City Weekend

Meet the 16-year-old schoolboy who wants to redefine Hong Kong

Joseph Wan is challenging young minds to think about how they can better their city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 5:27pm

He may be just 16 years old, but ­Joseph Wan is the driving force behind a conference on Saturday where he is challenging young Hongkongers to redefine their city.

Joseph is the founder and president of Support International Foundation, an NGO that is staging a youth leadership event which will see secondary school students debate topics including the environment, political freedom, education and poverty.

They are expected to discuss their ideas with guest panellists from leading community organisations as they consider how they would overhaul the city.

The 16-year-old Chinese International School student founded his organisation, which provides educational programmes to some of Hong Kong’s low-income schools, two years ago.

“I really hope the participants leave the conference with a deeper understanding of the issues we face in Hong Kong,” he said.

“It’s a gross generalisation, but I think a lot of young students, especially those from affluent backgrounds, are unaware of their surroundings and the issues most people in Hong Kong face in their day-to-day lives.

“So, through this conference, along with our insightful speakers, I hope the participants will go away feeling strongly about a specific issue and wanting to take action.”

Joseph was inspired to start his own NGO after learning about his father’s successful rise from humble beginnings to company chief.

“My dad grew up very poor in Hong Kong’s notorious public housing, with nine siblings squished in,” he said.

“His parents could only afford education until secondary school. But my dad really loved learning, and didn’t want to give up so soon.

“So, he worked hard in factories and construction sites until the age of 23, when he could finally afford just one year at university in the UK. He ventured off to the UK and worked a night job just to get by. Now, he is director of a multinational engineering consultancy. This showed me that education really made a difference, which is why my organisation is so education focused.”

Though based in Hong Kong, Support International Foundation has expanded its operations to South Korea, the United States, Taiwan and the mainland. The ­organisation’s overseas projects are being facilitated by Joseph’s former school friends, who have returned to their home countries after studying in Hong Kong.

Joseph said he hoped to become an entrepreneur in the future. He balances his schooling with his various community initiatives, but said he does not feel his education has suffered.

“It feels normal,” he said. “In terms of school work, I try to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. But without parental support I would not have been able to do this.

“I don’t plan on studying anything like business at university, because I feel if one wants to be an entrepreneur, as long as they are passionate, they are good.

This is something that is very evident in the organisation as well. Our leaders are all passionate about what they do, which really embodies the ‘can-do’ spirit of Hong Kong.”

The Youth Leadership Conference is due to be held at One Island East from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

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