Finding purpose through social impact, from sainthood to entrepreneurialism
By Hei-Yue Pang | I used to want to be a professional Mother Teresa. In high school, I armed myself with government-addressed postcards demanding divestment from the Sudanese government. As a college student, I poured my free time into fundraising campaigns to build rehabilitation centers for former child soldiers in Uganda.
While my younger self was unsure exactly how this dream of financially sustainable saintdom would become a reality, I participated in enough service learning activities to know that I had a passion for and vocational calling to create social impact.
I encountered social enterprise for the first time during an internship with Artists For Humanity (AFH), an organization that empowers at-risk youth through training and mentorship in creative arts and design, and connected the youth with paid employment opportunities.
I was inspired by AFH’s business-driven approach to meet their mission, such as renting out their beautiful eco-sustainable building for special events. Through this internship, I saw how a business can be structured for social change, while ensuring the economic wellbeing of each stakeholder.
And so began my pursuit to pragmatically marry business with social impact.
I equipped myself with traditional business skills, such as marketing and operations. After a few roles, I found myself inadvertently focusing on ‘people development’ with the organizations I worked in, whether they were for- or non-profit. From managing human resource training for international development professionals in Washington, D.C. to spearheading a cross-cultural youth leadership program between Hong Kong and Ghana, I realized I was most fulfilled when creating opportunities for people-focused transformation.
Even with this career epiphany, I still struggled with where to do this–literally, in terms of geography.
I grew up between Hong Kong and the United States, and also had a longtime dream of working in Latin America. After a few years bouncing between these disparate yet personally relevant parts of the world, I came to the conclusion that in order to make the most impact, I needed to be where I could draw from resources that could not be so easily recreated.
I wanted to be connected with the ethereal parts of my identity–family, culture, and ultimately a sense of home. The only place that included all of these aspects was Hong Kong, and so to Hong Kong I returned.
Today, I’m privileged to coordinate an events and community platform for entrepreneurialism. I use business assets to create opportunities for growth with some of the most innovative organizations and social enterprises in Hong Kong. I don’t think my younger self could’ve fathomed where I would be today–very far from sainthood but exactly where I need to be.
For all of you who are looking to pursue a career with social impact, the best thing to do is to be a creative entrepreneur with your own life: identify and take ownership of the assets only you have, and leverage them with the communities you are passionate about. There is no shortcut; it requires dedication and an honest and sometimes brutal self awareness. While it helps to have the support of mentors and people who know you well, only you can get yourself there.
About the Author
Hei-Yue is Program Manager at Garage Society, where she coordinates Garage Academy, a knowledge sharing platform to support the startup ecosystem. Hei-Yue holds a degree in Political Economy from Columbia University, and has experience in building programs for youth leaders, refugees, and international development professionals.