SOTY 2015: Are you really contributing to Hong Kong, or just to your CV?

By Melanie Leung

Racking up hours of volunteering and community service is fine, but that doesn't make you a true community contributor

By Melanie Leung |

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Kim Mak (left) would love to see how student go on to help Hong Kong as adults.

Lots of students have volunteer experience, so how can you stand out to become Student of the Year - Community Contributor? We asked Kim Mak, Executive Director for Corporate Affairs at the Hong Kong Jockey Club and one of the panel judges.

Hello, Kim! Great to see you back on the panel. How excited are you about this year's SOTY - Community Contributor award?

Hello! I'm very excited, because every year I meet such interesting students. To me, this award is especially important because it doesn't only focus on individual excellence but recognises students for their efforts in the community. That's why I always find it so inspiring to hear their stories.

Many students volunteer in their spare time. What is it about a candidate that catches your attention?

I'm a real believer in "life changing life". While it's easy to accumulate hours of voluntary service, it's much more challenging to make a real difference to the people you are helping. In my experience only someone who has really volunteered from the heart can do this. Those students always stand out to the judging panel immediately. 

Can you give us an example of a community contributor that stood out from the rest? It doesn't have to be from SOTY.

I always remember a candidate from a few years ago. He was a new immigrant, and because he wasn't used to the Hong Kong school system, he struggled academically. But then his teacher suggested he get involved in community work. The change was immediate. He found himself as a person, he developed his confidence, and his results improved. 

The important point is that through this experience his life changed for the better - and so did the lives of the people he was helping. So that really was "life changing life". 

You've been on the judging panel for three years. What are you been looking for in candidates that you have yet to see?

I think students go through a change when they become involved in community work. When we are young, we are used to being [looked after] by our parents and our family. So to serve others, and to do so willingly and with heart, is a big step. So what I am always looking for is evidence of that change of heart. 

Beyond that I'm looking for evidence of leadership - a student who can inspire their classmates to participate through their words and actions. Of course, the biggest test is when the student has to handle a crisis, and this is something we rarely see. Personally I think it would be very interesting to follow our student winners through to their adult lives, to see how they have built on all these experiences and contributed to Hong Kong.

Can you suggest ways for students to be better contributors to society?

Community service teaches a lot of lessons about life and living. We experience other people's difficulties. We also see people overcoming these challenges, hopefully with our help. Through this we learn that life always has its ups and downs, but there is also always a positive side. 

If you learn that lesson, you will be in a better position to help others when they experience difficulties in their lives.

How can we motivate our fellow volunteers?

Motivation is a process. Lecturing team members, or criticising them for their negative attitude, is unlikely to work. You have to understand why people behave the way they do, and give them positive reasons to change. Show them that through volunteering they not only help others, but also help themselves. And if, when you first try to persuade them, not everyone shares the same point of view, seek alternatives where you can get some agreement. Keep trying, and be patient. 

If a student is already struggling to cope with studies, what advice would you have for them to become community contributors? 

I don't think students should be thinking in terms of the amount of time they spend - that's the wrong measurement. If you give service from the heart, and you have really made a difference to others, then I think you have made your contribution. 

The important point is to make the effort. This is not just good for the community, but good for you. Gaining real-life experience outside your studies will put you in a much better position for your future adult life and career path.