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A Word with Stephen Chang

Posted 15 November 2023 in EMpower News   |   Share


Recently, EMpower’s President & CEO Cynthia Steele spoke with Stephen Chang, Portfolio Manager, Asia, at PIMCO. Stephen has 27 years of investment experience and is a long-serving member of our Hong Kong Board of Directors. They spoke about balancing work and philanthropy, building a culture of giving back, and more. 

Stephen, one thing that's really struck me has been first, the degree of PIMCO’s purpose-focused initiatives and then, in terms of philanthropy, your own engagement with affinity groups that I've come to know about through talking with you and reading your social posts. What does that kind of extra level of engagement bring into your life? 

While the day-to-day work life can be very intense, I believe there is scope to integrate what we find rewarding personally occasionally into the schedule. At times, as a leader in the team, you want to show why you work so hard and what good you can do to your community. That is where I want to weave charity into the mix where more people around you can get involved too. PIMCO gave me a very good way to integrate that.

PIMCO has two key focus areas for philanthropy: one is zero hunger and the other is on gender equality. Within the gender equality lens, we support charities to increase economic opportunities and financial strength to the world’s most vulnerable women and girls. There are activities that we want to bring to staff so they can get together with colleagues during an afternoon, to learn, to participate, and to contribute.

There are a number of different areas that we, as a company at PIMCO, encourage staff to engage with their communities. We have set times throughout the year, where we aim to encourage the generosity of our colleagues to engage in community engagement initiatives. One of these I find particularly meaningful, is a series of summer volunteer opportunities, within our Global Month of Volunteering. We have seen very good participation from all across the company, with 53% participation in 2023. It's built not only a culture of giving back, but also the bonding experience between staff.

In addition to these signature initiatives, we also hold roundtables and invite external speakers to update our staff on the good work that has been done in those areas and in the process bring forth a giving mentality into the broader offices. 

That’s fantastic, and it's to a degree that I haven't seen in many different places. Building on that, what trends do you either see or would you want to encourage in corporate volunteering and philanthropic giving?

If you talk about philanthropic giving, there are so many different good causes out there one can pursue, and ultimately it's a very personal choice on how you want to allocate. In terms of the corporate side, there is an added discipline to demonstrate more metrics and strategy around it. There is a need to be more focused and make an impact that is more visible or measurable. I think that's similar to some of the work that we have tried to do at EMpower. EMpower is youth-focused and then we have the different pillars to guide the strategy and put those in the right lens, be it on young people’s health, or on their career prospects, or learning. As a professional in the philanthropy space, I imagine you would aim for something more scalable, while having a portfolio of activities to achieve that strategy. You build your internal philanthropic team in those areas and have that core competency to engage with the right outside entities—instead of being too dispersed in terms of those efforts. One strategy we employ to achieve this is to focus on creating capacity of our charitable partners through pro bono volunteering. This allows us to leverage our core competencies and skill sets to provide a valuable service that our partners may not have in-house to help them maximise their programming.

Yes, one of the things that has really struck me about philanthropy is that in order to be strategic you need to focus, and if you're going to focus it means you have to sacrifice. You can't do everything and do it well. So, you've been part of EMpower Hong Kong almost since we were in diapers! I'd like to know what it is about EMpower's mission that you find the most compelling? 

I was checking on the calendar, and I've been a board member since October 2012, so it's been more than ten years. What I find compelling is the youth focus that we have, the 10- to 20-year-old period is very important in building someone's life: the philosophy, self-worth, and what they want to do for the rest of their life. I think it's a very critical time for you to think through what you want to achieve and setting goals for your own self. And EMpower has really brought a lot of positive impact to this cause. I have seen this through different grantee partners that we have worked with. There are cohorts of people, and some of them having “graduated” from our programs and subsequently making a very useful impact on their society and communities. Ten years: you can say it's a long time, or maybe it's not a long time. But as you see people growing and building from a more challenged upbringing to achieving something productive in their society, it is very rewarding. There are also cases where we have seen some of these graduates give back and be the trainer for the next cohort and amplifying and leveraging that positive impact to the next generation. I find that particularly gratifying as I look back. 

That's so great to hear, and it’s built into so many of the programmes we support. The alumni continue to engage, either because it's a structured part of the programme or because they on their own want to do something to give back to the generations to follow. Thank you, Stephen! 

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