Megan Foo's Blog

Our Featured Givologist of the Week: Stephany Yong, Givology's Social Business Director

[b]MEGAN FOO: What is your background? Why did you decide to volunteer for Givology?[/b]
[b]STEPHANY YONG[/b]: I’ve always been really interested in education issues. My parents immigrated to the states from China and Malaysia. They went through so much in order to pursue their higher education and have made a lot of sacrifices in order for me to get quality schooling, so I was always brought up with the mindset that getting an education really can open up other opportunities. Early on in high school I got involved with volunteer opportunities and sophomore year, I volunteered outside of school in a neighboring low-income school district, and I tutored math and helped kids work on music and art projects. At the time, it was strange to me how students at a school just a few neighborhoods away from mine faced such a different reality from what my friends and I dealt with. I was raised in a quiet, upper middle class suburbia—we lived in our own bubble in terms of what we were worried about in terms of our education. Many students at my school were very preoccupied with who scored what on certain exams, and in that regard, were rather insular-minded and narrow-sighted in terms of viewing their education as a race or competition. I was really frustrated with how people always thought of test scores as the sole indicator of what you’ve achieved academically or what you’ve achieved as a person.
But by volunteering at that low-income elementary school, I saw how education gave people the opportunity to rise above circumstances they did not necessarily choose for themselves. I really loved working with those children and I realized that these kids were extremely talented and have a world of opportunities sitting in front of them – but because their school was one of the lowest-performing in a very low-performing school district, they didn’t get a lot of funding for a lot of these programs. Furthermore, their parents couldn’t afford to give them tutoring or provide the support that I was really lucky to receive from my parents or teachers at school. This realization definitely got me more interested in education issues and how they play into other issues we witness in society. I always liked studying the social sciences and history in high school and seeing how all these things about nurture vs. nature, parenting, how certain changes in the market tie into cultural changes occurring simultaneously, how demographic, cultural and ethnic patterns in communities are often correlated with the quality of education provided by a community’s educators – I find that really fascinating.
[b]MEGAN FOO: What inspires you about Givology’s mission?[/b]
[b]STEPHANY YONG[/b]: On the surface, it is incredibly obvious why a group like Givology has an inspiring mission and motive – it’s a fantastic organization that seeks to create opportunities for children by empowering them with the gift of education. But I think if you look even deeper into the core of the organization, the way Givology goes about achieving its mission is even more phenomenal. The problem that I see with lots of nonprofits that have fantastic missions (in terms of wanting to empower people with education or using resources to empower people to do certain things with global health, education, women’s rights, etc.) is that they have very antiquated models when managing their businesses. The problem with lots of nonprofits is that they’re run solely on vision – which is fantastic, I’m not saying you should ever neglect your mission – but they don’t see it as a business and realize that you need to innovate. Also, leaders in technology and for-profit ventures are headed into online transactions – I think that is something Givology hit a home run with when it was first started by going with an on-line transaction model, which enabled a community and online giving place to flourish.
For instance, if we take Kickstarter (which started after Givology), their premise is based off this positively motivated notion that people who believe in a cause or product will feel strongly enough about it to chip in their small contribution in order to help this dream manifest itself on a grander, larger-than-me scale. I think that’s a very empowering thing through crowdfunding and crowdsourcing—a lot of regular people who don’t have the capacity or desire to necessarily write a big check, but do find convenience and comfort in a smaller contribution, that when pooled together with other contributions, can create a lot of good change. The fact that Givology was able to come up with this premise years before any of crowdfunding as we know it took off as a cultural phenomena, I think is really fantastic and inspiring when I consider how great of an organization it is. I think that we think about nonprofit and “oh, because it’s a great cause so I don’t have to worry about how efficient our business is run” whereas Givology I would say is the opposite, it’s very efficiently run. And I think that because the organization is so committed to the cause of education empowerment and funding that its business models are sound.
[b]MEGAN FOO: Can you tell me a bit about your role and efforts as Givology’s Social Business Director?[/b]
