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A Word with Maddy Foo

Posted 17 March 2021 in EMpower News   |   Share


Ten years ago, when a Portfolio Manager at BTG Pactual, Maddy Foo took up the mantle of helping establish EMpower in Hong Kong, as a Founding Director and Underwriter. This month, Maddy and Cynthia discuss philanthropy in Hong Kong and past visits to grantee partner organisations that prioritise girls.

You were the founding Director of EMpower Hong Kong. How did that come about, and what gave you the faith that EMpower could work in Hong Kong?

I talked with Brad Wickens who helped launch EMpower in the UK and got involved because of your vision for youth—to equip them with a tool, a skill, and the ability to be independent. Then they can take care of themselves and also give back to their communities. I like the model of how we partner with local organisations in emerging countries.

Hong Kong has a robust culture of philanthropy and EMpower’s focus on creating opportunities for marginalised young people resonated with the expats and locals here. It was important at the start to explain to donors how EMpower was funded by underwriters, and donations go directly to fund programmes. More importantly, EMpower’s staff does a good job of identifying grantee partners. Performing the due diligence has made it easier to tell people what we do. It was just a matter of time needed to “sow” the seeds. That was what we did in the first couple of years, and we are reaping the harvest now. This is only possible through the collaborative efforts of many individuals, past and present directors.

You have visited many grantee partners in Asia. Talk to me about the focus on girls.

At Bali WISE—a live-in six month programme that offers education and skills training to help older girls gain access to skilled employment—besides room and board, girls receive a stipend of US $30 a month. The ability to send home a small amount to support their families also increased the chances of the girls completing their training. Ninety percent of Bali WISE graduates found professional jobs in the hospitality sector.

The Azad Foundation’s Women With Wheels programme helps resource-poor young women become professional drivers. The programme helps them make a living with dignity, but it also enables them to become more confident individuals. Some of these women have become strong advocates of the programme.

It’s really an act of bravery for a lot of these girls and women to do something that they have no role models for.

I agree, and this is also why I appreciate our local partners. The founders and staff are not just advocates for change, they often have to offer emotional and other support
outside the scope of the programme. Because social and cultural norms are highly influential over individual behaviour in a broad variety of contexts, our local partners have to help girls and women re-interact with their community too.

On gender, having been a trailblazer in a sector (finance) that tends to run male, what are your take-aways for girls and young women stepping forward?

I thank God and the people I worked with— bosses like James Loh who gave me the opportunity to flourish where I was. Also being in Singapore and HK there were many women who had paved the way ahead. On a personal level, it’s because I like what I do, and I’ll just go for it. Back to EMpower, I think confidence building of young people is important, even if it isn’t always stated as a grant objective.

There’s a lot of evidence about how important soft skills are. Maddy, your confidence, enthusiasm and can-do attitude as a fundraiser inspires us all. What do you find motivates people to give?

Thank you for your kind words, it is easy to be confident as EMpower has a good story to share. People support causes because they can and want to make a difference. Many of my peers and friends are already supporting different charities here but they are open to learn about us. Walk them through the three areas we fund; explore ways we fit with their own ideas and invite them to join us at our annual dinners.

I still remember the youth from Blue Dragon Vietnam, a partner we featured one year. He blew us away with his “DJ” skills and confidence. He was overwhelmed by the applause and cheers from the guests. He cried, and at that moment many reached for the tablet to key in their donations. The testimony of the youth moves us….

There’s no doubt there. They are so inspiring. You have visited so many of our grantee partners in Asia. What’s one that stands out?

My first visit to an EMpower grantee partner was after winning an auction item in our fundraising dinner. That trip to India was an eye-opener, I saw how challenging it was for young people living in bastis (urban settlements) to make their way to schools. EMpower has since made a chart to articulate their story.

Being out on the field gave me the chance to see that changes were taking place, though at the time no one fully appreciated how far reaching these changes were to be.

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