The First Initiative Foundation: In Perfect Harmony


July 1, 2015 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

Hong Kong’s cultural cognoscenti flocked to the Grand Hyatt on May 30 to raise funds for the First Initiative Foundation. We meet the movers and shakers who made the gala a night to remember

Arranging a black-tie dinner for 450 people is no mean feat. When it’s in aid of a good cause, however, and under the auspices of society superwoman and business dynamo Michelle Ong, tycoons and tastemakers are all too keen to lend a hand. So it happened for the First Initiative Foundation’s (FIF) May fundraising gala. The illustrious affair, which took “In Harmony” as its theme, drew on the talent and generosity of artists, actresses, musicians, chefs and hundreds of community-minded society figures, who worked together to create an unforgettable evening. “It was wonderful that everyone I asked agreed to help,” says FIF chairman Michelle Ong. “In the spirit of the initiative, it was truly a collaborative effort to benefit Hong Kong.”

The Artists

A layer of glamour coated this year’s gala, thanks to a constellation of star supporters who threw their weight behind the FIF cause. Carina Lau, Pak Suet-sin, Eason Chan, Ann Hui, Connie Chan, Katie Chan and Sa Chen were all in attendance. “I was delighted to participate when Michelle invited me to be part of the initiative,” says Chen, who considers music “the best thing that has happened to human beings” because it allows us to understand more about time, life and our emotions. The exciting young Chinese pianist gave an FIF-supported musical masterclass for students at Hong Kong Polytechnic University the day before the gala, and also performed with the French Diotima Quartet at the FIF/Le French May concert hours before the dinner. Superstar and FIF youth ambassador Eason Chan’s message to the glittering supporters on the evening encouraged everyone to join together in support of music and education: “It’s key, it’s at the centre—it’s our youth and our future.” Award-winning director Ann Hui also lauded FIF’s “important work on behalf of Hong Kong’s creative industries, locally and abroad.”

The Members and the Fundraising Committee

Working tirelessly behind the scenes were remarkable FIF members and special supporters—a roster of the great and good from around the world. “The strength of any organisation really resides in the devotion and generosity of its membership,” says Ong. “I am fortunate to have the unfailing support of so many.” Founding member Vivien Chen sees the work “as bringing us together to nurture achievements in the next generation.” Wendy Kwok, a supporting member, describes FIF’s In Harmony initiative as “compelling, community-minded and effective,” and Paulette Ho adds that “unity for a good cause is always inspirational and energising.”

Ong also draws attention to the work of the dedicated fundraising committee. “When I decided to form a fundraising committee for FIF’s In Harmony event, I immediately knew who would be on my dream team,” says Ong, who turned to Joyce Tam, Christine Chuang, Karen Cheung, Vena Cheng, Michelle Cheng, Jenny Chau and Christina Gaw, as well as her son Adrian Cheung, to help rally support and orchestrate the extravaganza. All members are passionate supporters of the arts. “At a time when unity is important to everyone, music and the arts can help to bring people together because they have no barriers,” says Chuang. Tam particularly liked the diversity of performances in the lead-up to and during the gala. “It emphasised the harmony intrinsic in art forms and culture,” says Tam. Karen Cheung was also in firm support of the team effort under Ong’s leadership. “Michelle is devoted, tireless and committed to the foundation’s charitable work,” she says. “I appreciate the purpose, but also the breadth of FIF’s work, including local and international scholarships, cultural outreach and performance programmes, educational programmes and heritage arts preservation.”

The Donors

The evening’s live auction, conducted by Robert Sleigh of Sotheby’s, raised additional funds and saw coveted works of art, wine and experiences go under the hammer, thanks to a handful of generous donors that included FIF’s charitable partner and principal sponsor Vacheron Constantin, Smith Haut Lafitte, Ficofi, Cathay Pacific Airways, Dior, Li Xiaoling and MGM Resorts International. Chinese fashion photographer Chen Man donated her 2009 print Red Hairpin. “Hong Kong is a very important centre for art and I am delighted to work with FIF because they are creating initiatives to strengthen the city’s culture of creativity,” says the Vogue contributor, who has shot campaigns for leading luxury brands. Another auction in aid of FIF will take place on October 4 via Sotheby’s. It will feature an exclusive trip for six people to the Napa Valley, arranged by Master of Wine, writer and publisher Jeannie Cho Lee, during which they will visit distinguished wineries such as Harlan Estate and Opus One. “It is through art and culture that we encourage creativity, lateral thinking and a true appreciation for all that life offers,” says Cho Lee, who enjoys tinkling the ivories in her spare time. “As a mother to four children who were born and educated in Hong Kong, I believe that appreciating all forms of art is essential to providing a well-rounded foundation for a child’s growth and development.” Former Hong Kong financial secretary Henry Tang has also donated a collection of wine from his own cellar. “Art enriches the soul and broadens the mind,” says Tang, whose contribution to FIF’s October auction includes a 1945 Petrus and a 1945 Mouton Rothschild. “It’s imperative to provide our future leaders with art and cultural exposure and knowledge.”

The Wine

The exquisite fare was accompanied by equally impressive wines donated by Château Smith Haut Lafitte. The estate, in the Graves district of Bordeaux, sits on a gravel rise that ensures ideal growing conditions. “In 1990 my parents fell in love with the property and joined the list of prestigious owners intending to further enhance its tradition of excellence,” says Alice Tourbier, daughter of owners Daniel and Florence Cathiard. “They combined the most modern winemaking techniques with age-old traditional methods.” Her family, which also owns the Caudalie skincare brand and operates boutique hotels, has been supporting the arts for decades. “You should see the spectacular art pieces scattered around our vineyard, including a few from Chinese artists like Zhan Wang and Wang Du,” she says.

Tourbier met Ong a couple of years ago and was impressed by the founder’s passion and commitment to her foundation. In recognition, the Cathiard family treated the FIF gala to three of their best drops. To start, guests enjoyed the 2012 Les Hauts de Smith Blanc, the famous second label in the château’s stable of whites. Then came the 2007 Château Smith Haut Lafitte red. “It has beautifully opened, and is displaying notes of liquorice, with a great balance between fruit and tannins,” says Tourbier. Guests were also served 2009 Château Bastor-Lamontagne, a sweet elixir that displays notes of spice, pineapple and orange blossom. “This cause is not just worthwhile; it is necessary,” says Tourbier. “Promoting the arts, helping youth accomplish their dreams and bringing to Hong Kong artists that elevate the soul—is there anything more important? Maybe drinking a very good glass of Smith Haut Lafitte, which is our own version of art.”  

Photography by Calvin at Nomad
Videogragy by Tyrone Wu