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Fion, a 2010 business administration graduate at HKUST, knew she would not want a long-term career in the financial sector while she was working as an analyst at a global investment bank. Rather, getting more people into volunteering and nurturing children and young people gave her much more satisfaction than advancing her coveted career. She soon branched out and pursued entrepreneurship based around what she thought was meaningful, and sought greater exposure and ideas together with her friend Wong Suet-Yi.
While attending networking events to make useful contacts and more friends on the same wavelength, both young ladies felt awkward about approaching industry leaders. And they realized that their feelings were common, like her peers, being fresh out of college and also desperate to build a career but having no mentors they could ask for advice.
So after one such session in 2014, Fion and Suet-Yi co-founded Time Auction as a side job, hoping to give anyone a chance to learn from their role models and to encourage more people to participate in community service. They came up with a list of outstanding people and emailed them. Within two weeks, they had lined up six or seven guest speakers.
Instead of making donations, people have to devote at least 10 volunteer hours to a charity of their choice in order to earn a mentoring session with these successful and respected professionals in town.
After working at the investment bank for four years, Fion continued to work as a product evangelist at a media start-up company for two years. Every day Fion would do a little bit to build Time Auction from scratch, creating events on a minimal budget and doing all the marketing herself. “At this stage, you always question whether it is for you: entrepreneurship is definitely not for everyone, many people value stability over uncertainty – it’s all about knowing who you are and what makes you feel fulfilled – different people will have their own answer,” says Fion.
So she persevered, and the number of people who donated their time and support starting growing. In early 2017, they officially registered Time Auction as a charity and were approached by two donors, Fion thus decided to quit her day job and go all in. The donation was used to hire staff to run the program. They hold about seven to eight events every month now, run by two full-time staff and some volunteers. Depending on the type of event, participants may be required to pay a fee to cover relevant costs such as venue and food.
Fion credits her HKUST experience in helping her embark on this unique path in the charity sector. When she was studying, she joined the Asia-US Service Learning Program at Stanford University through HKUST Connect, educating herself on climate change and social entrepreneurship. “I was learning so much about how to start a business and at the time was looking at the frozen yogurt segment, which was taking off in a big way. It all seemed like a lot of fun, and it got the brainstorming ball rolling for me,” recalls Fion.
The Entrepreneurship Center also helped connect her to the students and alumni that would be some of the biggest volunteers in the initial stage of Time Auction. Invaluable to the success of the project was having the right mentality and attitude. “You are not alone if you don’t have resources and time, it’s all about those hacks that maximize what you have to achieve the goals you are aiming for,” she advises.
Over the past few years, Time Auction has been popular among young adults, who were already passionate about helping others but were also eager to learn from the experience of others. Meanwhile, many well-established professionals and the biggest names in varied fields such as actors like Anthony WONG and businessmen like Jim THOMPSON, Chairman and Founder of the Crown Worldwide Group, also welcome the opportunity to hear from young people while sharing their experience.
Contrary to the image of being aloof, Fion finds that all the Time Auction mentors actually want to be engaged with young people in a meaningful way. “This kind of concept is very cross-platform, each generation can understand the struggles of the other, and charities are also able to find young people with skills, passion, and abilities. Overall this is about a connection or bridge across different segments of society to mutually benefit the whole,” says Fion.
Today, Time Auction has teams of dedicated volunteers in London, Toronto, Singapore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur, who host and facilitate regular events. They are increasing meet-ups in Hong Kong, and seeking more young professionals to get involved in making the city a better place by volunteering.
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