December 2012
Out of the Ordinary

Setting up one social enterprise project can be difficult enough – but only two years after graduating, Carrie Tang is already responsible for a range of initiatives that are helping the disadvantaged in our society. She credits HKUST for much of her initial inspiration.

Carrie Tang describes herself as an "ordinary 23-year-old girl", yet take a look at what she has achieved already and you will find someone with a very big heart, a lot of passion and drive, and who works very hard to help the disadvantaged in society.

The accomplishments include publishing a magazine that focuses on social enterprise projects of young people. She has started a voluntary service group called Sowergift and the China branch of international movement Design for Change that empowers young children to be the catalyst of change. And, most recently, she has set up a café that not only serves tasty food and drinks but is also a showcase for social projects and for artworks and crafts created by youth.

Carrie's path to graduation was typical of what she calls a "traditional Chinese family’s expectation". She got good grades at school through diligence and application, gained a place on an accountancy program at HKUST and graduated with a BBA (ACCT) in 2010. "My family wanted me to be an accountant, and although I loved the studying I didn't want to work in accounting. I wanted to work in a social enterprise, but it was not easy to find a job that suited my passion." 

She decided to "start small" as she says, and after a few months in an accounting job had saved enough money to set up DreamMag with a friend. “We publish stories of youth in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia who have been ignited by their passion. It might be a voluntary group, an arts project, an NGO or their own business that they have set up." Carrie explains that they needed HK$20,000 to publish the first issue, so they set about looking for sponsorship. “We searched for corporates on the web and sent out emails and letters telling them our story. But this failed because large corporations wouldn't pay attention to this type of email. After a couple of weeks, we decided to research the companies' backgrounds, their missions, and then with that understanding we found they were more willing to reply. Some companies offered sponsorship, and along with money from friends we published the first issue in April 2011. We are now about to release issue number six! We now have four partners and a team of about eight to ten voluntary reporters. Most of them are studying for associate degrees or diplomas at Hong Kong institutes and want to become journalists."

Her latest project is the Go Inside Café in the Fortune Metropolis Mall in Hung Hom, set up in September. "We wanted a ground floor place so that everybody can see what we are trying to achieve – this is difficult to find with reasonable rent in Hong Kong, but we are lucky enough to have investors who appreciate our idea."

Where did Carrie's own passion come from? A number of things opened her eyes to a different way of living. "I am proud of being a HKUST graduate – the university gives you lots of opportunities. I did a lot of voluntary work during my studies. I went on an overseas exchange to Lancaster University in the UK, where I discovered that youth overseas don't just think of earning money – it is not the end point. But in Hong Kong many students don't know what their passion is or what their dreams are. I also got a Working Holiday Visa for Australia, where I finally found a job in a coffee shop – so that's where I got the experience for the café!

"Finally, when I graduated I suddenly had a clear mind that I wanted to do something different instead of getting a stable accounting job. I was encouraged by a few passionate friends and a coach that I met in a youth leadership camp," explains Carrie.

"Stepping back, I don't see myself as a very successful or high-profile person and I am still finding the sustainability of each project that I initiate by learning hard from many experienced social innovators around me. Moreover, I find that all these
try-fail-try-success actions let me know where the social innovator's passion comes from. And I am surprised that my action also ignites the lives of young people around me."

Her advice to fellow alumni or students about to graduate is that you don't have to wait till you are rich or have plenty of free time to become involved in social enterprise projects. "Even though we are not rich, we are already blessed compared to many underprivileged people all around the world. The most important thing for every young person to make their dream come true is not what their background is, but to find their passion and having at least one person around you who can continuously tell you 'You can!'. Show your family that you are not just day-dreaming; they worry about you, so show them that it is your career long-term."

Go Inside Café