If you listen to one Hong Kong-based podcast this autumn, make it #impact. Launched in 2017, the podcast, which sees up to 700 downloads per episode, celebrates the change-makers in the city who are working to make the world a better place.
With an aim to empower listeners to take action, feel inspired and give back to their communities, each episode of #impact covers a different topic: female entrepreneurs, urban farming, homelessness, refugees, mental health and much more.
Ariana spoke with #impact founder Regina Larko to learn about her inspiration for the podcast; her vision to raise awareness about social issues; her growing community – and why she feels a little audio storytelling can go a long way.
ARIANA: Tell us about you. What’s your story?
Regina Larko: I’m originally from Vienna, Austria. In 2004, I moved to Beijing, China as an exchange student – and that experience really forged my path. I met my husband in China and, after we graduated from school, we moved to Shanghai, where I worked at an international think tank.
I was doing a lot of research as a programme manager on China relations with the rest of the world, as well as running a civic education programme for five years in Shanghai and Beijing. We then had a chance to relocate to Hong Kong, which brought me here in summer 2014.
What inspired you to start #impact podcast?
RL: I was invited to work with the same think tank on international relations when we first moved to Hong Kong. But it made me think: Do I want to continue being a programme manager, as I have been for years? Am I really using my talents to make a difference? Or should I lean into something new? So I started freelancing for media startups and established media organisations, like The Economist Events and met many interesting people that way.
Why a podcast?
RL: I’ve always, always been such a huge fan of audio content. As a child, I would always love listening to audio cassettes, even though we had a TV at home, and I would pretend to be a radio host. And as an adult, I listen to the radio and podcasts all the time.
Audio just has a deep impact on me. When I listen, I feel like I am right there with the person who recorded the podcast. It has this intimate feeling and I think it can touch our hearts more than other formats.
I didn’t know anything about audio editing or how to publish a podcast, but my love for audio motivated me to try to create a podcast. It proved to be a great way to connect with new people in the city. When I started doing audio interviews, I had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring people who were running NGOs, or who had started their own social enterprises – people who were making an impact in a positive way.
So what’s the idea behind #impact?
RL: I really wanted to learn more about NGOs and the people behind them. So I started interviewing founders and directors about their work, their insights and the difference they are making in the community. Since then, we’ve featured so many amazing organisations, such as HandsOn Hong Kong, The Brightly Project, Sailability, and Resolve Foundation, just to name a few.
The podcast that I started in my bedroom now has more voices and contributors. And we have grown since then. Now we have co-hosts in Honolulu, Sydney, Berlin… It is wonderful to see how something that started in Hong Kong can now also find a more global audience.
Tell us about some of your most interesting episodes.
RL: Just recently, we had an episode out of Seoul where our co-host Carol Li spoke to an organisation that is educating and empowering North Korean refugees. And then our co-host in Berlin, Alice Gumppenberg, recently shared an important story about migration.
For me, one that really stands out is an interview I did with Pol Fàbrega from urban farming outfit Rooftop Republic in 2016. We talked on an actual rooftop farm – up atop the Fringe Club – which was really special. I also loved doing a live recording with Christina Dean from Redress because it was really exciting. Since it was recorded live, people were sitting there watching us, so you can’t edit anything out!
For another episode, I fondly remember visiting ImpactHK’s day centre for the homeless community, where individuals can cook, eat and hang out. I think that was very meaningful. Actually, I have interviewed ImpactHK founder Jeff Rotmeyer two times – the second time, it was so special to see how far he has come.
What makes your guests stand out?
RL: All the people I have featured on #impact have dedicated their lives to different causes – they are really in it for the long run. And you can tell that they will not easily give up, even though they are often fighting against many odds. Especially this year, everyone is struggling.
I remember interviewing Matt Friedman from The Mekong Club, who is fighting against modern-day slavery in 2017. At one point, he explains why he sticks with it even though the odds are stacked against him and the number of victims is just so high.
It just gives me goosebumps just thinking about his answer. He said: “10 million small, compassionate actions would translate into a lot.” Hopefully, anyone listening also felt inspired.
What makes for a great podcast conversation?
RL: A conversation is amazing when it’s authentic and unrehearsed, and you feel like you’re really getting to know that person. And you can strip off all these masks and formalities and roles you play in life, and just get to the heart of things, that can be really powerful. So I try to build an atmosphere where my guests feel safe to share and be themselves.
Are there any issues you are particularly passionate about?
RL: Mental health is a topic that I feel strongly about because I have lost a relative to depression. I would like to cover it more, especially in these times. Everyone is trying to cope with these changes and crises.
But unfortunately, mental health is very stigmatised all over the globe. Everyone is afraid to talk about it because of the stigma. Once we experience the pain and the void that a tragedy like suicide leaves in your own life, you just don’t want this to happen to anyone else. So that is why this cause in particular is very important to me.
What else is #impact working on?
RL: Well, Season 5 is in the works and will be launching in winter 2020. We also do podcast lessons and broadcasting courses, so we can teach other people how to make their own show and spread the love for audio. In addition, we work with NGOs like the KELY Support Group, to help them create their own podcast.