The Pitch: The Women's Foundation CEO shares a few words of advice to Fair Employment Agency

Fair Employment Foundation (FEF), an NGO that was founded in Hong Kong in 2014, is working to build an ethical model for migrant recruitment with hopes to end forced labour of migrant workers across Asia. 

Currently, Hong Kong is home to some 380,000 migrant domestic workers and 1,400 employment agencies. Overcharging of workers for their own recruitment is a widespread problem in the industry and a major reason why they often remain vulnerable to abuse. Offering a responsible alternative, FEF’s non-profit Fair Employment Agency (FEA)  is sustained by fees paid by employers, not workers, who use the agency to hire domestic workers. To date, FEA has placed over 3,500 workers into jobs.

Zofia Niesterowicz-Lawrence has been working as the development manager of FEF for over a year. She hopes to expand the reach of the non-profit and, to do so, we invited her to meet with Fiona Nott, CEO of The Women’s Foundation (TWF), which strives to promote the full and equal participation of women and girls in all aspects of Hong Kong society.

As a former lawyer, Nott has extensive experience in both the corporate and NGO worlds. Before joining TWF, she not only helped establish the Hong Kong chapter for Room to Read but also served as a volunteer for a number of non-profits over the years, including a year in New Delhi, India.

Zofia Niesterowicz-Lawrence: The Fair Employment Foundation has been going for five years now, and I take care of the fundraising, partnership and relationship development side of things. That’s what I’d like to get some advice on. When you walk into a room with people who might not know your foundation, what are the key things that are going to drive them to donate?

Fiona Nott: It’s important to talk about your mission and society’s need for the organisation – why you do what you do. You have to really articulate that need in a succinct way. I’d recommend telling a story – that’s what people best respond to. A lot of individuals can have misconceptions about gender, women, and girls, but when you actually tell them about it in a one-on-one, personal kind of way, their reaction is often like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that.’ And then you can go into the details of how you run the programmes, your objectives, impact… 

Another thing I’d suggest is learning about the corporation or entity you’re meeting with. What do they want to learn, what are they interested in? For me, that’s a helpful way of turning a meeting into a relationship. For example, I remember meeting with a company that had a very public commitment to environmental issues. But through our conversation, I learned that they were also very committed to furthering girls’ education and were looking for ways to engage their employees in a meaningful programme.

ZNL: And what’s your engagement strategy? Do you try to involve the donors in some of the programmes? 

FN: It changes, case by case. We always see the relationship with a corporate very much as a partnership, or as an investor. So it’s always a case of understanding what their motivation is to support us, and making sure we’re aligned on our value propositions.

ZNL: Is it mainly corporates who are your partners?

FN: We have primarily corporate partners for our main programmes. They support our mentoring and community programmes, for example. We also collaborate with other NGOs and academics and are supported by individuals – people who are really committed to and inspired by a cause that resonates with them. 

ZNL: I’d like to start thinking more strategically, more outside the box. What would you suggest to develop those kinds of skills?

FN: It’s always helpful to challenge yourself and learn skills from a different sector. For example, volunteering for another organisation or working with a start-up in an entirely different sector – perhaps art or creative industries – would be a great way to collect fresh ideas for how to get the word out about your product, business, or initiative.

Earlier this year at TWF, we had our own ‘think outside of the box’ project where we tried something new. We produced a video called Flipping the Script, which incorporates some humour to address the unconscious bias women candidates face for boardroom interviews – it was really well received.

I also think embedding yourself in the programme to gain a deep knowledge of it is crucial. That gives you the means to go and talk to a range of different entities. And then being out there, talking to as many people as you can, understanding what’s on a corporate agenda. Ask yourself: “What are the social or community issues they are interested in?” Exchanging ideas, forming relationships. All of this helps. 

ZNL: And in terms of your long-term strategic planning, how do you go about that?

FN: First of all, you have to do that from the organisation’s perspective. It’s going back to your mission, what you’re trying to achieve over, say, three years, then locking that down. But you also have to be able to adjust. Things – markets, circumstances – can change. So it’s important to stay tapped into your surroundings. Always keep up with what companies are talking about and what’s on their agenda, then try to align your development strategy.

ZNL: So I should be aware of corporate market trends?

FN: It’s more about understanding the corporate cycle for sponsorships, which often might be on a yearly basis. In addition, you need to understand their focus – how they’re evolving, and how can your organisation fit within all that. Keeping an eye on long-term trends is also important.

ZNL: And how do you sustain longer-term partnerships with a corporate?

FN: By truly developing relationships. Corporations are not just offices. They’re made of people. So try to nurture one-on-one relationships, engage with individuals, show your impact, and just as importantly, their impact too. Invite them to sit down with you and explain the work you’re doing together.

ZNL: What about holding large-scale events? How important are they?  

FN: We have two major events a year, a gala and our International Women’s Day lunch. They’re both very important for us. They are resource-intensive, but they are essential to general fundraising. 

I’d recommend simple and fun events to start with – that could mean trivia quizzes or games around a theme so people can invite their friends along. These types of events are usually relatively easy to organise without the risk of high upfront costs or venue deposits.

Another alternative is a social or drinks gathering where people can mingle and learn about the cause. Even though you may not raise a lot of money at such events, they are a fantastic way for people to get to know you and your cause. You can build from and host a few round tables with corporates then scale to much larger events.

ZNL: Do you have any other advice?

FN: Don’t get discouraged if a partnership doesn’t work out. Sometimes, corporates might be looking to support other causes, or the timing might not be quite right. But keep talking to people and the tide will eventually turn, as you never know when an opportunity may come to fruition.

Learn more;

Flipping the Script

A video produced by TWF and 30% Club Hong Kong, Flipping the Script raises awareness about gender bias on corporate boards in Hong Kong, where women account for just 13 per cent of directors across Hang Seng Index companies.

The clever video highlights stereotypical, sexist interview remarks often fielded by women but, this time, they’re posed to a fictional male interviewee instead: “You certainly look more mature than in your professional photo!” “Do you have arrangements in place for your children?” “You’re not emotional, are you?” 

By highlighting discriminatory comments and questions, the video spreads awareness about boardroom bias.

“Hong Kong has a deep talent pool of women. Let’s stop the bias and focus on achieving greater gender diversity on Hong Kong boards. Because what is good for business, is also good for Hong Kong,” says Irene Lee, Chair of 30% Club HK. “We hope the video will inspire debate that will lead to sustainable change in Hong Kong.”

Watch it here