Interview with Flora Chung

For this month’s member spotlight, we had the privilege of interviewing Flora Chung, a long-time friend and member of IAVE. Last month, after 42 years of service to Agency for Volunteer Service (AVS) Hong Kong, Flora retired as its Chief Executive Officer. In this interview, Flora reflects on the growth of the organization and volunteerism in Hong Kong over the past four decades, highlighting the highs and lows of being a leader in the field of volunteering.  Please join us in congratulating Flora on her successful tenure and here dedicated service to the volunteering community in Hong Kong and beyond!

Congratulations on your retirement and your successful tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at AVS! After 42 years of service at the organization, how does it feel to see how much AVS as grown over the years?

FLORA: AVS has seen tremendous growth over these years.  I joined AVS as a Referral Officer in 1979, and undertook various posts such as Senior Coordinator, Senior Executive, Division Head and General Manager, and became the Chief Executive Officer in 2002.  I feel gratified and proud of the remarkable development of the Agency especially over the last 2 decades.

AVS has achieved its role as a pivotal and leadership organization in advancing volunteerism in Hong Kong, with strong recognition from different sectors and the wider community.  AVS was actively engaged in a number of significant events in partnership with the government involving volunteer participation, notably the WTO Ministerial Conference, East Asian Games, Life Buddies, Fight Coronavirus Campaign, etc.

AVS also joined hands with the business sector in promoting volunteering and recognizing volunteer contributions, like the Hong Kong Volunteer Award, Give A Day Get a Disney Day, HSBC Share to Care Volunteering Campaign, Books for Love, Sharing Your Dreams and so on.

Internationally, AVS is the focal point and cooperating unit of UNV in Hong Kong and funded by the government, started the UNV-Hong Kong Universities Volunteer Internship Programme in 2015, sending university undergraduates to the UN overseas field units for a 6-month assignment.

In terms of finances, despite the inadequate government subventions, AVS has maintained a positive and healthy financial position with the support of charity foundations, corporate sponsorship and fundraising activities.  The annual budget has grown from HK$15 million (US$1.9 million) to over HK$30 million (US$3.9 million) from 2002 to 2021.

You have been involved with AVS since its early days. What initially drew you to join the organization and build it up to what it is today?

FLORA: After graduation from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, I wrote to AVS to offer myself for working with the organization.  As a social worker, my aspiration is to help people to help themselves.  I was immensely impressed by the mission of AVS to mobilize volunteers as community resources to assist the needy and to build a caring and mutually helping community.  In fact, my volunteer experience during secondary school and college days did affirm my belief in the value of volunteerism as a vital force to human and social development.

What are some of your favorite memories or accomplishments while working with AVS?

FLORA: There were numerous favorite memories. Just to name a few:

AVS set up the first Volunteer Training & Development Centre in Hong Kong in 2003.  It was  dedicated to enhancing the quality of volunteering and volunteer service management through delivering various types of professional training programs.  Under the funding of The Hong Kong Community Chest, we endeavored to expand the operation and services, and developed youth development and leadership programs to address the community needs.  It moved to a new premises in 2012 and was renamed as Hong Kong Institute of Volunteers in 2019, with a focus on promoting the Hong Kong Volunteer Charter and good standard of practices.

The hosting of the 10th IAVE Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Hong Kong was a success story which I cherished for years.  It helped strengthen AVS’ linkage with the international volunteer community and build oversea networks which has reinforced the status and recognition of AVS as a leadership volunteer organization locally and internationally.  I was most pleased to have developed long-term friendship with the IAVE colleagues and friends and counterparts worldwide from that juncture.

AVS was appointed as the co-organizer of the 2009 East Asian Games Volunteer Programme in Hong Kong.   We took charge of the recruitment, selection, training and management of over 6,000 volunteers for the first ever mega international sports event held in Hong Kong.  While the Hong Kong athletes created the legend which excited the whole community, the volunteers’ passion and distinguished services were highly commended by the athletes and guests.  Our experiences in working together with the Games organizer, sports associations, public and private organizations, universities and NGOs to deliver the positive outcome were memorable and invaluable to AVS, our dedicated team of staff and volunteers!

