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Tastemakers: Joleen Soo of the Cambodian Children’s Fund

You might recognise Joleen Soo from her days at Buzz Concepts (Lily & Bloom, Fly, Volar) as marketing director, where she looked after all venue communications and helped to set up the Buzz Agency events marketing arm. Having worked for Fox International Channels, LUXE City Guides and Moet Hennessy Diageo, Soo made a surprising decision to switch careers and start working as the development director for the Cambodian Children’s Fund.

“No one works in an NGO to get rich, so it’s obviously the cause that is the main motivator. It’s an overwhelming and dramatic career path filled with wonderful stories and unparalleled fulfilment. I felt I had reached a point in my career that it was time to reflect on what rewards were important to me, and what were my new priorities and goals were moving forward,” said Soo. We caught up with her in between meetings at Chateau Zoobeetle to chat about her new job and what it was like to transition from the world of luxury to working for an NGO.

Tastemakers: Joleen Soo of Cambodian Children’s Fund
Joleen Soo brings her savvy business mindset to Hong Kong’s charity scene.

A typical working day… involves meeting a lot of existing and new donors. You’ll see me running around Central a lot visiting the beautiful offices of all the big banks to coffee shops — I know how exorbitant the price of a cup of joe around town is but it’s worth a seat to chat for an hour or so. It’s funny how I thought my life would slow down after leaving ‘corporate’ but my days are now fuller than ever.

Working for a charity in Hong Kong… has its difficulties. Hong Kong welcomes some of the most dynamic, driven people from all over the world. Clearly this city is almost a unique career pinnacle for people who are clearly in a position to give. What happens is something called charity fatigue — where potential donors almost become desensitised to needy causes simply because there are too many charities all reaching out to the same groups of people.

Related: 5 social entrepreneurs in Hong Kong to watch now

For Cambodian Children’s Fund… one of our biggest challenges is getting people to contribute to a cause outside of Hong Kong. Many people ask me: ‘why should I give to Cambodia, why not Hong Kong or China?’ My answer to this is my personal reason because this is the organisation I have found to be the most efficient and effective. In every country there are children that need help — find the organisation that embodies the qualities that are necessary for the charity to be successful in its cause.

One of my most bittersweet moments… was when I was invited to our “high-risk girls home” where we board a small number of girls who don’t have a safe place to call home. Many of these girls have survived the most horrific abuse. When I was there, it was nothing more than a flood of happy little girls all trying to sing songs to me, show off their English and simply hold my hand. It was very clear to me that they had been saved, and my responsibility was to help them have a future.

Tastemakers: Joleen Soo of Cambodian Children’s Fund
Chateau Zoobeetle and Potato Head are among Soo’s favourite hangout spots.

My advice to anyone looking to work for a good cause… would be to find an organisation that is run well. Nothing kills good purpose like bad management.

In my spare time… I love to shop online! I’ve also been terrible after my second baby and I consider taking the MTR as my workout of the day.

My family… is a huge source of light and laughs. My husband is always talking about the latest tech innovations that will change our world, and my two little children keep me smiling and on my toes.

My cheat meal… includes chicken wings, chocolate chip cookies and Sift cupcakes. And french fries. Oh and the entire Marks and Spencer biscuit aisle.

In Hong Kong… I love to browse Kelly & Walsh at Pacific Place, it’s quite the sanctuary. I’m currently also loving the new Potato Head in Sai Ying Pun and looking forward to when they start to serve wine before 5pm. I’m also a Southeast Asian food snob given my roots from Singapore and Malaysia — and I have to say their food is pretty legit. I also love to meet my good friends, Elsa and Johanna, at their beautiful shop Chateau Zoobeetle for drinks.

In the future… I would really like to conceptualise and create a unique show, exhibition or event in Hong Kong. I have some ideas but for now CCF is my priority!

Follow Joleen @joleenwhodreams and find out more about the Cambodian Children’s Fund at cambodianchildrensfund.org.

Photography by: Claudia Lee. Special thanks to Chateau Zoobeetle.

Yi Li Dawson
HK Editor
Yi Li is your typical half-Brit half-Chinese hybrid with a serious case of wanderlust. When not writing, she's either on the hunt for the best new cocktails, on a hike or enjoying a sinful bowl of truffle fries (and working them off at XYZ). Follow her @yilidawson on Instagram or Twitter.
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