[b]STEPHANY YONG[/b]: I started off at Givology in high school as a research intern and I contributed to many different projects that gave me a sound understanding of Givology as an organization; I would upload letters from students and update profiles which was really cool because that got me very familiar with Givology’s work from a very base level, understanding that these letters really do drive Givology’s core trait of transparency. I later did weekly blogging with Featured Partners so that really got me familiar with all our NGO partners because for a few months, I would get to interview an inspirational founder every week and hear about a different story and organization that has done phenomenal work through education in a developing community. As for my biggest project as Social Business Director with the book project in early 2013, Joyce approached me around spring 2012 to say that Givology’s been around for a while and we’ve been doing amazing things, and we should share this story because it really is a phenomenal story that a lot of nonprofits could definitely learn a lot from. Then, I worked with Rachel [Chuang], who’s at Cornell, and we were the two editors-in-chief of the book [u]A Guide to Giving[/u]. We set out which partners we wanted to cover, assigning different members of the Givology core team to interview and write profiles about their assigned partner. We wrote and recounted the stories and helped edit the entire publication. I really saw something that literally started off with Joyce emailing us saying it would be a cool idea to see this book come to life. I was in Shanghai actually for New Year’s when I got the final copy of [u]A Guide to Giving[/u] with the designs that Jane [Yoo] made. That was a really, really, really amazing project, probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved in just because I think that the nonprofit world is a very difficult thing, if you think about it, to navigate. In a competitive world very in-tune with the interests of for-profit ventures, having a nonprofit venture be not only sustainable but also extremely loyal to its original cause is incredibly difficult and I think that Givology does a really fantastic job. I really loved working on that book project because I think it’s a really big deal in terms of setting in ink and paper what Givology is, how far it’s come in a few years, and what it can contribute to the nonprofit management conversation that’s going on in the space.
[b]MEGAN FOO: Why does education matter to you as a Givologist and as Social Business Director? Any stories to share?[/b]
[b]STEPHANY YONG[/b]: I think being a part of Givology throughout high school and I just finished my freshman year of college and I mean, actually going to college and being at a higher-education institute definitely hammered home much stronger the work that I’ve been doing with Givology just in terms of how receiving an education (maybe this is more the case for higher education, but I think that it’s important to go to primary school in order to have people around the world go to college) lets you be acquainted to different schools of thought be it philosophy, engineering, physics, mathematics, literature, different foreign languages. You’re seeing so many different perspectives of the world and you can pick and choose which ones (through inductive or deductive reasoning) you think work and explain the universe. For instance, this quarter I completed a philosophy course that asked us the question, “What is evil? Does it even exist? And how should we react to it?” This class really resounded with me, because I had to consider different schools of thought, and having that higher-order thinking process, I was able to make an educated and reasonable decision as to what I want to believe about the world. I think that having that choice is synonymous with having freedom, and that’s why I think it’s so important for people to be educated. You’re able to make that decision and know exactly why you hold the beliefs that you do, because you’re educated.
[b]MEGAN FOO: What advice would you give to someone who’s considering volunteering?[/b]
[b]STEPHANY YONG[/b]: I would say that as a volunteer, you need to realize that your time is really valuable. Well, everyone’s busy for that matter, whether you’re a full-time student or work full time. For me, I’ve always been a full-time student, but even when I have a job this summer, I plan on being involved with Givology and other education causes in the future because it’s just something I care about. And because everyone’s really busy, at the end of the day, when you’re extremely tired from your schoolwork and your many meetings, you need to be incredibly passionate about a cause that will make you want to pick yourself off from the couch and volunteer for a good cause. You’re not just a volunteer. You’re a person who owes it to yourself to do fulfilling, meaningful work that plays to your interests and talents.
For example, if you’re a “people person” and you like working with children or just interacting with people, then you should volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club or tutor students. During my high school years after school, I would go to this low-income community and tutor kids in math and music. I really liked making friends with these kids, and I liked hearing about their daily activities. I really enjoyed it because I just really like children, so I really found it fulfilling. So even though I’d be extremely tired after meetings and schoolwork, I’d still really want to go after school to help these kids out and I really like that. If you’re not interested in that, but you still really want to be involved with a social cause like Givology, you can find other ways. Givology is fantastic – it espouses the values of education without actually having to do the actual man-hours of going to the school and tutoring people. You can write for the blog, or you can contribute in other ways like posting student letters, you can do freelance work at education startups. I know people in web development – it’s such an in-demand thing right now – if you’re passionate about web development, you can build the website for a social venture startup for free, using your skills for graphic design and web design. So I think that with whatever cause you’re passionate about, whether it be education reform, environmental protection, or animals rights, use that passion and pair it with what you’re already good at, because your marketable skills in the work force are also so in-demand in the non-profit sector, if not moreso. With so many more ways to give today than the traditional act of volunteerism of serving your community at a soup kitchen, I think this multi-faceted, versatile definition of volunteerism is extremely powerful – you can give in so many different ways instead of just time and just money – you can give your skills and your talents.

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