Only 15% of Hong Kong youth (aged 15-30) are aware of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a survey released by the Hong Kong Chapter of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The SDGs adopted by the United Nations provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet through focus on 17 goals from ending poverty, to climate change and gender equality. In Hong Kong, the SDGs can act as a useful tool to address many of the city’s social issues.
Benita Chick is the founder and CEO of Encompass HK, a social enterprise dedicated to promoting the Sustainable Development Goals in Hong Kong. This month she was featured as one of the women changing the future of impact in Asia by Green Queen. Benita is a long-time diversity and inclusion (D&I) advocate, previously working as a IDAHOT director for Pink Alliance, a mentor for RESOLVE Foundation and a curator of award-winning first LGBT+ in the city walking tours. We talked with Benita to understand what is social impact for her and why she has chosen to focus her life on the SDGs.
Your background and past experiences are very diverse, what were the key steps which took you to where you are today?
I started working as an outdoor instructor in Outward Bound, then I worked in the university, later I was a little bit more corporate, working as an education consultant, and then I worked with one environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO), one youth NGO and finally a think tank. I think all these experiences help me to engage with different stakeholders which is very important for social impact. Being open-minded and willing to try different things are important because the work I do now I cannot copy from somebody else, I really need innovation.
Social impact is a term we hear a lot. For you, what does it mean to do social impact? How do you know that you are doing social impact?
In the social impact world, there is a term called impact measurement. People have different KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track the impact they do. And to be honest, I haven’t been very good at tracking the impact of what I do. But I have qualitative stories. I will tell you two stories. One story is we did an inclusive language training for a client. Afterwards, one of the employees emailed the whole office to say he is actually a transman and prefers to use the pronoun ‘he’. The employee was very happy that the company engaged in the D&I workshop. He felt more comfortable to be his own self. I think it is a very powerful story. Another recent story is I did a sharing for CUHK gender studies students about how they might discover their career path and what options there are in the D&I career. I got an email yesterday from one of the master’s students. He said he was very touched and inspired by my talk and he wants to learn more about how to get into this field. For me that is impact. Changing people’s lives. If I can inspire or empower people to think a little bit more, I think that for me is impact.
Your work is focused on the SDGs. What is their importance in your life?
In Encompass HK we promote the SDGs but I know it is difficult for some people who think the SDGs are very remote. For an individual, I think Good Life Goals are easier to comprehend. But I like to use the SDGs as a framework. The SDGs are a vehicle for me to talk about sustainability. It is a terminology. When you come to individual actions, maybe you need to give a few more concrete steps. The SDGs targets are very big words so it is difficult for people to understand. That is why in my programs I like to relate to daily experiences: if you are a responsible coffee drinker, maybe you can reuse the coffee grounds or bring your own cup. In this way I can make it more actionable.
What is the most important SDG for Hong Kong people, according to you?
SDG 12 – responsible consumption. Because Hong Kong is such a consumerist society. Now there is more recycling initiative, so people are a little bit more aware. But I still think Hong Kong people waste a lot, especially with the pandemic when everybody orders takeaway. SDG 12 is something everybody can do, no matter what age you are, what background you are. You don’t need a lot of knowledge, you can still do recycling and follow responsible behavior. That is why a lot of our Encompass programs revolve around SDG 12.
Besides your professional work, you do many other activities such as diving, which are also related to social impact and the SDGs. What is their significance?
Diving is very important for me. It’s a way to support my mental health. I don’t do meditation. I’m not very good at just sitting, I cannot do that. But I am good at just diving and disconnecting. Diving is also a way for me to meet other people. I teach some disabled people and for me that is very empowering. It is also related to what I do at Encompass – I want to help other people. I can help other people through diving. Another part about diving is looking at marine biodiversity which is something I am also passionate about and we also do environmental work at Encompass. I am a person who needs a lot of stimulation: I like going out, I like exploring the world, I like learning new things. If I keep myself doing a lot of things professionally and outside of work, whether it is music or diving, I can keep myself in a constant learning mode. I am not an expert in everything so if I need to talk about a new subject then I will go to read a book or watch a documentary. It is important to constantly get new ideas, because I don’t want to be stagnant, I don’t want to repeat the same thing ten times. So even if I do the same program many times, every time after feedback I get some new ideas, then I can improve my program.
Social issues can be overwhelming: people might feel like they don’t have the ability to make an impact. How do you keep motivation and inspiration to act and to keep on trying to change the world around you?
I think sometimes you get a bit disillusioned because change is painful and not many people are willing to change. I try to surround myself with people with similar values and ambitions. I have my own little SDG community. Especially because Encompass HK is such a small organization. I am the only full-time employee so I think surrounding myself with people who have similar struggles in their work allows me to have a support system. The world, especially now with the pandemic, can get very disappointing. For me it is important to stay positive, especially for my personal journey. I am bipolar so I am on medication and sometimes I have mood swings. I have a hope that things will turn better and things will change, no matter how small of an impact I make. Maybe I do a talk with a hundred people and only one will get touched. But that is already very powerful for me. I don’t need fifty people getting touched. As long as one or two people make some changes, then I am already making an impact.
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