Keen for a role related to politics that also allowed her to test what is possible, Yip Yan-yan joined non-profit think tank Civic Exchange as a project co-ordinator in 2001 and is now its chief operating officer. Her work involves research and creating awareness of issues that can improve civil society and the workings of government. More recently, she has also started to specialise in mediation, teaching different approaches to conflict resolution for domestic, workplace and political situations. Yip has a degree in political science from the Baptist University and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics.
How did you land your first full-time job?
I had no real interest in the usual management trainee programmes and just thought I wasn't competitive enough for that kind of role. Instead, after graduation, I did a second summer as a chaperone for kids on a study tour to Britain and wasn't sure what would come next. When I got back, I heard from a classmate about a vacancy as assistant to a legislator, which would also involve helping the Citizens Party. After two rounds of interviews, I got it. Sometimes opportunities come along at the right time; it just depends if you take them or not.
What did you gain from the experience?
As a legislative aide, I was answering complaints, managing community projects and helping party activities with newsletters, roadshows and, in 1999, for the district council elections. I learned about dealing with the general public, government officials and non-governmental organisations and began to understand the importance of social inclusion and diversity issues. One pilot project I co-ordinated was teaching visually impaired people to use a computer so they could get jobs. Things like that made me more aware of different needs in society. I was changing, and it made me appreciate what I have and to feel I could do more.
Why did you focus on wars during your master’s degree?
I just found the subject so new and interesting. It was a chance to look at how the Greeks, Indians and Chinese fought in the past and covered topics like WMD and money laundering as well. The course went into why there is conflict and why people fight. Overall, it took me to another level, to have not just a Hong Kong viewpoint or only think about material things. It still surprises me how few people in our “global city” study international relations.
What makes you a fighter?
I’m not that competitive or aggressive, but I am determined and can be very stubborn. That has something to do with my personal story. When I was very young, I survived cancer, so now I feel I am so lucky to have good friends and colleagues, and to get so much from society. It is my responsibility to do as much as I can. That is why I now chair the Little Life Warrior Society, which supports children with cancer and their parents at the Prince of Wales Hospital.
Which public policy issues are you working on these days?
One topic is the process of public consultations by the government, which we think is not effective. They arrange sessions in different districts with maybe only 10 people attending. There must be other ways to engage the public with online platforms, so we will put the spotlight on that. I’m also looking at the management of public records. Hong Kong has no archive law, only administrative guidelines, so we need legislation in this area.
What are the best and worst parts of your present role?
The thing I like most is that I’m contributing to change and, from my perspective, these changes are for the better. At times, it can feel as if you are just banging your head against the wall. The tough part is getting the critical mass, but you have to stay optimistic and build support, and start changing opinions. For example, Civic Exchange first did research on functional constituencies several years ago, but only recently have more people started to realise these are really weird bodies and advocate their abolition.
How do you view people who seem to make wealth their priority?
If people say they want to make a lot of money, my follow-up question is to ask what they want to do then. Ultimately, I imagine, they know they can look deeper and find something else inside. There is no need just to focus on money. It is important to have the courage to try new things and have faith in yourself to do something for the betterment of society.
Inspired by her father, Yip has taken Latin dancing classes for the past four years
When time allows, she performs in an alumni choir for special events and concerts
After a diploma in multimedia graphic design, she's now studying law at HKU SPACE