A while back I had the privilege of speaking to many of you about how I can best support you to create your own meaningful career and businesses that support your version of success.
One of the things that’s coming across loud and clear is a desire to hear more stories of other people who are making the leap into meaningful careers.
Somehow just knowing that someone has made the journey to the “other side” and is managing OK can give you comfort that you can make the leap into a meaningful career – whatever that looks like for you.
This week I’m excited to be sharing with you an interview with Sarah Fowler and Belinda Poole, the co-founders of LocalMotion, a social enterprise here in Hong Kong.
Sarah and Belinda both left behind successful and promising corporate jobs to move into the non-profit, social enterprise space, as they were both seeking more meaning in their careers.
They’ve gone through quite the journey, and my hope is that through their story you find the inspiration and motivation to take the action steps needed to start a career that’s about more than just a steady pay-cheque.
Whether that’s a new career or a business you can call your own — you get to create your own definition of a success.
Grab yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or wine and check out the interview:
1. Tell us a little about your corporate backgrounds before you made the leap into the non-profit sector.
Sarah (pictured right): My corporate career began in London after I majored in International Tourism and Hospitality Management and I started working for Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays. When I returned to Asia, I organised large-scale events and marketing campaigns for Sands China Ltd in Macau before transitioning into a Marketing and Communications role for a real estate firm in Hong Kong. At this time, I took on the additional responsibility of kick starting corporate social responsibility campaigns within the firm.
Belinda (pictured left): As a teenager in suburban Canberra, I was always really curious about our neighbours in Asia and concerned about human rights, so studying Law and Asian Studies at university in Australia was a good fit for me. After I graduated I began my career as a lawyer and worked in various roles in Australia, China and Hong Kong.
2. What motivated you to make the leap from the profit to social enterprise sector?
Sarah: I love working in marketing. It is a really creative field and a study in human nature. I find it so interesting to get under the skin of how we think and to unpack why people respond to some messages and not to others.
However, when I was working in a larger company, I started to think about how our company engaged with the community. We were really profitable and we launched some really innovative marketing campaigns. But I started to wonder whether there was something more that companies could do to genuinely and authentically give back to the community. I thought that large companies had a responsibility to contribute to the communities that give them so much. I loved what I did, but I wasn’t sure that I what I was doing it for, met with my own criteria for a meaningful life.
I have been really fortunate to work in large firms and small firms, and I have always wanted to try running my own business. I was also keen to explore what it would be like to fuse profit with impact in a small firm culture. When I received an offer to become a partner in a social enterprise that our firm conducted CSR with, I jumped at the opportunity to try it out.
It was at that social enterprise that I met Belinda, and we have gone on to found LocalMotion together.
Belinda: Unlike Sarah, I really love to do a bit of everything – but like Sarah I want my actions to align with my purpose. I got into law because I wanted to protect human rights. However, I really struggled to find opportunities inside (and outside!) my job to use my skills to make a positive community contribution. In my final corporate job, I worked in Beijing representing Australia’s largest education organisation to its partners in a high stakes English test. There were 2 things that motivated me to move sector:
- Some very difficult IP negotiations in China, which made me think about what I was using my hard earned skills in aid of
- A situation where education, Australia’s second largest export industry, was destabilised by external forces and rocked by series of scandals. For a period, it seemed that that many Chinese students, were having a very difficult time whilst studying in Australia. Together with the Chamber of Commerce, we helped bring business together and staged pre-departure workshops that sought to improve the experience of Chinese students whilst they were overseas. It seemed to me that it is actually business’ own interest to take its community contributions seriously.
It got to a point where I thought that if I were really serious about what my values were and I believed in a different role for business, it was time to put my money where my mouth was and make a leap !
3. Moving from marketing and law to CSR was quite a bold and different move. How did you go about figuring out how to make a change into a new industry?
Sarah: I asked myself “What is my purpose”? Whilst I didn’t have a specific answer, I knew that what I was doing in my marketing role wasn’t it. I knew that I wanted to pursue something more meaningful, get closer to the grassroots communities, to make an impact and do something more innovative.
Having grown up in Hong Kong, I felt as though it was my responsibility to give back to the community and that if I did not take the risk at that point in my life, I would not know when I would get the chance to do it again. After I was sure about ‘my purpose,’ I found opportunities to volunteer in the sector to gain a better understanding of what I would be facing and met with others who had been in a similar situation and had successfully transitioned. I also spent time speaking to close friends and family, all of which gave me objective advice on my thoughts behind moving.
Belinda: I think that I have loved parts of every job I have ever done. So although I was clear that I wanted to move to CSR, I wasn’t actually sure what I would do in it.
