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On a regular basis Angels: 5 Hong Kong Philanthropists To Know, From Alia Eyres To Amanda Cheung

On a regular basis Angels: 5 Hong Kong Philanthropists To Know, From Alia Eyres To Amanda Cheung

Prestige celebrates five Hong Kong philanthropists who are tirelessly working, giving, helping and inspiring in a quest to uplift the less fortunate.

ALIA EYRES

CEO, MOTHER’S CHOICE

Alia Eyres. Photo: Supplied

After working as a corporate lawyer in Hong Kong and New York, in 2012 Alia Eyres decided to change pace and lead the NGO Mother’s Choice, a local charity serving the many children without families and pregnant teenagers living in Hong Kong. She now heads a team of approximately 150 staff and 900 volunteers, who provide quality support services for children, young people and families in crisis.

However, her journey with the charity started long before that. In fact, it was her parents and their close friends who started Mother’s Choice, when Eyres was just nine years old. “I watched them and so many from our community – from work, church and school – give sacrificially of their time, money, and skills to help young mothers and babies who didn’t have anyone else to care for them,” she says. Of course, witnessing such kindness from a young age shaped her into the woman she is today. “Seeing their incredible acts of radical generosity and hospitality, as they opened their homes and embraced others as part of their own families, profoundly impacted my life.”

These days, Eyres believes social isolation lies at the root of child abuse, abandonment, neglect and the cycle of teenage pregnancy.

Alia Eyres from Mother’s Choice. Photo: Supplied

“Vulnerable children and families have a profound need for connections,” she says. “By refining our volunteer model over the years and launching the Safe Families initiative, we’ve discovered a scalable approach to mobilise thousands of individuals in Hong Kong. Our goal is to surround struggling families with friendship and support, viewing them as integral members of our own families.”

With so much love to give, it’s no wonder Mother’s Choice has changed and saved thousands of lives in Hong Kong. But what Eyres finds most rewarding is when her efforts come full circle. “The highlight of my career has been meeting volunteers, donors, and community partners who were once recipients of Mother’s Choice services themselves,” she says. “Whether they were children without families or pregnant teenagers, witnessing their journey from being supported to returning and giving back in the same capacity has been truly remarkable. It represents a profound generational impact that fills me with immense pride and hope.”

SHALINI MAHTANI

FOUNDER AND CEO, THE ZUBIN FOUNDATION

Shalini Mahtani. Photo: Supplied

Shalini Mahtani is one of Hong Kong’s best-known philanthropists – and rightly so. In 2009, Mahtani’s three-year old son died suddenly because of medical neglect. She and her husband established The Zubin Foundation, named after their son, to provide opportunities for and reduce the suffering of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. “A lot of mothers blame themselves for their child’s congenital diseases, or feel helpless because they don’t know how to take care of them,” she says.

Since then, the foundation has changed thousands of lives, as well as building awareness and giving ethnic minorities a voice. “For me, the highlight of this journey has been that the needs of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are being heard,” says Mahtani. “The government is talking about ethnic minorities much more today than it did 10 years ago.”

The Zubin Foundation aside, Mahtini is also a member of the Commission for Children and has served on various advisory and statutory bodies for the past 12 years. Because of her tireless work, she was awarded a Medal of Honour by the Hong Kong government; she also received an MBE from Queen Elizabeth II for her work in corporate social responsibility.

Yet Mahtani remains deeply humble in her quest to help others. “My fundamental view is, ‘She could have been born me, and I could have been born her,’” she says. “We need to be grateful for what we have, whatever it may be. If I’d been born ‘that person’ who’s suffering from poverty or violence at home, what hope would I have that another human being would help me?”

Ultimately, Mahtani believes everyone should enjoy equal opportunity, in Hong Kong and beyond, regardless of complexion and gender. “To create a more inclusive society, we should all love and help each other under the same sky,” she says.

DAVID BEGBIE

DIRECTOR, CROSSROADS FOUNDATION

Crossroads Foundation’s David Begbie. Photo: Supplied

As the co-founder of Crossroads Foundation, David Begbie has been providing vulnerable people in Hong Kong with the resources they need for pretty much his entire life.

Set up by his family in 1995, Crossroads now has more than 45 volunteers working full-time alongside plenty more temporary volunteers. “From the age of three, I had the privilege of serving alongside my parents,” he says. “Watching my parents serve so joyfully and willingly made me realise that sense of joy of service could also be mine.”

