Fuel of dreams
Katherine Yip's latest programme is a scholarship run with Bafta aimed at strengthening the British academy's ties with Asia, writes Kylie Knott
It comes as no surprise that Katherine Yip's 16th-floor office in Admiralty is bursting with colourful furniture, bright artworks and huge bouquets of flowers, the environment in many ways reflecting her equally bright and bold character.
"I wear a lot of black, but I love colour in the office," she says as she settles into a chair in a conference room that's spacious but, considering the office's prime location, is lacking in views. "Usually the conference room has the best views but I prefer the people who work here to have the seats with the best views," she says, pointing to desks which have skyscrapers and the harbour as a backdrop.
It's the sort of thinking you'd expect from someone with a career that spans humanitarianism (her charities have helped more than 15,000 children in Vietnam, and established technology schools on the mainland), and finance (she is the founder and chairman of KYG International, and the only female founding partner of two of the world's leading listed investment funds, PAG and VinaCapital Group).
Today, however, Yip's gaze is firmly fixed on her latest project: a scholarship by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) run in conjunction with the Yip Foundation, which she founded. Now open to applicants, the programme will initially give two Hong Kong permanent residents a chance to study in Britain and two British nationals the opportunity to pursue a postgraduate course in film, television or games in Hong Kong. In the second year, the experience will be widened to include other Asian countries.
"I'm a great believer in creating a sense of harmony through cultural exchange and 'edutainment', so this programme perfectly fits that agenda. It will support the next generation of talented filmmakers and game developers from Asia and Britain," Yip says. "It's a very exciting project."
Bafta, which has a significant presence in Britain and the US, is looking to extend its reach in Asia and sees Hong Kong as the perfect springboard. For Hongkongers wanting to live abroad and gain privileged access to the British film industry, the scholarship is a chance of a lifetime. "I understand all the relationship building that is going on behind the scenes and encourage this, but this is about giving successful candidates the chance to fulfil their dreams," Yip says.
And it's a dream that won't turn into a financial nightmare: the scholarships have been carefully designed to cover all expenses. "I really wanted the programme to not just be about money. We offer three components, which is very different from other scholarships," Yip says.
"We pay for the successful candidates' tuition, we pay their living expenses so they don't have to get a job to subsidise being in London and thirdly - and most importantly - the candidate will work with a mentor, someone from the industry who will oversee how they're developing. It really is everything that one would hope for from an exchange programme."
Her decision to collaborate with Bafta was not taken lightly. "I spent more than two years getting to know Bafta. My foundation is very careful about who we associate with, and Bafta, likewise, is a stellar brand. So the decision was made to bring Bafta to Asia and it's already a wonderful collaboration, very inspirational," she says.
"Bafta has a lot of history and an incredible breadth of knowledge. Its genres are expansive and it's so dynamic at what it does. Just look at the recent awards - it went from hi-tech [US movie] Gravity to [British TV series] Downton Abbey. Its scope is amazing."
Yip says Bafta is keen to forge ties based on the region's technological innovation. "This part of the world has such a great grasp of technology and that's been recognised by Bafta. One reason I chose Bafta was because it incorporated gaming into the awards and I believe gaming is the future."
Another reason for linking up with Bafta is her desire to further her role in the arts and improve Hong Kong's standing in the global arts sector. The Shanghai-born Yip left the mainland for Hong Kong with her family when she was just three months old. "I was made in China - I'm an export," she says, laughing.
Education and the arts played major roles in her upbringing. "I truly believe that education through entertainment is far more powerful than trying to cram a message down someone's throat," she says.
"We're all humans, and when we learn through 'edutainment' it is far more interesting. My mother was an incredible figure skater, a pianist and a doctor, and the first language that I learnt from her as a child was Russian because we weren't allowed to learn English. She would read bedtime stories to me in Russian - in fact, my name is actually Katarina," she says.
"There were always discussions about arts, music, theatre, and we always discussed movies after the credits rolled, so it's not surprising that I'm now involved with Bafta.
"As I went through life, travelled to different countries, I discovered that there are a lot more similarities between humans than differences. I also found that there was always an entertainment component to so much of what we do, so connecting education with entertainment has always been pivotal to my career.
"Everyone should find a way to support the arts - whether it's a corporation investing in programmes or one person buying a ticket to the cinema or a concert," Yip says.
Applications for the scholarships will be assessed by a panel made up of filmmakers, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a sitting judge. The scholarships will accept rolling admissions applications until the end of the year.
For more details on the Bafta scholarships, visit http://bit.ly/BAFTA-HKScholarships