However, I really believe in coming prepared. So did everything I could to work out what I could do to make the move. I hired 2 career coaches, journalled, did guided meditations, took online courses, interrogated my friends and family and did multiple personality tests. To be honest, I am not sure how helpful my efforts were, because I was really focused on myself and what I liked to do, which is many, many things. However, a better question might have been, what is CSR and what value can I add to companies and NGOs or social enterprises in this space?
In the end, I did a lot of self-reflection but the biggest impact came from just taking action and just getting in there.
4. My clients often tell me that they want to make a career change but are too scared because they rely on their steady pay-cheque. The thought of not having a good consistent income can be really daunting. How did you both approach the money issue when you decided to make the leap?
Sarah: I definitely considered this for a while. I knew that at my stage of my career (I was in my late twenties) that I could “afford” to. It had come to a point where I valued making a difference and impact more than making money for myself personally. So I decided to take the risk and make a switch!
I was also fortunate in that I explained my decision to family and my now husband and they were able to understand and support the ramifications of that decision.
Belinda: Oddly enough, money was not my first consideration. When shopping around for a totally different role in a new industry, I realised that no one ever starts something new right at the top. You have to put in the work so you understand what you are doing, and that might not be well paid at first. So actually you can do the work now, or do it later, but if you want to make a change, usually you have to do it sometime.
Ultimately I believe that if you add value, the money will come. That’s really why I joined a social enterprise in the first place. By starting Local Motion we are bringing a different business model to this industry. We hope to offer so much value that we will make money and make a difference.
5. You are both doing such an incredible job taking on a new challenge and mission that is really needed and revolutionary! I can see why you both get on so well! Your ideals are very similar. How did you both meet and decide to start your own company, LocalMotion?
We both started at the same social enterprise at the same time. That’s where we met. It was a small team and we worked together on multiple projects and really got to know each other very well. We also did the hard stuff together – like encouraging each other on through an exercise program that might have killed us in the gym and trialling and developing new products. We have very different skill sets and neither of us is perfect – but we are both very “failure positive” and enjoy cheering each other on to succeed.
Ultimately we decided to leave and strike out on our own as we saw an unmet need in NGOs and social enterprises. They just didn’t seem able to access all the professional skills that they need to support their frontline work. However, it is a big enterprise to undertake – we did lots of market research and concept testing to see if we could talk ourselves out of it!
6. Sounds like you guys have a really big important mission! Can you share more about what you hope LocalMotion will do and explain how it works?
Yes – we are a matchmaking site! We hope to help NGOs and social enterprises access high quality professional skills at a low cost, using skilled volunteers. What we do is pair people with skills and social or environmental organisations with skills gaps.
Over the next 5 years, we hope to provide millions of dollars worth of professional services (like marketing, design and communications) to social or environmental organisations in Hong Kong. We also want to give young professionals or freelancers meaningful opportunities to use their skills to give back to the community.
Our second agenda, is to create a successful social business. At the moment there is a belief that you have to sacrifice a good paycheque in order to work for an NGO or social enterprise, and that it is not possible to make a big impact and earn money. Now, we are yet to prove our point. However, it seems like the default advice is to tell people that it can’t be done. We think that dissuading people from taking an entrepreneurial approach – before they have even started !- doesn’t help create the social change that we’re looking for and need.
Ultimately, LocalMotion is a social enterprise, which aims to support NGOs and social enterprises with professional skills and to give young professionals and freelancers the opportunities to use their skills for meaningful work.
7. What advice do you have for those reading this interview who are stuck in a corporate job and unsure or lacking courage to make a change?
Sarah: First and foremost, I think it’s really important to take the time to understand what motivates you, but without thinking that it’s all or nothing. Once you are clear on your drivers, I would find ways to try it out to see if its what you envisioned it to be, before jumping whole heartedly into something new. Although I am believer in taking risks, you need to be ready in what you decide to get yourself into. There is no shame in starting small!
Belinda: Nothing is how you think it will be before you make the leap and take action. Failure is inevitable – it is lurking on the path where you follow your dreams. The spectre of your un-lived life will also haunt you if you choose to stay on the safe path. So you may as well go ahead and take the plunge because failure can be corrected. Regrets over missed opportunities are less easily put right.
8. Where can people find out more about Local Motion and get involved?
If you are:
- A professional or freelancer looking to give your skills back to a meaningful cause, or
- A company interested to build a CSR programme around the skill sets of your employees,
If you are interested in finding out about what we are up to and hear stories of other inspiring changemakers, please like and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LocalMotion.hk.
We would love to have you along for the journey!
Before you go I’d love to hear from you:
What was your number one takeaway from this week’s interview with Sarah and Belinda?
Leave a comment below.