Spiffy here! I’m back 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 Reese Wong, the founder and president of the Inter-school Social Issues Association—ISSIA. This amazing organization is ensuring educational equity in young changemakers through a unique peer-to-peer experiential environment. Let’s see how Reese and ISSIA are making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Welcome, Reese! Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenge ISSIA is addressing?
Reese: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Global education, as a system, hasn't fundamentally changed in the last 100 years. At ISSIA, we aim to provide a different kind of education—we cultivate global citizenship and empower young changemakers through peer-to-peer and project-based learning. We are the go-to hub for all things social issues with 250 members and counting across more than 60 schools. Since 2019, with a focus on SDGs 4 and 17, we've established more than 30 projects as the largest youth-led organization in Hong Kong. Projects include our flagship ISSIA Magazine, docu series on LGBTQIA+ rights, podcasts, the ISSIA Model United Nations (ISSIAMUN), and our Youth NGOs Conferences—which has connected more than 20 youth-led NGOs through up-skilling workshops and panels.
Spiffy: That sounds great! What motivated you to do it?
Reese: My motivation comes from being in an academically-oriented environment—Hong Kong. I found that, as a student, I wasn't given full agency over my own learning journey. However, after participating in activities like Model United Nations, and having done an internship with a local mental health charity, I saw the power of experiential learning, peer-to-peer education, and community building, where students can support each other as changemakers. ISSIA started off as a simple idea: a network and space to connect over social issues. However, we have now morphed into a peer-to-peer and project-based organization that advances co-creation towards the SDGs. I want to continue empowering young people so that everyone can be a changemaker!
Spiffy: Everyone can be, indeed! Could you elaborate more on how all of you at ISSIA are working towards a more equitable world?
Reese: We aim to advance educational equity—particularly, through building young peoples' capacity in changemaking and 21st century skills. Our first priority is cultivating social consciousness around global issues; our theory of change is that information empowerment is a stepping stone to changemaking. Secondly, at ISSIA, students can learn skills such as project management, leadership, strategic planning, but also technical skills such as article writing (that is peer reviewed), and multimedia editing (illustrations, videos, podcasts). Everything is youth led and youth operated, meaning peers share best practices in a collaborative space where we work towards the SDGs.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a recent milestone for the company? What impact do you expect it to have?
Reese: We have recently been working on co-creating a wider coalition of aspiring and leading changemakers in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia Pacific—we've recently set up an ISSIA chapter in Macau! Beyond that, our recent in-person UN World Youth Skills day event brought together more than 20 leading youth-led organizations and changemakers in Hong Kong for a day of up-skilling (both peer to peer and expert led), networking, and troubleshooting sessions—all to share skills, best practices, and develop partnerships. We cannot operate in silos. The UN SDGs require co-creation, cross-cutting partnerships, and collaboration. We are looking to continue to build these synergies. One of my favorite sayings is that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts"!
Spiffy: That’s a great saying! Now, I’m curious about how entrepreneurs deal with failure. Can you share a memory of when you faced failure and didn’t give up? What did you learn from it?
Reese: Well, ISSIA HK started on a bumpy road in the summer of 2019. We began strong and with unrelenting passion, but were held back by a lack of focus—we wanted to do too many things at once! After entering a local community project competition with high hopes, we eagerly awaited the results. Excitement and anticipation turned into dejection. We were rejected. These challenges were disheartening, but my team and I never gave up. At this point, I knew that our original idea was too broad and ambitious—we had to start small. I learned that ambitions and great ideas have to be balanced with actionable steps to create impact.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently? I believe you can learn from anyone—I love lessons from kids, peers, or even pets!
Reese: How does one build a movement? After having been to a number of conferences, something I've increasingly learned to appreciate is the power of storytelling and relationship-building. The power of an idea is extremely powerful, and being able to articulate and express something abstract is a very useful skill. This ability to use storytelling as a vehicle for relationship-building is still something I am working on!
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Reese: Changemaking as a whole has been democratized—meaning it is made much more accessible for young people to be involved with social impact. Everyone can take small, actionable steps towards the SDGs. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!
Spiffy: The youth are the future and I wish you all the best in continuing to empower them! Thanks for all that you do, Reese, and for taking the time to talk to me. It’s been an honor.
Reese Wong is the founder and president of Inter-school Social Issues Association—ISSIA HK, a youth-led non-profit based in Hong Kong. His work has been featured across an array of media platforms. Reese inspires people through his speaking engagements which has included appearances at the World Humanitarian Forum and Asia Pacific International Schools Conference. He was awarded the Hong Kong Outstanding Students Award 2019-2020 and was a Youth Delegate at UNITE 2030 and YOUNGA 2021. Reese currently works at Ashoka and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. (Nominated by Action Accelerator. First published on the Ladderworks website on November 1, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.