Charitable banker in it for the long run

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 4:47pm

An investment banker with much spare time is a rare breed. Even rarer is one who has athletic ambitions to rival a professional and a heart for fundraising on a par with their love of corporate deals.

Yet Moyee Lam is just that. The managing director in UBS' investment banking group heads to Madagascar next week to take part in a 250-kilometre, seven-day ultra-marathon organised by RacingThePlanet (RTP). That's four marathons back to back, followed by an 80-kilometre "long" day, a rest day, then a 10-kilometre dash, while carrying supplies of at least 10kg on her slight frame. This feat requires a steely resolve and countless hours of training.

Lam is using the daunting challenge to convince others to donate to her HK$1 million goal for charity. At least, she was. She upped her goal to HK$2.5 million as soon as her previous target came within reach.

It's not the first time she's combined corporate skills and hard work for a good cause. Over the past five years she's helped to build three homes for the needy in Vietnam, the mainland and Thailand for Habitat for Humanity (HFH), raising about HK$200,000 each time.

But this year, it's a case of "the bigger the physical challenge, the bigger the fundraising goal". So she brought together a fundraising team, held a corporate auction, and leveraged her connections to raise funds.

In addition to supporting HFH, the millions raised from her Madagascar run will also support local charity the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women (ACSVW) and its crisis helpline, RainLily.

Lam wanted to support the association after learning the horrific statistic that at least one in seven women in Hong Kong experiences sexual violence.

"It's a staggering number - and that's just the reported ones. More than half of those victims self-harm, and 20 per cent attempt suicide. I never realised it was so bad. Applying those statistics to, say, 100 women on the floor that I work with - that would mean 14 of those have been affected."

Lam's inspiration for running and charity work comes from satisfying a deep curiosity about her limits. "Six years ago I couldn't run for more than three minutes without thinking my lungs were going to explode," she says.

"And when I set the HK$1 million target, I wasn't sure we'd make it. I was interested to know what more I could do: how far I could go?"

She's explored her limits before. In 2012, before a three-day mountain race in Lijiang on the mainland, she came down with a fever. Determined not to quit, she trudged through two days and covered 50 kilometres before a hacking cough forced her to stop. She was diagnosed with pneumonia.

"The experience taught me you have to be careful. But it also taught me I'm the type of person who, if I set my mind on something, will want to do my best; I want to finish.

"Two years ago I remember thinking RTP was for nutters. And now I'm one of them."

Why have you chosen to support these two charities?I feel that the ACSVW doesn't have a voice in Hong Kong. The subject matter is taboo. Often the victims blame themselves and they don't report [sexual violence].

But there's no one to blame but the perpetrators. I hope that, no matter what the fundraising result is, if I can raise awareness of this cause in Hong Kong, that is a huge achievement already.

As for Habitat for Humanity, I feel people should have a comfortable home to live in. But many people cannot take this for granted. A house is more than a house. It's where a family grows together. It's where people can cultivate their dignity and plan for the future. It gives them a springboard out of poverty.

What's your biggest worry about the week? I have two: injury and blisters. I have a history of tendonitis behind my knees. If it flares up, it will be a very painful 250 kilometres. The blisters on RTP can get very bad. I've heard the first day in Madagascar is on the beach. It sounds idyllic, but if sand gets in your shoe, you're in trouble. And that's just day one.

What will keep you motivated? Assuming I reach my HK$2.5 million target, I've worked out each step is about HK$10. I'll challenge myself to take another step. What's the most unusual thing you will carry in your pack? Anything that is not mandatory kit is a luxury on a race like RTP. I'm much better at dealing with heat than cold, so I will splurge on a thicker long-sleeve top. I'll probably skimp on a thinner sleeping mat. I might regret that.

Is it your last fundraising effort? Contributing to charity is something I will continue to do for a long time. At first, I thought "giving back" was about me giving. For HFH, for example, I thought it was about me giving one week off work, paying for airfares, and doing physical labour to build a house.

But after that first build, I realised it's the other way around. I was getting so much back. The experience reset my perspective. It made me realise I was in such a fortunate position by being able to give. Inspiration, reward and fulfilment are some of the things I receive by giving. This is why I've continued to support HFH, and have moved my goal posts in terms of fundraising.