HKU Rural Sustainability Programme wins inaugural Special Recognition for Sustainable Development in the 2020 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation

The University of Hong Kong (HKU), Pui Shing Tong of Lai Chi Wo Village, and HSBC are proud to announce that Lai Chi Wo Rural Cultural Landscape has received the inaugural Special Recognition for Sustainable Development in this year’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

The award application is built on “HSBC Rural Sustainability Programme” (the Project) which is initiated and implemented by the Centre for Civil Society and Governance (CCSG) at HKU since 2013 with full support from the Lai Chi Wo Village and HSBC. The achievement marked the advancement of the Project in building an innovative rural sustainability model that sets a benchmark for Hong Kong and beyond.

The award is a due recognition of the collaborative efforts of many individuals and organisations who share a strong commitment to sustainability and are undaunted to act on the commitment. On behalf of the project team, CCSG Director Professor Wai-Fung LAM remarked that “The Lai Chi Wo model takes the interweaving relationships between the social and ecological systems seriously; its success demonstrates the power of a collaborative approach to rural sustainability.”

The consortium proudly shares the honour and joy with our project partners Hong Kong Countryside Foundation, The Conservancy Association, Produce Green Foundation, and the Environment Bureau of HKSAR Government.

Secretary for the Environment Mr. WONG Kam-Sing congratulates the project team and said: “I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to the team of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on winning the prestigious Special Recognition for Sustainable Development in the 2020 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation for the sustainable rural revitalisation project at Lai Chi Wo. The team together with villagers have spared no effort in the revitalisation work in the concerned remote countryside. As a model of excellence with influence, the project has fostered the momentum of revitalising remote countryside to radiate progressively in the vicinity. The Countryside Conservation Funding Scheme of the Environment Bureau / Environmental Protection Department has also approved about HK$15 million this year to support the Centre for Civil Society and Governance of HKU to carry out forest village ecosystem management in Mui Tsz Lam and Kop Tong adjacent to Lai Chi Wo. We look forward to enhancing the urban-rural symbiosis and furthering collaboration with the HKU team and locals on remote countryside revitalisation in the future.”

Ms. Diana CESAR, Chief Executive, Hong Kong, HSBC, said: “Integrating sustainability into cultural heritage conservation is important to advancing the application of global United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals agenda. We have supported the ‘HSBC Rural Sustainability Programme’ to foster sustainable innovation and promote rural sustainability since its launch in 2013. The partnership with the University of Hong Kong brings together our combined economic, social and environmental expertise and we are proud that the results of this collaborative approach have been recognised by UNESCO. We will continue to work with the community to support the sustainable transition for our future generations.”

UNESCO introduced the new Special Recognition for Sustainable Development in 2020 together with an updated set of Awards Criteria to acknowledge more prominently the role and contribution of cultural heritage to sustainable development within the broader framework of Agenda 2030. The Special Recognition acknowledges outstanding projects that demonstrate noteworthy achievement in all criteria and have a significant impact in contributing to sustainable development. The jury selected Lai Chi Wo Rural Cultural Landscape project as one of the two winners of the inaugural Special Recognition for Sustainable Development among the 48 entries from nine countries from the Asia-Pacific region this year. The Jury applauded the project’s pioneering approach to rural sustainability which “upholds the key dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – in undertaking the holistic rejuvenation of the historic Hakka agricultural settlement using nature-based solutions.”

Village Representative Mr. TSANG Wai-Yip, on behalf of Pui Shing Tong, the Lai Chi Wo Village Committee, thanked all those who have offered help in revitalising Lai Chi Wo, “I am very happy that the collaboration between indigenous villagers, HKU and various organisations in Lai Chi Wo Village over the years was well recognised. It has successfully rejuvenated the abandoned village back to life. We hope this award could encourage other villages to pursue sustainable rural development in the future.”

Looking at rural area as a social-ecological system in which human interactions are intertwined with the environmental dynamics, the Lai Chi Wo revitalisation model embraces the principles of interdisciplinarity (drawing upon different expertise and bodies of knowledge), collaboration (engaging with different communities of interest in and beyond the rural area), innovation (co-creating novel solutions to social and environmental challenges), and resilient development (continually nurturing social ventures and collective actions across scales and scopes to cope with the changing environment).

Dr. Sarah LIAO, Chairlady of the Project’s Steering Committee, also one of the founding members of the Project, said: “The Lai Chi Wo rural sustainable village transformation gives us a glimpse into the garden of Eden where all living things flourish together and there is hope.”

HKU President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Xiang ZHANG said: “The Lai Chi Wo project is a fine example of how research can inform policy actions to create social impact; and how practical experiences can enrich academic pursuits. UNESCO’s recognition of our achievements at Lai Chi Wo reaffirms the University’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to work closely with keen players in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific region to achieve a sustainable society”.

The success of the Project has also leveraged new resources and support from the HKSAR Government’s Environment and Conservation Fund which provides long-term biodiversity monitoring of Lai Chi Wo’s diverse habitats; and the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust under the Chief Executive’s Community Project.

The next step for the revitalisation effort is to scale up its impact by transferring the nature-based solutions knowledge and experience to other villages in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region – to protect, manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that tackle societal challenges, including land degradation and biodiversity loss. Besides expanding the Lai Chi Wo impact to the nearby villages Mui Tsz Lam and Kop Tong with a village cluster approach, there is also a regional engagement strategy in place to work with international agencies and universities in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a network of partnerships incubating knowledge, ideas and actions for urban and rural sustainability. The winning of the UNESCO award provided a solid foundation for the regional engagement initiative.


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