Back to News
【Cubic Zine Issue 9】Scholar-Social Innovator: Prof Maria Tam, the Anthropologist Taking the Path Few Trodden

Where Ideas Root and Flourish

Let’s talk about anthropology and multiculturalism this month. Our feature scholar-social innovator Prof Maria Tam revealed that an urge to “understand the enormous transformations panning out China” in the 1980s partly contributed to her career as an anthropologist today. Maybe the grand national policy passed this May would inspire another generation of social scientists to come.

How do we attain a holistic understanding of a giant social issue? May Maria’s experience inspire you.

In this issue: #Wellbeing #SpaceArchaeology #NewLuncheon #4DayWorkweek #NewZealand #AppliedAnthropology #Multiculturalism

Free Subscription


Scholar-Social Innovator → LOCAL

“The world is on your doorstep!” Prof Maria Tam, the anthropologist taking the path few trodden

Maria encourages Hongkongers to join in local ethnic festivals, make friends with people of different cultural backgrounds, and expand their horizons. (Photo: Multiculturalism in Action Facebook page)

“Hongkongers are travel maniacs, but the world is in Hong Kong, why wouldn’t we get acquainted with our diverse local cultures?” Anthropologists are master storytellers, as the book Guava Anthropology puts it. Chatting with anthropologists is always a “thought-provoking and an out-of-the-ordinary” experience. Prof Maria Tam the fearless roamer fits neatly into the description.

Maria is Associate Director of the Centre of Urban History, Culture and Media at CUHK’s Institute of Future Cities, as well as an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology. Her expertise is in ethnic relations and the sociocultural significance of human movement. Safe to say that Maria, born and bred in Hong Kong, was matched up with the study of anthropology by her times…

What subject matter is she obsessed with? Any adventures and experiences to share? And what prompted her to advocate our local spectrum of cultures?

Read the full interview


Multiculturalism in Action Project (MIA) at a glimpse

(Photo: MIA Facebook page)

Founding year: 2013
Founder & Director: Prof Maria Tam
Team: Anthropology and social science teachers and postgraduates, cultural trainers of various ethnicities
Mission: To enhance multicultural knowledge and intercultural experiences, enabling different ethnicities to promote positive ethnic relations in Hong Kong together
Work: Since 2013, MIA has hosted workshops, themed talks, school and community outreach events; training over 200 cultural tutors and intercultural ambassadors, serving over 25,000 members of the public, students, and teachers
Services: Offering cultural talks and interactive workshops, in-depth cultural field trips and conducting research projects for corporates, schools, organisations and the community
Contact | FB

Applied anthropology|Scholarly keyword

(Photo: David Travis / Unsplash)

According to Maria, although anthropology is traditionally divided into four main branches (archaeology, biological or physical anthropology, sociocultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology), when it comes to applied anthropology (using research methods and theories in anthropology to analyse and solve actual issues), classification is “everchanging” and can be matched up with almost any profession.

Besides “medical anthropology” which Cubic Zine previously covered, there’s also “environmental anthropology”, “design anthropology” etc. Many big corps and tech enterprises like hiring experts in “corporate/business anthropology”, employing the discipline’s insights into human beings in marketing, understanding customer behaviour, UX design, intercultural communication and management. Famous design firm IDEO also leveraged the expertise of anthropologists. “So our students wouldn’t end up jobless,” Maria proclaimed proudly.



Four-day workweek|New Zealand

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Duncan C / Flickr)

Rampant for already half a year, Covid-19 has catalysed all sorts of new normal. Hongkongers put on masks as if it’s always been a part of their everyday attire. Twitter, Facebook and 9GAG announced WFH arrangements for (all or part of their) employees. As for New Zealand, which anti-epidemic efforts received international recognition, the prime minister encouraged employers to implement a four-day working week, boosting the well-being of employees while stimulating local consumption and travel.

Perpetual Guardian, a local corporate with 200 staff, shifted to a four-day workweek since as early as 2018. Founder Andrew Barnes commended the practice, stressing that his colleagues “receive 100% pay, work 80% of the time, and deliver 100% productivity”. Last year, Microsoft Japan also experimented with the idea, finding a 40% surge in work productivity. Wonder what Hong Kong bosses make of this?

Green Monday|Hong Kong

(Photo: Green Monday)

Plant-based meat is becoming a fashion statement. Besides the US brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, surely we can’t miss the Hong Kong-based OmniPork, which has stepped onto the international stage. Developed by the Canadian-based R&D team of social enterprise Green Monday, the “meat” is made mainly of peas, beans, mushrooms and rice.

Founder David Yeung is himself a long-time vegetarian. He’s flown to the States several times in an attempt to introduce Beyond Meat (the texture and taste of which are akin to beef) into Hong Kong. Realising later that pork is the more common ingredient in Asian cuisines, he created OmniPork per the Asian taste profile – from “minced pork” and “sliced pork” to the recent “new luncheon”. Hongkongers may now enjoy a healthy bowl of noodles with egg and luncheon, minus the guilt.


Scholar-Social Innovator → GLOBAL

American space archaeologist and fan of Indiana Jones: GlobalXplorer° founder marshalling netizens for heritage conservation

Sarah Parcak stressing the urgency of heritage conservation at TED. (Photo: TED Conference / Flickr)

Hailed as the pioneer of space archaeologist, American space archaeologist and Egyptologist Sarah Parcak was awarded the TED Prize in 2016. With her US$1 million grant, she built the online platform GlobalXplorer°, harnessing the power of citizen scientists to identify illegal excavations and combat antiquities trafficking.

How did this idea come to her? And what was her “greatest” discovery?

Read the full story



It takes more than GDP for a city to be considered healthy – the people’s well-being is a fundamental factor. Urban planning expert Prof Mee Kam Ng believes that the built environment has much to do with our well-being and sense of place. This begs the question: how do we fashion such a sustainable community?

Join this platform set up by Prof Ng to learn about key concepts about sustainable communities, as well as the relationships among place qualities, sense of place and well-being. Time to co-create our neighbourhood!

Learn more about the event, join the mailing list, and tell Prof Ng your views towards your own neighbourhood!


CUHK's support to scholar-social innovators

CUHK runs two funding schemes that support researchers to get down to social innovation – KPF and S-KPF. Selected projects may receive up to HK$400,000 for KPF projects or HK$600,000 for S-KPF companies. Over 200 teams have already benefited from the schemes, working on physical and mental well-being, social cohesion, cultural and heritage conservation, and so on.

Can’t wait to seize your chance? Prepare for the next round by learning the details here. Or share with us your ideas to get ready in advance!


Enjoyed reading?

(Photo: Unsplash)

Recommend Cubic Zine to your friends and partners – let us all do good and do well!

Learning never stops! Story recommendations from SoCUBE:
Prof Donna Chu’s pitch for universal media education
Esther Duflo’s experimental approach to poverty alleviation
Guatemalan professor’s chart-topping app Duolingo
Prof Gladys Tang’s sign bilingual academy


Not yet a subscriber? Do it now!

One email to feed you the hottest info from the social innovation universe! Cubic Zine is a publication under CUHK ORKTS’s social innovation platform SoCUBE. We are excited to bring you stories on what CUHK and glocal social innovators are working on, events happening around you and much more!

Back to News