Christine Fang Meng-sang discovered at a young age that helping others makes life meaningful.
Inspired by her late father, Harry Fang Sin-yang, a prominent orthopaedic surgeon whose devotion to the rehabilitation of the disabled touched many lives, Fang has made creating a fair society and empowering people in need her goal.
"Life is more than living an easy and happy life of your own. The joy that I see in people who have overcome difficulties [motivates me]," says Fang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS), an umbrella group of more than 400 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide 90 per cent of social services in the city.
Nobody should be deprived of fair access to resources because of their social class, skin colour or disability, Fang says. In a career of more than 30 years, she has sought to close the "opportunity gap" between the haves and the have nots, first as a community worker at a temporary housing area in Sham Shui Po, later as the secretary general of the Hong Kong Red Cross and, subsequently, as the head of HKCSS.
She is constantly inspired by the courage of the people she meets. They include her first client, a drug addict who reached out for help because she no longer wanted to let her grandmother down; disaster survivors coping with trauma and loss whom Fang came across when she was with the Red Cross; and the severely disabled she meets during visits to NGOs in her present capacity and whose resilience she finds admirable.
"It is when you are cared for and loved by another human being, then you have the strength to change and hang on in difficult situations.
"I am privileged to see the strengths of humanity and learn from the disadvantaged," she says.
From government policies to business practices, Fang has been tirelessly advocating changes necessary to make a difference to the lives of the poor and the marginalised. Together with her team at HKCSS, she raises public awareness of needs in the community, organises visits to NGOs for policymakers and corporate leaders, and has become adept at articulating problems and making suggestions using government language. This year, she became a member of the preparatory task force of the government's commission on poverty, chaired by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
"We help people see things eye to eye and foster solidarity to find the solution together. Helping the disadvantaged isn't just the responsibility of social workers," she says. Under Fang, HKCSS is becoming a bridge that connects goodwill and needs of society. Among its initiatives are WiseGiving, which links volunteers and donors with NGOs, and Caring Company, which encourages businesses to be responsible to employees, the environment and the community, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. More than 2,000 businesses have earned the "caring company" title.
"I am in a position to build bridges among people, increase social capital and make people see the impact they can create by working together. I love my work," Fang says.