The establishment of the Hong Kong Volunteer Award was also a significant accomplishment for AVS and the volunteer community in Hong Kong.  It was launched in 2005 to award individual volunteers, and included volunteer groups and businesses from 2009.  Taking consideration of the specific conditions of big corporations and small-sized companies, from 2019, the Corporate Award offer awards to the two groups of companies according to slightly different criteria.  The stories of the awardees not only attracted the attention of the media and members of the public and helped raise the profile of volunteering, but also set inspiring volunteer models to the community.

Can you tell us about a program developed under your leadership that you are particularly proud of and would like to highlight for our readers?

FLORA: Realizing that the use of advanced ICT was conducive to effective volunteerism promotion, and engagement of volunteers, with the support of IT professionals and consultants, I actively enlisted funding for the development of a comprehensive volunteer engagement system.  The process involved vigorous consultation, brainstorming, project planning, pitching, networking and lobbying over years.  We finally obtained a project sum of about HK$7 million (US$0.9 million) for implementing the system “Volunteer Hongkong” (V-HK) which has been successfully launched.

It was an important step forward to digitalize the workflow in order to increase the effectiveness and efficiencies of services including volunteer registration, matching, training and recognition, as well as to improve the experience of different users.  Though there is room for enhancement to meet the changing societal needs, this initiative is impactful to further strengthening AVS’ pivotal in volunteerism.

Over the past 50 years, how has the volunteering landscape changed in Hong Kong?

FLORA: Volunteering in Hong Kong has been growing in breadth and depth over the past decades.  The volunteer participation in both formal and informal volunteering has increased tremendously.  According to the Volunteer Movement of Social Welfare Department, the number of registered volunteers increased by 50%, from 0.89 million in 2010 to 1.3 million in 2020.

Hong Kong has an ageing population.  18% is above 65 in 2018 and expected to become 1 in 3 in 2038.  As observed from AVS’ database, while the youth volunteers continue to be the majority (40% being aged 6-30), older volunteers aged 55 or above showed a trend of higher growth than other age groups, rising from 10.5% in 2010 to 22% in 2020.  The volunteers were better educated.  57% attained post-secondary or university education level, and 25% were professionals and management executives.

It has been widely recognized that volunteering not only benefits the needy and builds social solidarity, but also enables people to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.  The service opportunities are multi-faceted, covered a greater range of areas.  Virtual volunteering has become more popular in times of the pandemic.  Cross sectoral collaboration is instrumental to build synergy and expand capacity to promote volunteering.  Inter-generational volunteering helps enhance social harmony and cultivate positive social values to the younger people.  Social media and other digital means are indispensable to extend the reach of volunteering and for public communications nowadays.

AVS has been a long-term partner and close friend of IAVE for many years. Can you share your thoughts on the relationship between AVS and IAVE and how you would like to see this relationship evolve?

FLORA: We should keep closely connected and be mutually supportive.  IAVE is a very good platform for volunteer leadership organizations worldwide to exchange, share and learn from one another, reaffirm our belief in volunteerism and update the latest development, new thoughts, ideas and inspiring models.   IAVE also represents the international volunteer community to recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of volunteering to meeting the sustainable development goals.

Being part of a leadership team of a large nonprofit organization can come with its own set of challenges. Can you tell us about a challenge you have faced during your term and how you and your team overcame these obstacles?

FLORA: Recruitment and retention of quality staff is a challenge faced by many nonprofit organizations.  AVS is no exception.  Under resources constraints, we have strived and managed to improve the employment conditions, to enhance team spirit and the sense of belonging through various means as much as we could.  Apart from that, the setup of a volunteer staff (non-paid) team who works hand in hand with paid staff has proved effective to strengthen our talent pool.  Some paid staff who have resigned are invited to stay in the capacity of volunteer staff if situation agreed to be suitable.  Every year, AVS keeps about 70 volunteer staff members in support of different service units or tasks including training, project organization, event management, volunteer coordination, office work, etc.

What’s one advice you’d like to pass on to your successor and to other nonprofit leaders around the world?

FLORA: Stay positive and be creative to keep up with societal changes.  There are challenges but also opportunities at all times. Strong collaboration with different stakeholders is an important key to success.

2020 marked the 50th anniversary for AVS. What do you hope to see for AVS and volunteerism in Hong Kong in the next 50 years?

FLORA: Upholding its vision, mission and values, AVS will continue to strengthen the leadership role in volunteerism in partnership with all sectors to build a caring community.   There will be more innovations, greater diversity and inclusiveness in volunteer participation.  Let “Everyone Volunteers” become a culture of Hong Kong.