Alumni Linkage — OU People

Alumni Communication & Support Alumni Linkage Past Issues May 2021 Issue Alumni Linkage — OU People

'Crowdsourcing' is the practice of obtaining ideas, needed services or resources by soliciting contributions from a large group of people for a common goal. The term may not sound familiar, but Nelson Chan and Himphen Hui, our Computing graduates, have developed their online platform Collaction in 2014 based on this concept, gathering the wisdom and resources of the crowd to promote social innovation.

The friendship between Nelson and Himphen began at the Computing Society of the University. They witnessed how many creative ideas were rejected by the judging panel at a pitching event of an entrepreneurship competition. They were then inspired to set up a crowdsourcing platform. Nelson recalled, 'Great ideas shouldn't be scrapped for no reason! Why not invite the public to participate and make things happen?' Together the duo constructed Collaction, denoting 'collecting resources and taking action', through which they collect resources on the internet and put ideas into action.

Demonstrating crowdsourcing with actions

The project was initiated by altogether ten starters. But when everything was in place including a rented office, eight of them left the team. Nelson and Himphen, who had been focusing on computer programming, frankly said it was a terrible shock. Yet they decided to bite the bullet and carry on with the project. They learned and explored as they went along, and identified the direction of the project with 'social innovation', meaning to resolve social problems in a better way than the existing solutions. 'People from different backgrounds see different “pain points” in society. By amassing the power of the crowd, we may come up with solutions to solve the problems.' Himphen elaborated, 'Crowdsourcing means outsourcing work to the crowd. Through the process, participants' sense of belonging to the community can be strengthened and society can be improved from the bottom up.'

The duo developed non-profit making projects out of their own pocket in their spare time after work. However, they do not consider themselves as having a great sense of mission; instead, they just want to give back to society by offering a helping hand to others and exploring how information technology can help over the course. Over the past seven years, they have insisted on caring for the community, which attracted like-minded to join one after another, sharing the work on external affairs, planning and design. The team has now grown to five members.

In the early days, the two IT professionals managed to run the website with ease. The difficulty, however, was to explain the new concept clearly and attract people to use the platform. Instead of waiting, they thought it might be more effective to take the lead and demonstrate how things work. Borrowing a metaphor, Himphen said they decided to create both 'eggs and chickens' in order to make the idea more convincing. Back then, the two visited many community centres to search for collaborative partners and their first project, entitled Kid Share, was launched in Sham Shui Po targeting children from low-income families. Through visiting the elderly and participating in bartering activities, the children learned how to care for and share with others. The project received extensive media coverage and the philosophy of Collaction was widely spread.

Nurturing social innovation projects

Since then, the platform has successfully encouraged the public to put social innovation into practice. Nelson quoted an example of a Hong Kong girl who introduced her own experience in Germany, where she worked as a reporter, and launched the Community Fridge project at Collaction. She put a donated fridge in a public spot in Sham Shui Po and encouraged the neighbourhoods to share their food. The initiative aroused public attention and created a strong resonance. 'An illustrator even offered to design leaflets for the project. Within just a year, the project has expanded to five districts including North Point and Tung Chung,' he added.

In addition to publishing the projects initiated by the public, Collaction also sparks ideas from everyday life. Their first attempt, the Not Found Scheme, has been posting the information of missing persons in Hong Kong to the '404 Not Found' page of the websites of its collaborative partners and mobilizing the online community to assist in the search. The project has been well received, and even the IT industry also gave them support and suggestions for improvement.

The projects may need to pass through many winding paths, but every one of them is a meaningful initiative. Nelson explained, 'Failure is no big deal. It records the hard work of those in society who toil silently. These records may inspire others and become the impetus for future projects.' Over the years, many projects on the platform have been positively received, making impact on society in dribs and drabs. Collaction has also become the representative platform of crowdsourcing. He continued, 'At the beginning we needed to knock on door after door, but now like-minded people will contact us for possible collaboration. In recent years, we have added more functions to the platform, such as crowdfunding. This helps projects get started.'

Adhering to the original principles

Collaction has been recognized by multiple awards, including a Certificate of Merit from the 2019 Hong Kong ICT Awards: Smart People (Smart Inclusion) Award. The platform was commended for applying information technology to promote the participation of the general public in community affairs. Nelson stressed, 'The award is a testimony to the concerted work of the whole team.'

Not only has Collaction made a positive influence on society, it has also enlightened the young duo. Himphen said with a smile, 'I used to be quite stubborn. The projects on Collaction are for all to participate in, I should learn to listen to different opinions. This is important to my personal development.' Nelson echoed, 'I see much improvement in my interpersonal communication skills. My biggest gain comes from the many friends I have made. Whenever I run into a problem, I can approach my friends from different walks of life for help.' The partners are very grateful to those who inspired them along their journeys of self-development, including their teachers at the OUHK. They gave special thanks to Prof. Andrew Lui whom they often contact and ask for advice.

In recent years, Collaction has attempted commercial collaboration and is now providing a management platform for a students' community caring project operated by an education organization. 'That is a small-scale commercial partnership, through which we hope to optimize our interface for business application. We look forward to working with sizeable organizations soon.' Although commercial elements have been added, the duo has not forgotten their original principles. 'We will continue to progress along the direction of social innovation and crowd participation,' they affirmed.