Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Ao Kong, the chief of resource mobilization, partnerships and strategic communications of the United Nations. Let’s learn what’s happening at the United Nations and how Ao is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Ao! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through the United Nations?
Ao: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! The United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is the United Nations entity dedicated to serve the 46 least developed countries as the gateway to science, technology, and innovation for achieving sustainable development. The least developed countries are low-income countries highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of accumulated knowledge and skills that make a productive workforce. They are confronting severe structural impediments that leave them very limited options to achieve sustainable development when other countries are advancing. One of the key solutions is supporting their access to science and tech such as research capacity, digitalization, sustainable agriculture, and manufacturing
Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?
Ao: I think doing the type of work that matches your values, utilizes your top qualities, and also tickles your curiosity is one of the best gifts of life. I have intentionally ventured into very diverse career paths ranging from impact investing to technology and various roles in the United Nations—all of them match this golden rule. I find raising resources and building creative partnerships are like playing LEGO; you need to find the right pieces and combination to complete the masterwork. Meanwhile, I learn and enjoy the teamwork where each character brings a unique talent like playing a symphony together. Needless to say, identifying the suitable technology and innovation to build up the poor and vulnerable communities is extra rewarding.
Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?
Ao: The ultimate goal of the organization is to strengthen the science, technology, and innovation capacity of least-developed countries towards building sustainable productive capacities and promoting structural economic transformation. Some intermediate impacts include promoting National Academy of Sciences, enhancing geospatial technologies for disaster management, and helping government agencies to build biotechnology policy, including training on biosafety regulation. All of the above would need clear strategic plans that could measure the impact, clear communication strategies and materials for advocacy, and cross-sector partnerships to make it happen, while also being sustainable—that's where my work is focused on.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your community?
Ao: Through the initiative on “How autonomous mobile clinics can transform healthcare in least developed countries,” scientists, tech developers, and medical staff carried on with this pilot and research to utilize AI to improve healthcare in hard-to-reach areas and populations. Also through being a judge and leadership advisor to SOLVE: an initiative of MIT with a mission to drive innovation to solve world challenges. Solve finds incredible tech-based social entrepreneurs and brings together MIT’s innovation ecosystem and a community of supporters to help them drive lasting, transformational impact. For more information, check it out here.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Ao: Growing up in a small community next to the Yangtze River in South China with mostly earthworms and frogs as my childhood friends, I never dreamed of how far I could have gone on the international stage. I have the privilege to do meaningful work and live in all of the five continents. In retrospect, one great luck I had was receiving unconditional trust and encouragement during my K-12 years from classmates and teachers. Even though they may not have understood where I was heading to in this big world, they always smiled and nodded at my wildest imaginations and cheered me up whenever I had self doubt. So, say yes to the things you are excited about, and be kind and encouraging to people and good ideas, you never know how the miracles begin!
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Ao—it’s been an honor!
Ms. Ao Kong has 20 years of experience in international development, impact investing, technology, and partnerships. Currently, she is the Lead on private sector partnerships for the United Nations RC system and 92Y Belfer Center Women-in Power leadership Fellow. Recently, she was Chief of Resource Mobilization, Partnerships and Strategic Communications at UN Technology Bank; after holding various leadership positions in the private sector. Ms. Kong is a featured speaker and writer for global fora including Milken Global Conference, HBR, World Economic Forum, and was awarded “Pacific Delegate” by Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Relations. She has also been a leadership advisor for MIT Solve guiding tech social entrepreneurs. (First published on the Ladderworks website on November 13, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Daniela Vega. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.