Irene Chu's experience with the WWF has opened her eyes to the complexity of solving the world's big environmental challenges.
As a parent of two children, Irene Chu is well aware of the catastrophic consequences of climate change and the effects of a consumer society.”
“Around the family table, we often discuss how our lifestyles impact our environment. I'm very aware that my two young kids - and their future generations will be heavily affected by decisions we all make today. In an urban setting like Hong Kong, you can't help but notice pollution and waste all around you. I'm particularly concerned about issues like single-use plastic, unnecessary packaging and relentless consumerization, which makes us continually buy things we don't really need.”
So, when a few years ago she was offered the chance to sit on the board of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Irene had little hesitation.
"I hadn't been actively seeking such a role, but a fellow KPMG partner had recommended me. When I thought about it, the position seemed an obvious fit. I saw this as a chance to find out more about a subject I felt strongly about, as well as becoming an ambassador for KPMG.”
The WWF aims to preserve the wilderness and reduce human impact on the planet through more sustainable use of resources. Irene's appointment further cements KPMG China's association with the charity, which we've been supporting since 2008. Our Hong Kong office was one of the first to join the WWF's Low-carbon Office Operation Program and has been awarded Silver membership in recognition of its support for the environment.
Irene, Head of Technology, Media & Telecommunications for KPMG in Hong Kong, is now a trustee and Chair of WWF Hong Kong's Finance Committee.
“I'd be the first to admit I'm not a technical expert in conservation. But what I do bring is Finance skills to help ensure the organization is sustainable financially. I've also been pleasantly surprised at how many of my other capabilities have come in useful, like governance, organizational change and people management. This has helped me steer the WWF in areas like transparency, collaboration, transformation, cultural change and stakeholder management - all of which can improve its performance.”
In a world where competition for charitable contributions is tough, Irene is also big on measurement, to show actual and potential donors how their money is being spent - and the subsequent return on investment. “It's not enough to simply identify issues, we need to demonstrate effectiveness and communicate the results.”
The benefits of volunteering have not been one-way; Irene feels her time with the charity has been an incredible voyage of discovery for her, interacting with colleagues from business and academia.
“It's been a real privilege working with the WWF. I've learned a lot about the complexities of environmental change, with so many players at every level, encompassing business, politics and the community. And the other board members have been a revelation to work with, teaching me new ways of looking at problems, inspirational leadership styles and a whole bunch of fresh ideas and outlooks.”
Serving on a non-executive board, however, brings some novel and interesting challenges, as Irene explains.
“We're not there on a day-to-day basis, yet we have to make measured judgments that could have a major impact. This puts a lot of pressure to ingest briefing papers and chat with executives wherever possible. Each board member recognizes these realities and we deliberate carefully on decisions and consult with experts.”
In the 15-plus years she's spent with KPMG in Hong Kong, Irene has become a major figure in the vibrant, local technology scene, working closely with numerous startups. As a result, the Hong Kong government asked her to join the board of its Applied Research Council, Innovation and Technology Commission as Director, where she gives advice and mentoring to tech startups and helps with exit strategies for companies the government has invested in.
On top of this, she serves as a member of the Assessment Panel for the Enterprise Support Scheme under the Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Commission where early-stage tech businesses are considered for government funding - as well as being a board member of the KPMG China Foundation.
Irene feels that these commitments, while significant, make her more efficient in her time management.
“Everyone on these various boards has busy lives, so we try to be especially focused. We all bring a lot of energy to our roles, which can raise the tempo of how we work together and make us pretty efficient.”
For those considering volunteering, Irene has simple words of advice: “Learn about your community and participate in initiatives that address issues you care and feel strongly about. And don’t feel as if you have nothing to contribute – you’ll be amazed at how much you can bring to the table.”