When we first saw the results, our jaws dropped. Had Hong Kong, seemingly stuck in an endless rut of distrust, found its form again?
In a dramatic surge, Hong Kong has experienced the largest overall increase in general population trust globally, leaping into the top 10 markets with the highest trust indices and returning to trust levels last seen in 2013 before a period of political crisis.
Digging deeper, this positive trend is not as counterintuitive as we first thought. The trust increase coincides with stabilizing public satisfaction in government, a solid economy, and improving socioeconomic indicators. From regaining its global IPO crown to the completion of major infrastructure projects, Hong Kong is doing well.
Viewed through a global lens, despite Hong Kong’s gaping inequalities, it shouldn’t come as such a shock that the number of people in Hong Kong’s mass population who believe that the system is failing them (23 percent) is half the global average (46 percent). After a relatively mild year for crises in politics and business, Hong Kong could even seem like an island of comparative stability amid a sea of global turbulence.
Trust me, I’m a journalist
The highest increase in media trust globally (+11 points) propelled Hong Kong to the eighth most-trusting market in media. When you look at the markets where there is a free press, only India, The Netherlands and Canada sit above Hong Kong. With news engagement increasing by 20 points and people fearful of fake news being used as a weapon (69 percent), traditional media is now 21 points more trusted than social media. At a time when press freedom in Hong Kong is hotly debated, the public is hungry for trustworthy information.
A bounce for business, but no reason to celebrate yet…
Trust in business also experienced the biggest trust increase globally (+9 points) but it is still the only distrusted institution in Hong Kong (45 percent). Hong Kong is one of six markets across the 27 surveyed where business is less trusted than government.
Driven by low confidence that societal institutions will address today’s biggest problems, people are turning to their employers as the entity they trust most (74 percent). The majority of employees (60 percent) want shared action from employers. And 73 percent of the general population say CEOs should lead on change rather than wait for the government to impose it. This profound shift in expectations is a huge but complex opportunity for employers in a market where historically the scales of purpose and profit have been heavily skewed.
It’s time for a uniting vision of the future
At a time when employees are looking for change and assurance, there is no bigger issue where Hong Kong needs leadership than defining its place in the world. The recently revealed Greater Bay Area blueprint could provide the perfect opportunity.
The mammoth GBA scheme outlines Hong Kong’s pivotal role in connecting the 11 Pearl River Delta cities into the world’s biggest economic cluster. According to the government, the plan is critical to retaining the city’s status as an international hub and providing unprecedented opportunities in education and technology.
Defined by history and geography, Hong Kong will remain split over its destiny between China and the world. But if Hong Kong is to thrive, leaders need to define a vision that brings people together in a future that fits both molds.
The million-dollar question for trust now is will 2019 be an anomaly, or can leaders seize this opportunity to articulate and embrace a new sense of purpose?
Adrian Warr is managing director, Hong Kong.