Task Force
Director of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (Anglican) Welfare Council

Dr. Yankie Lee
Study UK Alumni Awards Winner
Co-Founder, Enable Foundation

Professor Alex Nicholls
Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, 
United Kingdom

Louise Pulford
Director, Social Innovation Exchange (SIX)

Liz Shutt
Director of Policy, University of Lincoln

Professor Adam Thorpe
Professor in Socially Responsive Design, University of the Arts London

Ada Wong, JP
Chairperson, Make A Difference Institute
Convenor & Director, Good Lab Foundation
Director, Ednovators
Supervisor, HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity

Ming Wong
CEO of United Way Worldwide

Confirmed partners

Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), United Kingdom 

The Good Lab, Hong Kong