Since then, the charity has come a long, long way. It’s built business engagement platforms for the UN, and run simulations for world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the UN, World Bank and hundreds of companies and schools. But simply helping “one person” is rewarding enough for Begbie. “The thing that brings my heart greatest joy is helping one person,” he says. “I recently asked someone his thoughts on how much a single human life was worth. His reply: infinite. I believe he’s right. Each year, we have the honour of impacting a million infinitely valuable people. That’s an indescribable privilege.”

David Begbie in action with Crossroads Foundation. Photo: Supplied

For Begbie, one of the greatest challenges as a philanthropist is dealing with human disappointment. “I once spoke to a lady who’d left her job in finance to educate women in refugee camps,” he explains. “She told me, ‘When I was in finance, it was easy to find individuals willing to invest half a million dollars into a business venture. But now I struggle finding people willing to give even $500 to educate a girl for a year.’”

These days, the Crossroads foundation is seeking assistance to move to a new site, but according to Begbie the mission remains the same: “To transition in such a way that we may continue to serve those in need, both here in Hong Kong and around the world.”

JEFF ROTMEYER

FOUNDER AND CEO, IMPACTHK AND LOVE 21 FOUNDATION

See Also

Jeff Rotmeyer. Photo: Supplied

Like many expats, Jeff Rotmeyer has a familiar story, first moving from Vancouver to Hong Kong as English teacher in 2005. Unusually however, shortly after arriving he threw himself into charity work, coaching football to asylum seekers and refugees. “I love using sport as a vehicle to build community by helping less fortunate individuals to be more included in society,” he says.

At the same time, Rotmeyer was also introduced to the problem of homelessness in Sham Shui Po, and also exposed to people suffering from down syndrome and autism, experiences he describes as “life-changing”. “Working with the neuro diverse and homeless communities led to me starting two charities on the same day, which I’m now leading,” he says.

ImpactHK offers a range of services to people experiencing homelessness, while the Love 21 Foundation supports those with down syndrome and autism through health and nutritional programmes.

Love 21 Foundation’s Jeff Rotmeyer. Photo: Supplied

Before starting the NGOs, Rotmeyer says he had no idea as to how caring Hong Kong is. “Both ImpactHK and Love 21 have received a considerable amount of support from thousands of individuals, corporations and caring foundations,” he says. “They’ve trusted and invested in us and for that we are extremely grateful.”

But that doesn’t mean the charities don’t face challenges. “Running an NGO, let alone two, in Hong Kong is extremely difficult because of a lack of funding,” says Rotmeyer. “There’s simply not enough money out there to support the charities that are doing vital work for the most vulnerable people in the city. We need more financial support, so please consider investing in our communities.”

AMANDA CHEUNG

MANAGING DIRECTOR, FIRST INITIATIVE FOUNDATION LIMITED (FIF)

Amanda Cheung from FIF. Photo: Prestige

Amanda Cheung is known for many things, from being a leader in business innovation, strategy and management to her high-profile jobs with major fashion houses. But it’s her role as managing director of the First Initiative Foundation that’s enabled her to help change the lives of thousands of people in Hong Kong.

Established in 2010, FIF supports and organises local initiatives that benefit the arts, education, community welfare and the promotion of Hong Kong’s culture on the world stage. Current initiatives include scholarships in various disciplines for outstanding students both locally and abroad, mentorship-based masterclasses with international artists and projects that preserve local traditional crafts and cultural heritage, as well as educational outreach programmes in the arts and sciences.

The daughter of Hong Kong jeweller Michelle Ong, Cheung was inspired by her mother’s charitable efforts. “Growing up, I watched my mum get involved in many projects,” she says. “I used to participate in some of them with her, like the Girl Guides Association of Hong Kong. I was around 10 years old when we started working with them. Seeing the work she does and the impact it makes is exactly what inspired me to start and it’s just continued from there.”

Like most charities in Hong Kong, the current economic climate has posed significant fund-raising challenges. Many companies are facing difficult decisions regarding their charitable budgets, but Cheung remains grateful for whatever support she can get. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have an incredible community of supporters, friends, and family who’ve consistently rallied around FIF,” she says. “Their unwavering belief in our work and our commitment to making a positive impact in Hong Kong has been a tremendous source of encouragement and support, even during the most challenging times.”

Source: Prestige Online

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