The Chinese New Year is a chance to share reflections of the past and aspirations for the future. Hong Kong’s festivities will be different this year, shaped by strict social distancing rules and the pandemic.
Amelie Dionne-Charest welcomes a focus on new beginnings that is typically underscored by red and gold decorations, raucous sounds of drums, gongs and firecrackers and other hallmarks of the 15-day holiday. Food also plays a central role in welcoming the new year.
In Ms. Dionne-Charest’s case, an appreciation for the Chinese cuisine long predates her 2013 move to Hong Kong.
Growing up in Canada, Ms. Dionne-Charest, who now serves as chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (CanChamHK), fondly recalls family outings in Ottawa’s Chinatown. “I remember being mesmerized by the entire experience: round tables, jasmine tea, chopsticks, dim sum carts pushed around, and the amazing taste of pineapple buns,” she says. “Now, we love to have dim sum with our kids on Sundays, and our ultimate favourites are shrimp dumplings and Shaomai.”
For Ms. Dionne-Charest, these similar experiences spanning decades and continents reflect the deep ties between Canada and Hong Kong. “We estimate that there are over 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong today, which makes us the second largest Canadian expatriate community outside of Canada.”
With seven in 10 Canadians living in Hong Kong having family in Canada, one in four maintaining their Canadian professional credentials and hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers having attended Canadian schools and universities, the linkages are substantial, believes Ms. Dionne-Charest. “This is something of which our community is immensely proud, and CanCham is launching an ‘affiliate membership’ for Canadian university alumni based in Hong Kong, which will allow us to engage with new member segments.”
“While the pandemic and economic crisis have directly impacted our members and the chamber’s work, our business community remains committed to Hong Kong. And there has never been a better time to reimagine how to be relevant and effective.
Chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
A warm welcome and support
When Karim Hirji, senior vice president and managing director at Intact Ventures (the strategic venture arm of Intact Financial Corporation) moved to Hong Kong in October 2019, he and his wife were welcomed with an outpouring of support.
“Many of the families and friends I grew up with [in Vancouver] are from Hong Kong, so the culture is very close to my heart,” says Mr. Hirji. “We also appreciate the collective mindset in Hong Kong of taking care of one another. That’s how this city, which is one of the most densely populated in the world, has been able to persevere through the pandemic.”
Due to the timing of Intact’s expansion to Hong Kong, “the outbreak of COVID-19 meant trying to open an office and recruit a team while working virtually for long periods,” he says. “We’ve been successful navigating through this by receiving support from CanChamHK, other Canadian businesses [with a Hong Kong presence], getting advice from the Consulate General’s office, building close relationships with locals and using our values to guide us.
“InvestHK [a Hong Kong government department] was also instrumental by connecting us with representatives in Hong Kong, who helped kickstart the process of setting up our office, and introducing us to HR recruiters, accounting firms and the FinTech and technology ecosystem.”
The move from Canada to “open a location in Hong Kong was an important step enabling us to tap into a new talent pipeline and be exposed to new ways of thinking,” says Mr. Hirji. “Ensuring diversity of thought in our talent pool – and access to world-class expertise in artificial intelligence – will lead to better solutions for our customers.”
Intact recently secured a second location at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park to support future growth.
Hong Kong’s long-standing reputation as a renowned international business and financial hub has provided a launching ground for entrepreneurs and a platform for overseas business expansion into Greater China and Asia for many generations.
“We see Hong Kong as a unique international financial centre for Asia where Canadian financial institutions play an active part in the banking and insurance sectors. There are six Canadian-controlled banks and Canadian insurance companies operating in Hong Kong,” says Ms. Dionne-Charest. “Hong Kong also has a strong legal and accounting infrastructure for doing business. From M&A to trade finance, loan syndications, bond issuances and equity capital – Hong Kong offers all businesses cost-effective and efficient access to capital.”
A new major strategic opportunity for Hong Kong – and one that CanChamHK actively explores – comes from the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), which comprises the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao.
“The GBA occupies an area approximately the size of the corridor between Calgary and Edmonton with a population that is twice that of Canada. It encompasses nine plus major cities in addition to Hong Kong, making it a world-class urban cluster,” explains Ms. Dionne-Charest. “Ranked by GDP against countries on the global stage, the GBA would be 11th in total GDP just behind Canada at number 10.”
Business travel remains at a standstill due to COVID-19, and one of the best ways to explore opportunities in Hong Kong and Greater China is to reach out to Canadian Chambers of Commerce in the region to seek information, insights and business contacts.
“We also appreciate the collective mindset in Hong Kong of taking care of one another. That’s how this city, which is one of the most densely populated in the world, has been able to persevere through the pandemic.
Senior vice president and managing director at Intact Ventures
Reflections of the past, vision for the future
The past two years brought many challenges, says Ms. Dionne-Charest. “Following on the heels of political turmoil, COVID-19 turned our personal and professional lives upside down and changed the world. However, Hong Kong is resilient and remains vibrant with people and life going about business almost as usual, though now everyone adheres to wearing face masks in public and there are strict social distancing rules.”
Reflecting on 2020 brings the “community’s strength, commitment and solidarity to mind,” states Ms. Dionne-Charest. “While the pandemic and economic crisis have directly impacted our members and the chamber’s work, our business community remains committed to Hong Kong. And there has never been a better time to reimagine how to be relevant and effective.”
For example, by delivering the 7th Transpacific Entrepreneurial Conference, jointly presented by CanChamHK and the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association (HKCBA), on a virtual platform, the organizations were able to attract speakers and participants from all over Canada, Hong Kong and Greater China as well as host two engaging networking sessions via Airmeet.
“We have to think outside the box and build on our entrepreneurial spirit to positively engage with [one another] on topics that matter,” suggests Ms. Dionne-Charest, whose optimistic outlook also extends to her own business activities.
“We are very fortunate because the context [of an aging population and the demand for reliable health information and digital services] has been favourable to our health insurance business, AD MediLink, and our digital health platform Healthy Matters,” she says. “This is an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses, and we are looking forward to more growth.”
Lifestyle perks and celebrations
Hong Kong also has much to offer beyond business opportunities. Mr. Hirji says he and his wife enjoy “the weather, the proximity to all the outdoor activities, beautiful running trails and fantastic food in the city.”
Ms. Dionne-Charest’s favourite activities include outings with her family. “My husband and I like to do Dragon’s Back Trail early in the morning ‘en amoureux’ and Monkey Hill (Kam Shan Country Park) with the kids,” she says.
For Chinese New Year, the upcoming festivities will be quieter this February, predicts Ms. Dionne-Charest, who recalls her son being impressed by – and perhaps a little scared of – the energetic lion dances.
“Our daughter, who is eight, especially enjoys choosing the right flowers at the Prince Edward Flower Market,” she says, adding that it comes as no surprise that both children’s favourites are the red packets containing “lucky money.”
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.