For Hong Kong's Ivan Au CPA, the financial crisis lit a spark to help others

Ivan Au is connecting business professionals with another side of Hong Kong.

"We wanted to do something cheerful and joyful."

Scores of excited children line up to have their faces painted. Grasped tightly in their small hands are tokens that they’ve been trading at tinsel-covered stalls for the past few hours.

For these children – some of Hong Kong’s poorest who live crammed with their families in units barely the size of two double beds sat side by side – this Christmas carnival is a rare chance to be the centre of attention.

For the young professionals manning the stalls, the day is about giving back and gaining insight into the poverty that exists in their own neighbourhood. And it’s a chance to bond with other business people.

Ivan Au, a partner in assurance at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong and the leader of CPA Australia’s Greater China Young Achievers Group, wanted to create an event with a real difference. One that would have a lasting impact on the professionals involved and be totally unlike other networking events the group holds.

“We wanted to do something cheerful and joyful,” Au says. “We wanted to do something bigger in scale and something that’s not just about giving or not just about serving, but with an element of engaging the members or engaging the people who participate in this.”

With a barely-there budget, the idea also had to be cheap to run.

I want to build up this helping and serving mindset into the younger people. 

Au and his 12-strong team opted for a Christmas carnival with a twist. Teams of young business people would be tasked with running stalls for children and their families who live in interim accommodation in a remote estate in Hong Kong.

The teams would have to equip their own stalls and work out how they would “price” the stall (using non-financial tokens given to the children). They would compete for prizes, scoring points depending on how many children they attracted to their stall and how much money they raised, which would be given to the community via a registered aid agency.

When the carnival was first run two years ago, it attracted about 100 volunteers and nearly 400 families.

“It was very successful,” Au says. One in five volunteers were CPA members and the rest came from the broader business community. Au wanted business executives to see for themselves the living conditions and needs of the community.

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service shortlisted CPA Australia Greater China last year for a community social responsibility award. Although the group didn’t win, “it’s still a big recognition,” Au says.

The charity challenge went so well that the Greater China Young Achievers Group hosted another carnival last year and will now look to run an annual Christmas event.

“Every year could be a different challenge,” Au says. “The idea would still be teams competing and what they are competing for is actually serving those in need.”

Life’s lessons

Ivan Au thinks he has had a pretty fortunate career so far – which is why he is keen to give back to others.

Au, who was one of INTHEBLACK’s 40 Young Business Leaders in 2012, saw his own family overcome some tough financial hurdles during the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

“Obviously a lot of businesses had difficulties and trouble,” he says. “They were not alone in this and therefore we also had tough times in the crisis.”

The experience inspired Au to study accounting at the University of Sydney, where he gained a Master of Commerce (Accounting & Finance). It also created a personal motivation to help families who are struggling, and it’s a desire he hopes to light in others.

“I want to build up this helping and serving mindset into the younger people,” he says. “I want people to start thinking about this early.”

See Ivan Au interviewed about his work with PwC in Hong Kong on thenakedCEO.com

To find out more about CPA Australia's Greater China Young Achievers Group, email [email protected]

This article is from the March 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.