Every year, beijingkids uses the holiday issue to draw attention to volunteering and charity-related causes. However, charitable work is a year-round endeavor for Cindy Jensen, Nathalie Azzopardi, and Elena Perez, the parents spotlighted in this month’s feature. Their reasons for donating their time are varied – supporting a cause close to their hearts, setting an example for their children, exploring different options while on a career break – but they are united by their desire to do meaningful work in a non-profit context. We caught up with each of them to discuss their motivations, challenges, and successes.
special advisor to Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC)
Cindy Jensen is founder and CEO of Boldmoves China, whose services include executive coaching, leadership development, and HR training. She moved here from Vancouver with her family in 2002. Daughter Ingrid (age 17) is a senior at Western Academy of Beijing (WAB). In 2010, Jensen became involved with Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC), a Canadian organization sponsoring girls and young women from Gansu to pursue high school and university education. Along with Bethel China, EGRC was one of the recipients of this year’s Chi Fan for Charity.
EGRC was founded by Beijinger Tien Ching, whose education was disrupted by the Cultural Revolution. Instead of attending university, she worked at a factory in Gansu for eight years. Finally finishing her education in Beijing, she immigrated to Canada in 1983, starting EGRC in 2005.
Take us back to when you first met Tien Ching.
We met in May 2010 at a luncheon the Canadian Ambassador [at the time, David Mulroney]was hosting. He said, “There’s a woman I’d like you to meet who’s doing great work around education in China.”
Tien Ching brought one of the students who had just started her career as an engineer.
She got up and shared her story. For a large part of my life, I have volunteered, but I realized then that I’d volunteered for professional organizations, and at the end of the day, [professionals]will be successful on their own.
Tien Ching and I agreed to stay connected, and we started talking about ways I could support the charity.
Tell me about the first project that you did for EGRC.
I was out for dinner with Tien Ching and a number of the students and asked, “If we were to run a program, what would you like to see?” It was a lot of basic skills that many young people ask about: how to be confident, how to present yourself, how to network. A lot of them, having just started university and in many cases moving to a different cities, were facing new and different challenges.
I asked two [Chinese] friends who are also trainers whether they’d be interested in getting involved with EGRC. We developed a program that addressed the girls’ needs and requests. It was a very powerful experience for all of us.
This past year, we said “Why don’t we develop a program for leaders?” People were so responsive; The Four Seasons sponsored the venue, UNICEF, another company called Teck Resources, and the British Columbia government’s International Trade and Investment office sent staff. It’s a project I’d like to do again and again.
As a two-time recipient of Chi Fan for Charity, what lessons did EGRC take from the first event, especially with regards to maintaining community interest?
It’s a one-time event but it enables an ongoing discussion. Chi Fan enables us to create a broad awareness, tapping into a community that would be impossible to do individually. You have 60 plus restaurants and on average ten people per table, so that’s 600, then you’ve got all the sponsors and the table hosts. It has this amazing ripple effect.
Many times, people individually approach the charity and say “How can I get involved?” If we’re able to accomplish that, it’s great.
What are some ways charity organizations and companies with CSR goals can ensure a mutually beneficial relationship?
EGRC is a Canadian charity organization run by a Canadian who is also Chinese. One hundred percent of the proceeds go back to young Chinese women and their education. It’s immaterial which country funds are being generated from.
It’s difficult to create long-term relationships. It’s takes time for charity organizations to help companies determine the CSR activity to put their efforts behind. Sometimes, it can take a while because we all want to ensure the sustainability of programs. What does the project mean for the long-term? Where does this money go? How does it impact individuals? It’s an ongoing task for the charities as they try to find a voice for their cause.
Many readers want to start doing charity work but don’t know where to begin. What advice do you have for them?
It comes down to a feeling and a connection point. When it hits, you just know. I love the idea of mentoring and education, so for me it was the perfect match when I listened to Tien Ching talk about her work with EGRC.
I don’t speak Chinese well, but I always use this expression: 一步一步 (yībù yībù). A small step creates change. I used to think, I’m just one individual and have a small consultancy, what can I do? But if each of us made one little contribution, it would create a momentum for much bigger change. The key thing is to know where your passion is, then it doesn’t even feel like work.
How has your volunteering influenced your own family?
We underestimate the amount our kids watch us. When I was planning this trip to Gansu [two years ago to visit the place where many of the girls are from], Ingrid said to me, “Mom I’d really love to go.” She knows about EGRC; she’s met many of the girls over the years. It’s great when kids can observe that their parents are involved in something like this because [charity work is]in your DNA.
Ingrid is graduating from WAB this year; one of the things she talks about is a keen interest in international development studies. EGRC is something that we’re very much committed to. Whether we live in Canada or New York or wherever, it’s important for us to always say, “How can we give back to the community, even in a little way?”
Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC)
To learn more about EGRC, visit www.egrc.ca. To get in touch, email email@example.com or contact Cindy Jensen at 137 0119 5628.
Photos: courtesy of Cindy Jensen
This article originally appeared on page 50-51 of the beijingkids December 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org