Meet The Tribe: Joyce Tam

Leadership

May 10, 2018 | BY Lee Williamson

The Design Trust co-founder talks to Generation T about leadership, philanthropy and shaping the future

Meet the Tribe is a five-part series introducing some of the industry leaders who helped us select the Generation T List 2018—a panel of experts we call the Tatler Tribe. 

There are two sides to Joyce Tam. By day, she works in private wealth management, controlling the assets of ultra high net worth individuals. In what little free time she has, the Boston College graduate devotes herself to philanthropic causes.

It’s in this field that Tam nominated names for the Generation T List 2018, leaning on her decades of experience at the coalface of some of Hong Kong’s most worthy causes.

Volunteering has always been second nature to Tam. “I grew up with a mother who runs the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, one of the largest non-profits in Hong Kong. So ever since I was a very young child I’ve always been volunteering and getting involved in NGOs.”

Over the last few years, her endeavours have focused on Design Trust. Tam is a founding member of the organisation, which aims to support and stimulate design in the Pearl River Delta region, and internationally, through project-based grants and community-building. 

We talk to Tam about Design Trust, disruption and the next generation.  

Tell us about the process of founding Design Trust.
It started off as a bunch of friends, people who love design and appreciate how it affects life in general, sitting around at a bar in Lan Kwai Fong 10 years ago and asking why Hong Kong doesn’t have a community or support for any of this stuff.

We wanted to do something about it, so we started running programmes like [Hong Kong’s first-ever design festival] Detour. It was great stuff, but we realised running programmes takes a lot of people. So we decided to morph ourselves into Design Trust as it is today, and became a grant-making platform. It’s a lot less people-intensive but arguably has a greater impact.

See also: Meet the Tribe: Aaron Lee

What’s the next disruptor in philanthropy going to be?
I think there are tonnes. I definitely think there should be disruption in the way people raise money. Everyone is still trying to figure out how that will happen and we talk about it internally all the time. Is there some sort of pledging system that can be done through an app, or through the blockchain? We haven’t made major changes yet, but I think how the money is raised, how it’s deployed and how it’s accounted for is probably the most important part of any NGO.

"Integrity is always the most important thing in anything you do"

What does Generation T mean to you?
I think Generation T is a great platform. Young people in Hong Kong and across Asia need a platform where they can be recognised. The network side of it is also tremendously important. You can’t get anything done without a proper network; collaboration needs to happen for innovation to occur. I definitely think a platform like Generation T can benefit that.

See also: Meet the Tribe: Vicky Cheng

What’s the most important trait in a successful leader?
I think integrity is always the most important thing in anything you do. As long as people know you have integrity, you can build trust and people will listen to you. Without that, a lot of other things break. Obviously, there are a lot of other qualities to a leader, but I think integrity is very important.

How do you foster innovative thinking as a leader? 
Get rid of the hierarchy and allow people to talk to you. I believe in an equal seat no matter what level you’re at, because everybody brings in a different point of view. As a leader, you may have more experience in certain things, but the new guy who just joined two days ago may spot something that you just never knew was there—and you’ve got to make sure that they feel comfortable enough to tell you that.

"If you don’t take risks you’re not bettering yourself"

Which leader do you admire and why?
My mother. I really learned a lot from her. She runs the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups like it’s a corporation; I think that’s something that I do that in every area of my life. Whatever I start it’s got to be sustainable on its own. Whether its Design Trust or anything else.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken professionally?
Most things we do are a calculated risk. If you don’t take risks you’re not bettering yourself.  Sometimes you give it a try and you think: “Well, even if it fails massively, what’s going to happen?” If you’re not going to die and you’re not going to hurt anybody then go for it! That’s my philosophy.

See also: Meet the Tribe: Esther Ma

If you could go back and start your career again, would you do anything differently?
At a younger age, there’s always more self-consciousness and doubt. I would have confidence to speak up more. I’ve always been loud, but there are certain things you’re not sure you’re supposed to say, or you’re too scared or you don’t think your opinion is good enough. Worst case: people laugh at you. But maybe there’s a chance it could make a difference.

"If I didn't have something outside of my job to balance myself, it’d be quite easy to go crazy"

You’ve achieved a great deal in your field. What are your future ambitions?
To grow Design Trust into a much bigger platform. We have huge goals for Design Trust. We want our grantees to be able to say “I’m a Design Trust grantee” and for that to mean something around the world. There’s a long way to go before we achieve that.

What drives you to devote so much of your time to philanthropic causes?
I have a very demanding job that takes a lot of my time and brain power, and if I didn't have something outside of my job to balance myself, it’d be quite easy to go crazy.

I think for anybody who has a demanding job it’s important to have something that’s different from your work that keeps you engaged. Philanthropy keeps me engaged in politics, society—everything. It just gives me a much better sense of the world; a much more balanced view and a much more balanced life, because outside of work I’m still doing stuff that is meaningful and impactful.

The Hong Kong Generation T List 2018 is unveiled on June 8.


Credits
Outfit: Theory | Venue: Eaton Club Central | Photography: Moses Ng | Styling: Mira Uttam

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