Interview by Megan Foo
Caroline Sprod is the Executive Director of HandsOn Hong Kong, a Hong Kong registered charity with a two-fold mission of helping nonprofits meet their volunteer needs and helping those who want to give back to the community do so in a meaningful way. An enthusiastic volunteer, Caroline strives to create innovative, high-impact contributions to people’s lives through active volunteerism. She has dedicated much of her spare time to helping fantastic causes in Hong Kong, specifically in the animal welfare sector. Passionate about empowering women, Caroline is also a member of the British Chamber Women in Business Committee, which focuses on empowering women pursuing business-related careers.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Caroline Sprod: I’m from the UK and for the last 7 years I’ve called Hong Kong home. Straight after university I joined the UK Diplomatic Service. Over a 17 year career I worked in London, Ukraine, Spain and Hong Kong. I’m currently on unpaid leave from the Diplomatic Service. 18 months ago I joined HandsOn Hong Kong.
Women LEAD: You are the Executive Director at HandsOn Hong Kong. What inspires you about HandsOn Hong Kong, and can you tell us about your work here?
Caroline Sprod: HandsOn Hong Kong removes barriers that hold people back from volunteering, and enables small grassroots NGOs to get the helping hands they need. Hong Kongers want to get involved and make our city a better place for all, but their busy schedules often prevent them from committing to a regular volunteer activity. In addition, many people are not sure where to find volunteer opportunities. Small NGOs are busy with their frontline services, and lack the resources and know-how to recruit and manage volunteers. By having HandsOn Hong Kong in the middle, these two parties are able to come together and both benefit. I know from personal experience how volunteering is not just about giving but about gaining too, so I’m really passionate about facilitating the opportunity to volunteer!
Women LEAD: You are also a member of the British Chamber Women in Business Committee, which focuses on empowering women pursuing business-related careers. Can you tell us more about the British Chamber Women in Business Committee?
Caroline Sprod: I joined the Committee during my first year in Hong Kong. We organize a program of events aimed the female members of the Chamber. We have networking lunches and evening events, a series of talks called “Inspiration Women” and other adhoc talks. Even though women make up only around one fifth of the Chamber members, our events are some of the most popular ones on the calendar. I find that women in general network in a different way to men. They are supportive, collaborative and ask questions, whereas men have a tendency to be competitive and talk about themselves. I have met many wonderful women through the British Chamber who have become a key part of my network, not just as valued business contacts but also as true friends.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Caroline Sprod: I hugely admire Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia. The organization is campaigning to end bear bile farming in China and Vietnam. She is amazing, and close to reaching her goal. As a foreign women in Asia, striving to change practices that many Chinese and Vietnamese consider part of their culture, she has many barriers to overcome. Jill has demonstrated incredible communication skills and powers of diplomacy which has won the campaign the support of both key decision makers and ordinary members of the community. Combined with her passion to bring about change, she is unstoppable! I’m delighted that Jill will soon be giving a talk through our British Chamber Women in Business Committee as one of our “Inspirational Women”.
Women LEAD: What does leveraging the creative talents, energy and power of youth for volunteer initiatives mean to you?
Caroline Sprod: Every journey begins with a single step. When a young person takes their first step to volunteer, it can empower them to journey through life being deeply and actively involved in giving back and making their immediate community and the wider world a better place. And as I’ve already mentioned, community service is not just about giving, it’s about gaining too. Volunteering offers our young people wonderful opportunities to learn new skills, increase their self confidence and of course have fun and make friends!
Women LEAD: Why are women’s leadership and empowerment important to you?
Caroline Sprod: I’ve had fantastic opportunities in life. I had a great education, I have travelled widely and I’ve had a variety of intellectually stimulating and challenging roles in my career so far. I would never have had these chances if my mother’s and my grandmother’s generations hadn’t stood up, spoken out, fought for women’s rights and refused to take no for an answer. My generation, and coming generations, need to continue to take action to ensure that future generations of women will be defined only by their abilities and how they choose to use these, not by their gender, or other circumstances of their birth.
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment, and education?
Caroline Sprod: I actually love some of the memes that are popping up online at the moment. They make us stop and think, and smile at the same time. This morning I saw one quoting Sheryl Sandberg: “I want every little girl who is told she is bossy to be told she has leadership skills.” Another I enjoyed was “Who’s behind every great woman? That’s right – no-one. She has to get there by herself.” And of course there’s “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.”