The award encourages teens to recognise social problems and help others in need.
It is important for contestants to have a deep understanding of social issues, but they should possess a sense of empathy too.
Selflessly devoting their time to voluntary work is a noble act, but if students want to excel in the Student of the Year (SOTY) Community Contributor award, they will need to do more than that.
Rather than just taking part in community services, it would be ideal if they can take up leadership roles too, and influence their peers to engage in voluntary work. Having a deep sense of social justice and knowledge of social issues are also key to securing the award.
This year, we have Chua Hoi-wai, chief executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service; Cliff Buddle, special projects editor at the South China Morning Post; and Leong Cheung, executive director of charities and community at the Hong Kong Jockey Club as the adjudicators for the Community Contributor award. The award’s purpose, as the judges unanimously point out, is to encourage teenagers to recognise social problems and actively help those in need.
“What I think distinguishes this award from the others is the dedication that the contestants show towards the community,” says Buddle. “Usually, the finalists are young people who are extremely busy with their studies … On top of that, they are spending hours and hours helping people in the community with their voluntary work. So I also think it’s that desire to help the wider community that makes this particular award important.”
When it comes to the qualities that the judges are looking for in contestants, Chua says that it is important for them to have a deep understanding of current social issues. Apart from that, empathy is crucial too.
“The winner should be a caring and responsible person, eager to learn from others, and be humble enough to put themselves in the shoes of underprivileged people,” Chua adds. “They also have to demonstrate how their voluntary service could make a change.”
Knowing where their interest lies and focusing on excelling in that area helps make the contestant stand out.
“The contestants should have a vested interest in their chosen area of community work, whether it be working with a social enterprise, through education initiatives or caregiving,” Cheung says.
Buddle says that the judges are also looking for young people who are clearly very committed and motivated, who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, and the way in which they want to help.
“Very often, the voluntary work that the contestants do gets them thinking about broader social issues,” he adds. For instance, things which could be done, or policies that could be adopted to help people in whichever area it is that the young people are doing their voluntary work. After fully understanding the challenges, the best contestants will usually have some idea of how to resolve them.
Buddle also wants to see some character in the candidates.
“We want to see the real person,” he says. “Some questions I have asked in the past are: What is the biggest challenge they have faced in their life? How did they deal with that?”
A lot of the work that the candidates do on top of their studying requires them to be very determined. Sometimes, Buddle says, it leads them into situations where they do have to show some strength of character to persevere. Sometimes they have learned lessons from their own problems in life and used those lessons to help others face issues as well. That sort of strength is important.
When asked how they would pick the better candidate between two students who have very similar backgrounds and capabilities, Chua says he will look for “their passion, leadership and ability to strike a balance between voluntary and academic commitments.”
Cheung believes the outstanding candidate should be able to show that their accomplishments have had a profound impact on the lives of others.
“For example, it could be improving the lives of dementia patients in Hong Kong, or helping their carers access resources,” he says.
He adds that the candidate, ideally charismatic, should be able to demonstrate a strong ability to become a future community leader.
Although it’s different each year in terms of what marks a candidate out as special, Buddle says, “Sometimes, those better candidates convince me that they’ve got this clear vision, and you can see they are planning to take their projects further, even after their studies. It makes you want to extend a helping hand to help them achieve their dreams.”
“We are looking for something that comes from the heart that will make that candidate stand out,” he adds.
During the interview, Cheung suggests that candidates just be themselves, and not try to pretend to be someone else.
“The judges would like to know more about them and what they have done in their own words,” he says. “They should also show that they are happy and enjoy what they are doing.”
Apart from being genuine, Buddle also points out that the candidates should come prepared.
“Have a think about topical issues, and make sure you have something to say. I have previously asked the contestants to give some advice to Carrie Lam. Do give some thought to questions that might be asked about the challenges facing Hong Kong.”