Hong Kong banker races to do good for Habitat

Mo Yee Lam raises over HK3 million in a month for Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong and another non-profit organization

Mo Yee Lam (top), a Habitat volunteer, ran a weeklong 250 km. race in Madagascar to raise funds for Habitat and another non-profit organization. By the end of her race, her shirt (bottom right) was caked with mud.

HONG KONG (November 24, 2014) – Perseverance could well be Moyee Lam’s middle name. Despite her delicate appearance, the investment banker who is Joint Head of Corporate Finance Group at UBS AG has a strong will to succeed in what she set out to do. This steely resolve is seen in both her involvement with Habitat for Humanity and her love of sports.

Not content with contributing her time and labor, Lam stepped up her support by taping on her other love – running – to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity China. “I have decided to join a marathon in Madagascar, Africa. Since it would be very tough, I thought, ‘why not fundraise for charities at the same time?’.”

For Lam, taking part in such a marathon is no mean feat. Six years ago, she could barely run for half an hour.

“My new year resolution had always been to do more sports and eat healthy,” she said. “But I often gave up by February!”

After Lam started taking running seriously, she took part in marathons in Asia, which lasted three days or 60 to 70 kilometers at most. It was a big leap for her to run 250 kilometers in seven days in Madagascar, not to mention wearing the same sweat-drenched and mud-coated T-shirt for a week.

“I arrived in Africa one week earlier before the race, as I was afraid the long flight would hurt my back,” Lam said. She took precautions as she had to carry a 10-kilogram back pack during her run.

Instead of training for the marathon, she found herself spending more time to raise funds for Habitat.

“My target was to raise HK1 million (US128,900) because I raised around HK200,000 for each Habitat build in the past. I thought it would be difficult but I reached the target really quickly.” In the end, she raised HK3.2 million in a month which was beyond her expectations.

She is thankful to the UBS’ Optimus Foundation by matching HK1.3 million for the amount raised. She also targeted corporations in her fundraising campaign. In addition to Habitat, the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women benefitted from Lam’s fundraising run.

“There are some people who indicated support for my run but they did not respond to my emails afterwards. They could have changed their mind or they were just too busy. I did not give up and kept on sending them follow-up emails. Some finally said ‘yes!’.” That was a great encouragement as Lam did not have prior large-scale fundraising experience.

Lam personally feels that it is much more rewarding to volunteer than simply donating money. She said: “Before joining a Habitat build, I thought I was the one giving money, time and sweat. But in the end it brought me so much satisfaction which is difficult to find in daily life.”

Her road to a meaningful life experience began in 2008 when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated Sichuan province in southwest China. Based in Hong Kong, Lam’s immediate thought was to look for ways to help. After making enquiries, she found out that Habitat for Humanity was responding to the earthquake and sought to join as a volunteer in 2009. All volunteer slots were taken up; with a hectic work schedule that made it hard for Lam to even take a holiday, it seemed that the door was shut.

“But I did not take ‘no’ for an answer,” Lam said. She gave up the more time-consuming process of email correspondence and rang the Habitat office in Hong Kong directly.

Despite the repeated feedback from the Hong Kong office about the lack of volunteer opportunities, Lam persevered. The Hong Kong office finally reverted that a volunteer slot was available in the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Lam immediately said yes and donated HK200,000, an amount she had raised for the Sichuan earthquake response. After Thailand, she went on to build in Sichuan in 2011 and Vietnam in 2013.

Lam believes that Habitat for Humanity is changing the world in a special and unique way. “Habitat encourages people not only to donate money but also to donate their time and effort by volunteering. When people see a woman who wears high heels running so hard for 250 km to raise money, they will be inspired to do good themselves too.”

While on the race, Moyee found that she could live out of her backpack for a whole week. She said: “We only need very little and basic things to survive, and I know that I can go back to a ‘civilized’ place after seven days. I can rest in a hotel and take a bath. But some people do not even have a decent place to live, not to mention a future, without help from organizations like Habitat. We should not take everything for granted.”

She believes that a house does not only provide shelter but is also a place where family members can stay together, take care of each other and plan for a better future. It also provides a stable environment for children and youngsters to grow up and study, which enables them to stay away from poverty in the long run.