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Andrew Chidgey of AIDS Concern

Suite Talk: Andrew Chidgey, AIDS Concern Hong Kong



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Andrew Chidgey, chief executive, AIDS Concern Hong Kong, admits the challenges faced by the not-for-profit sector in attracting (and retaining) young talent, but also affirms that both the corporate and NGO sectors have a lot to learn from each other, in this interview.

What was your priority when you joined AIDS Concern in May 2013?

It was my first time in Hong Kong so my priority was to getting to know the reach of AIDS Concern, understanding the local HIV epidemic and working out the overall priorities for the next 3-5 years.

That meant a lot of internal and external meetings, to get to grips with the part we could play in reducing the epidemic, and supporting those living with it.

By the end of 100 days, I was in a position to talk to the board about the early priorities. The second thing was to look very carefully at our external communication strategy to see how we could build a stronger profile and drive more people to support our work.

Finally, we needed to diversify our income sources so we had to identify a broader base structure.

Your early career focused on the food and hospitality sector, why did you veer towards the non-profit sector?

After graduating with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, like many fresh graduates, I didn’t have a firm determination on what I wanted to do.

But working with two companies in sales and marketing, I found it a very useful experience in getting exposure to the corporate world.

However, I began to realise that I wanted to do something with a humanitarian flavour, therefore I went to work for UK’s largest Alzheimer’s disease charity. I spent 11 years there in a role that was challenging and also very rewarding.

I then got an opportunity to work with AIDS Concern. Two years later, and I feel there’s a still a lot I can do, and that’s what drives me.

Do you enjoy working in Hong Kong?

It is a very interesting environment to work on causes that are incredibly challenging in terms of public attitude. So you learn a lot about cultural attitudes, and also the ways in which you can be successful at having conversations in public education in complicated areas.

Hong Kong is a crowded, busy place – there are many organisations trying to be heard, so you have to be very creative to cut through to people, especially with an issue as sensitive as HIV.

You can’t just go in and talk to people about HIV and sex, you need to find ways that make people understand it’s relevant to their lives.

Hong Kong is a crowded, busy place – there are many organisations trying to be heard, so you have to be creative to cut through, especially with an issue as sensitive as HIV.

What are the key areas of focus for your employees?

What drives people in NGOs is wanting to see a change in the world. Therefore, it creates a different work environment where it is vital that your employees understand the vision and mission.

This is true of many businesses as well, however in NGOs their personal values and those of the organisation have to match. That means you have to work very carefully to ensure people are involved in planning and discussion.

Another issue is Generation Y where we have a lot of young people who come in to NGOs, looking for impact and personal progression as quickly as possible. The challenge for us is to ensure people stay in position to deliver sustainable impact before they move on to do something else.

Young graduates are very keen to get a broad range of experience, but we need them to gain knowledge to be able to deliver programmes on a sustainable basis.

How do you define yourself as a leader?

I don’t think any one individual can deliver sustainable impact, so for me the priority is making sure I develop a strong team of people to have the most impact.

I particularly make sure to spend time to spend with senior colleagues in coaching, supporting, pushing where required, ensuring that people from different parts of the operations are supporting the delivery.

How closely do you work with your HR team to enable this?

Very closely. HR needs to be a fundamental part of the organisation’s strategy. It cannot just be an administrative function. Of course, we need to deal with all the administration, but that is only a tool.

HR’s strategy needs to be about managing talent and understand how we can get the best of the people, whether now or in the future.

What drives people in NGOs is wanting to see a change in the world. Therefore, it creates an environment where it is vital that your employees understand the vision.

Do you think HR leaders have the skills to lead the business?

There’s no question that some HR leaders have the potential to lead organisations if that’s what they want to do. People need to decide what their ambition is.

Being able to take on a chief executive position requires thinking about the strategy for the organisation and having a broad understanding of the key business priorities. If HR leaders do that, then we will see more and more of them becoming chief executives in the future.

In the future what do you think will be your biggest HR-related challenges?

For NGOs in Hong Kong there is an incredibly competitive market for candidates. The cost of living is becoming very high, so this is making it an even bigger challenge in terms of attracting the right talent.

This requires that we keep a close eye  on how we are explaining what we do to potential candidates but also how we look at measure that can give us a competitive edge over other organisations in the market, such as flexible working, job rotation, and personal development planning.

We also need to be realistic about how long we can expect to keep them.

Is there a myth about working in the not-for-profit sector?

There’s a myth where people think that NGOs need to learn a lot from the corporate sector, and the corporate sector doesn’t have much to learn from NGOs. I think there is learning that can be achieved on both sides.

But also I do see barriers to adopting modern practices in NGOs where people make a mistake in thinking that modern high-performance business practices cannot be applied in NGOs.

In fact, there’s no reason why many business and talent management practices cannot be adopted by NGOs.

There’s no question that some HR leaders have the potential to lead organisations if that’s what they want to do. People need to decide what their ambition is.

How do you spend your time off work?

I think remaining calm, focused and decisive at work is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. That takes a lot of energy and time, so it is important to do things away from work that help you retain your energy and focus while at work.

I am an explorer. I am interested in history, politics, and culture, and I have been doing things like learning to cook Chinese food, learning Cantonese, and scuba diving.

The modern world is surrounding us with technology and things that distract us all the time, and doing things that require your complete concentration, like these, means you can remain completely focused on things going on in the working day.

Image: Provided



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