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Mission to save the world

Published on Thursday, 09 Sep 2010
Greenpeace's Gloria Chang says the first two years at an NGO are the toughest.

Gloria Chang Wan-ki is campaign manager for Greenpeace China. She is responsible for leading the non-governmental organisation's (NGO) climate change campaign in Hong Kong. Chang was formerly president of the Hong Kong University's (HKU) Students' Union.

Tell us about your advocacy career
It started in my first year at university, when I was chairperson of the student association of the department in which I was studying. This was 1997 and we organised many public policy forums, and published material about what was going on in Hong Kong politically and socially. I became very aware of the social and political issues at the time, and became well acquainted with many university students' union officials.

I was asked to join the university's students union cabinet in my third year. It was a difficult decision. I had been actively involved in student association activities and I wanted to focus on my studies. But I decided to rise to the challenge. After graduating from HKU, I enrolled for a master's degree in development studies at the London School of Economics, before working for an NGO called Hong Kong Democratic Development Network. I joined Greenpeace in 2003.

Was your family supportive?
While my parents opposed my decision to join the students' union, they trusted me and tried to understand things from my point of view. I told them that I would prove that [the decision] would be a good learning experience. [The process] helped strengthen my relationship with my parents. They understood that they could not shape me into the accountant or the civil servant that they wanted me to be. I would need to pursue my own path.

What is it like to work for an NGO?
It's more than an office job. You need to have a mission and passion in what you are doing because it's not just for your own, but also for the sake of others. [But of course] there is a certain level of compensation, since everybody needs to make a living and to look after their families.

Is saving the world a tough job?
Saving the world is hard, and the rule of thumb is, if you can survive in the first two years, you should be ok. The pay is lower than that in the commercial sector, and working hours can be long. You'll always be struggling, trying to figure out how to achieve your mission. You'll need to persuade yourself and those around you that what you're doing is worthwhile. 

Now that you are a mother, would you approve if your son did what you did?
If he can convince himself that he is doing what he wants, and he knows exactly what he is trying to pursue, then I would give him a chance. It’s important to be positive and to guide him through any difficulties that he may face over the course of his career. 

Being in the student union was a very crucial learning process and it was an eye opening experience for me. I definitely would encourage my son or other young people to give it a try if that’s what they truly want. If they have a view on something, they should go out and tell people about it.

What advice do you have for young people considering a career in NGOs?
NGOs are a very good platform to test your skills and develop a social network. NGOs usually operate under a very tight budget, and you need to go out to talk to people to get resources for your projects. My advice is to seize whatever opportunities come your way, but also to discuss this with your parents, so that they won't have unrealistic expectations.


All in the job

  • Direct Action. For example, non-violent activities to raise awareness and to pressure target groups
  • Conducting research together with professional institutions
  • Giving policy recommendations to stakeholders


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