|1 Apr 2022|
|Hong Kong SAR|
Reese Wong (Sha Tin College, Class of 2021) is a young changemaker and Founder of ISSIA HK, a youth-led non-profit that cultivates global citizenship and empowers future changemakers through peer-to-peer and project-based learning.
Since 2019, ISSIA has involved over 300 students from 80 schools in Hong Kong and South-East Asia, launching a series of articles, podcasts, conferences and upskilling workshops surrounding Sustainable Development Goals of quality education (SDG 4) and partnerships for goals (SDG 17). Reese shared with us the inspiration behind founding ISSIA and the impact he hopes to achieve through this network of young changemakers.
“I was academically oriented and loved humanities and social sciences. But I always wondered about how I could get more ownership over my learning journey. How could I tap into more experiential learning opportunities? My spark came when I interned at a local mental health charity called Mind Hong Kong, where in addition to learning about mental health, [the internship] taught me about the power of peer-to-peer, inter-school, project-based learning. That moment has led to me growing and transforming the way I see the world and my role within it.
In the summer of 2019, a really small group of us started ISSIA. And over the past three years, we've grown and evolved. There are now over 300 students in Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific, and we've established chapters in Macau. We are also looking to expand internationally. What is great about ISSIA is not just the number of students involved, but the diversity of local and international schools participating.”
“When we started, our vision was very broad: ISSIA was a platform for discussion on social and global issues. It addressed a need that many high school students had. But when we participated in a pitch competition for funding, we were rejected because of the lack of tangible projects and initiatives in our network. What do we convene all these students to do beyond just this vision in principle?
As such, we introduced the ISSIA Magazine, which helped to anchor the work that we're doing because now there was a ‘product’ that people could see. It helped unite our focus and our vision, which in turn helped us scale. We went back to the pitch competition a year later, got the funding and were awarded the Most Sustainable Project Award.”
Collaborative Peer-to-Peer Learning
“One thing we emphasise at ISSIA is the idea that anyone can take ownership of a project they are passionate about - it could be anything from multimedia projects including podcasts, docuseries, and magazine articles, to events and building partnerships. We are building an ecosystem of young people who are passionate about change.
One good example of peer-to-peer and project-based learning is the magazine. When a student signs up for one of our forums, they start with an onboarding workshop on how to write a good article. We pair them up with an editor who is a year or two older and has more experience. And then they work together on creating a robust argument for their social and global issue. We have illustrators and designers who create amazing art for this article – so the whole publication is a collaborative, peer-to-peer process.”
(The ISSIA Magazine is available to schools in Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific. If you would like to get a digital copy for your school, email email@example.com)
ISSIA HK Team
Next steps - making ISSIA a sustainable social enterprise
“We are building the foundation that allows the next generation to take over and to build on what we've done. We have put into place a framework of good workflows and systems so that the knowledge, expertise, and best practices created over these years are secured.
Right now we're operating as a non-profit, engaging volunteers and students. But we are trying to identify sustainable revenue streams, whether that be B2C or B2B in terms of involving students directly or introducing programs to schools. One personal project of mine is the idea of VR (virtual reality) in education, particularly how it can advance peer-to-peer and project-based learning.
The bigger goal is the idea of ecosystem-building. We have mentorship programmes and intrapreneurship projects to support students to flourish and scale their initiatives as changemakers. We're trying to build on the sustainability of this ecosystem so that in a few years, youth-led and youth-operated organisations can function at a similar level to an adult-run NGO but at a much lower cost - particularly because of the power of volunteerism and the power of the school ecosystem that can push them forward.”
An ESF Education
“Sha Tin College has strong legacy projects like school magazines, publications, student councils, and I was involved in many of those. It was a good testing ground to explore what works inside a school ecosystem. The teachers posed many challenging questions that helped me critically reflect on what I do at ISSIA. How do we best communicate what we're doing? How do I best manage and mitigate risk? Teacher feedback was a useful learning curve that has made me more resilient. I'm thankful to all the teachers who have prompted that critical reflection and provided support along the way.”
Message to Alumni
“Let’s look at the amazing work being done by the younger students and find ways to pitch in. One of the biggest challenges faced by under 18s in starting their own initiative is first figuring out how to start, but secondly, figuring out how to scale. Once you have that idea, who are the stakeholders you need to talk to and how do you take your project to the next level? I think ESF alumni can do an amazing job helping these young students put together the pieces in the puzzle of social change.”
Reese is currently a consultant for Ashoka Innovators for the Public, the world’s leading community of social entrepreneurs, and sees it as a natural next step in his journey as a global changemaker. He also regularly speaks about youth changemaking and social entrepreneurship, with over 30 engagements including at the World Humanitarian Forum and the Asia Pacific International Schools Conference. During his gap year, Reese is also working with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham HK) and plans to study political science or global affairs at university.
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