Jo Soo-Tang wears many hats. She’s a mother, an avid philanthropist and a social entrepreneur. Above all, she’s a champion of positive change – be it through the work she does with the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital Foundation (HKAHF), which provides medical treatments to financially disadvantaged people across Asia; Splash, a charity that offers free swimming lessons to domestic workers; or the World Wildlife Fund, which focuses on endangered species conservation.
One of Soo-Tang’s most successful projects to date is the Women of Hope (WOH) campaign, which she launched in 2014. Part of the HKAHF, the annual campaign endeavours to raise money for the foundation’s Cancer Fund, which provides free mammograms, MRIs, PET/CT scans, and treatments to underprivileged cancer patients.
Each year, the WOH Committee shortlists 36 inspiring women across eight categories – such as culture, sustainability, healthcare and entrepreneurship – then invites the public to vote. Announced this May at an annual luncheon, HKAHF honoured eight 2019 Women of Hope winners and raised a remarkable HK$5.7 million through ticket sales, donations, table prizes, sponsors and on-site pledges.
We speak with Soo-Tang about the origins of WOH, running a successful campaign, and the need for more social philanthropy in Hong Kong.
ARIANA: Tell us about your connection to HKAHF.
Jo Soo-Tang: Adventist is very close to my heart – I am the third generation of my family to work for the foundation and have been involved for 35 years. It’s where I spend and invest most of my time outside my family.
ARIANA: What were your goals when you set up Women of Hope in 2014?
JST: WOH started as a marketing campaign with a goal to promote the HKAHF’s Cancer Fund. We worked with a magazine called The List [now defunct], which helped us come up with the concept and collect nominations. Since there are over 9,000 charities in Hong Kong, you really have to be proactive and think with a commercial mindset. WOH was my way of doing that.
ARIANA: Around 60 people attended the first WOH luncheon. This year, you had 400. Did you expect it to grow so quickly?
JST: Not at all. We didn’t raise any money at our first luncheon. We also had yet to set up a committee. This year, we raised HK$5.7 million. It’s grown tremendously over the years.
ARIANA: Why do you think that is?
JST: Cancer is something that resonates with a lot of people. So many of us have been affected by the disease in one way or another – whether it’s ourselves or a family member or a friend. I think the emotional component of WOH – the fact that we have survivors sharing their stories – makes attendees feel close to the cause, and willing to donate.
ARIANA: What do you do with the funds?
JST: At first, the funds went towards MRIs and PET/CT scans. Now, it’s a more comprehensive programme which includes diagnostic services and treatments. We offer breast mammograms, help pay for targeted treatment drugs and provide tomotherapy – a type of radiation therapy.
ARIANA: WOH is organised by women, for women. How does that impact the project?
JST: I believe there’s definitely a ‘girl power’ attitude shared by the women on the committee. We are all very different individuals, but we are very strong-willed and able to tolerate a lot. That shows in the energy we pour into WOH. We want to create a network where we can lift and support each other. I think that’s quite powerful.
ARIANA: HKAHF also launched Men of Hope [MOH] in 2016. What’s the mission?
JST: We branched out with MOH to raise money for the Adventist Heart Fund. MOH awards socially conscious men who advocate for causes they care about – maybe it’s environmental issues, economic empowerment or children’s development. This year, we raised HK$2 million through sponsorships, table sales, pledges and a silent auction to support patients undergoing heart surgery.
ARIANA: Aside from WOH, what other charities are you involved in?
JST: Earlier this year, I started working with the World Wildlife Fund. I am currently helping them organise their gala dinner, which will take place next March. It’s another major project, but I wanted to learn more about sustainability, conservation and wildlife, because these are urgent issues. If we don’t change the way we treat our planet, it won’t be long before we don’t have one.
I’m also involved with Splash, which teaches underprivileged children and migrant workers how to swim with free lessons. That’s a cause I feel really close to. So far, we’ve taught over 2,200 people, but the target is 5,000 by 2021.
ARIANA: Do you think Hong Kong is doing enough to support marginalised communities?
JST: In many ways, it is. There’s a lot of money
here, a lot of foundations – some more active than others – and so there’s
definitely a will to give back.
At the same time, some of these philanthropic ventures and individuals are still very old-fashioned. They write a cheque, and think their work is done.
ARIANA: How can we improve as a society?
JST: I think we should be focusing on social
enterprise. That approach [business models with a social mission] is still very
underdeveloped in Hong Kong – we are five to 10 years behind a lot of other
countries. It’s through that kind of work that you really impact communities long-term.
However, social investments don’t have immediate returns and you’re often
looking at 10 to 15 years.
I think that delay might put some people off.
ARIANA: As for WOH, how do you hope to expand further?
JST: With more resources, I’d love to create an alumni network. I think the women we award could really champion powerful and impactful initiatives if we could create an ongoing dialogue with them. Hopefully we can get there one day.
ARIANA: And what’s ahead for you?
JST: This June, I was made honorary chairman of the HKAHF for life, which I didn’t expect at all. It’s incredibly humbling. I see it as a sign to keep working and promoting these good causes. I don’t see myself slowing down at all.
Learn more hkahf.org.hk/woh