All You Need To Know About The First Initiative Foundation's Annual Fundraising Gala 2018


June 7, 2018 | BY Marianna Cerini

The First Initiative Foundation gathered leading lights of society, entertainment and the culinary arts for an exclusive fundraising evening that melded an ambitious exhibition, a marvellous menu and a monster movie for the benefit of the Hong Kong community

A hulking, 12-metre-long Tyrannosaurus rex was the star of Michelle Ong’s latest project for the First Initiative Foundation (FIF), and it wasn’t easy getting the towering monster on board. It took many months of searching before the charity’s founder and chairman was able to find Tad, short for “the American dragon,” and persuade its owner to bring the 67-million-year-old fossil to Hong Kong.

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It was the first time a real, adult dinosaur skeleton was brought to the city for an exhibition. Called Meet the T. rex, the free show ran for three weeks in the atrium of IFC Mall, attracting more than 100,000 visitors.


Meet the T. rex was just the first part of a three-part extravaganza staged by Michelle through FIF. Titled "World Before Time", it was the charity’s main annual event to raise funds to pursue its goals—promotion of the arts, culture and heritage in the city—and demonstrated the foundation’s long reach in making a real, long-lasting impact for the good of Hong Kong, a reach extended with the aid of a carnivorous monster that has long fascinated children—and adults—the world over.

An educational experience

On display with Tad, which was unearthed in the US state of South Dakota, were a huge thigh bone and a tooth from another T. rex, along with a section of spine from an Edmontosaurus, common prey of the rapacious hunter, bearing the clear bite mark of a hungry T. rex. 

“This year I wanted to create an immersive community experience—educational, memorable and completely inclusive—in keeping with our mission to uplift Hong Kong,” Michelle said of the exhibition and the educational outreach programme designed to go with it. “That’s what FIF is all about.”

Once Michelle had used her connections to secure the visit of the fossil, she worked with local palaeontologist Michael Pittman and Germany’s Nils Knötschke, the scientific director of the Dino-Park Münchehagen, to create the educational programme to complement the exhibition. “I posed myself a challenge, then put myself in a corner to make it all happen,” Michelle said. “I’m glad it did.”

 Fossils and fundraising

The unveiling of the fossil on June 6 kicked off the foundation’s annual fundraising gala. It was followed by a safari-inspired feast at the Four Seasons Hotel and then an exclusive premiere at Palace IFC of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the highly anticipated latest instalment of one of the world’s best loved adventure franchises.

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“Art, culture and heritage are part of what makes Hong Kong such a wonderful place to live, so it’s always a pleasure to be able to work with Michelle and the First Initiative Foundation,” said Michel Lamunière, FIF fundraising committee member and chairman and CEO of Edipresse Media Asia.

“This year’s T. rex exhibition set a benchmark of what we’re able to achieve with FIF’s educational community outreach programmes, and I’m thrilled with the outcome and the positive response we’ve received.”

His sentiments were echoed by other  members of the fundraising committee. “I’m so proud of being part of FIF,” said Denise Lo, regional vice-president for Christian Dior Couture Asia-Pacific, “and this year’s event was particularly fascinating. Michelle is a true philanthropist—she’s a mentor and has taught me so much about running a charitable foundation. I hope my contribution can bring FIF to the next level.”

The positive response mentioned by Michel was evident for the entire duration of the exhibition.

Michelle and her team had created an educational trail around the fossil for children and adults alike to learn more about dinosaurs and natural history. Visitors received an “adventure passport” and had to face a series of “challenges” to complete the trail. Some 16,000 adventure passports were issued in just the first four days.

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Including local artists

As part of the Meet the T. rex project and to help raise money for FIF, the foundation created a special character, Fifi the T. rex, in the form of an adorable plush toy and as the protagonist in two bilingual children’s books illustrated by Jeanie Leung, Smile With Fifi, and Fifi and Friends.

It was the local artist’s second collaboration with Michelle on a fundraising venture (the first was a publication two years ago accompanying the Claude Monet exhibition staged by FIF and Le French May). The books contain activities, puzzles and creative challenges as well as educational content for young scientists-to-be.

The foundation worked with local printer Asia One to publish the books and promotional material associated with Meet the T. rex. Asia One founder and managing director Peter Lau couldn’t have been more pleased with the project—and the launch.

“The event meant so much to Asia One, and I’m delighted to have represented it. The popularity of Smile With Fifi also stands as a testament to the talent of Jeanie Leung. I wish she could have been there too, but she was at home with her latest work, a new baby.”

“Our ultimate message was ‘Get up, get out and discover; move away from the computer screen and do,’” Michelle said. “We wanted to give all, but particularly our children, a love of real educational experiences, hands-on learning and participation. Whether future scientists, artists, writers, we want to provide young people with both encouragement and opportunities to excel, to think and to love learning.” 

See also: A Local Twist: Inside The First Initiative Foundation's Delicious Annual Gala Dinner.

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