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Speaking at Day 1 

Emergence of Digital Public Space: harnessing the power of data 

Tat Lam
Chief Executive Officer, Shanzhai City, HK

Dr Tat Lam is the CEO of SZC Holdings, a social enterprise to conduct research on social finance and social development strategies, to develop technological solutions for the bottom billion markets, and to launch mission driven ventures to solve the problems on the ground. Dr Lam is an expert on development, social anthropology and impact finance. Under his leadership, SZC Holdings has been serving social capital funds, foundations and governments in China, Singapore, Myanmar, and Brazil. Recently, Dr Lam and his team has launched a new venture in Singapore to provide microfinance services targeting on the unbanked population in Papua New Guinea, Laos, Myanmar and Hong Kong, supported by capacity building programs and blockchain technologies.

Before founding SZC Holdings, Dr Lam involved in large scale urban and rural development projects in China, consulting on strategies of public private engagements and collaborations.

 

Dr Lam graduated from Columbia University, New York and UCL, London. He has been teaching urban development, innovation and entrepreneurship programs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the past 8 years. 

Insight from "Rethinking public spaces. Exploring the interplay of the analogue and virtual realm and its effects on public and social life in cities"
July 16, 2020

Presentation delivered by Tat Lam & Jessica Cheung, Shanzhai City

Tat founded Shanzhai City, a civic technology company which focuses on blockchain and AI solutions for grass root community development. Via sharing two case studies, Tat and Jessica raised the idea of the alternationations of data flow, capital flow, supplies and goods flow, and the concept of digital citizenship and identity. 

 

The first case study illustrated was a digital marketplace that used time-based currency to create a self-organised community mutual support system both online and offline. Local NGOs initiated the time voucher programme and brought the idea of ‘time bank’ into Hong Kong in  response to the financial instability triggered during the 2008 financial crisis, building local economy resilience to combat the global instability. Time spent in community services turned into credits, which could be exchanged for goods and services, contributing to dynamic local economy ecosystems which vary as per neighbourhood. However, such systems relied on manual administrative and bookkeeping efforts, creating huge workload and limiting scalability and impacts. Shanzhai City digitalized the system and turned it into an online market, facilitating larger volumes of exchanges, as well as cross-district exchanges. A new public space emerged in the digital market. Moreover, Shanzhai City created digital decentralized identification (DID) for the grassroots community based on one’s identity, assets, ability, and need, and is privately protected by blockchain. During COVID-19, the platform became a place to crowdsource materials, skills and time to produce masks for people in need. The vision is to turn the platform into a social impact marketplace that facilitates the matching of validated social needs from community with trustworthy service providers and businesses.

 

The second case study related to community finance and a digital townhall for villages in Myanmar. MM Community Bond attempted to bridge the government’s infrastructure investment gap. It crowdsourced identified needs from the community and allowed locals to validate the success and completion of projects. This project advocated community participation and transparent funding deployment, democratizing the process of community infrastructure building and development.

 

Tat concluded the sharing by highlighting the essence of creating local economic resilience, particularly against the backdrop of global uncertainties. He also advocated the need for a paradigm shift for community development, shifting from a centralised distributed system to a decentralised system composed of small cell units, which became prominent during this pandemic crisis. Over the past six months, there was a ten times increase in the users of time vouchers in Hong Kong with interesting usage such as users crowdfunding vouchers for others to exchange food in food banks. Final takeaways from the communities were micro-design for agile adaptive change, micro-services for local economy, and micro-policy for new public space.