Last year Emily Chong, 25, quit her corporate job in Sydney, Australia, packed up her life and hopped on a flight to the States in search of a change in her life. Chong, an Australian-born TCK, now lives and works in New York City for Catchafire, an organization that matches professionals with nonprofits that need their help. As the for-profit company’s service officer, Chong has taken her corporate skills and helped build this fast growing startup from the ground up. Catchafire, which has been featured in Forbes, CNN Money and the Huffington Post, has now matched more than 400 professionals and non-profits together for various projects.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was Born in Canberra, Australia, and left when I was 5. My mother’s diplomatic job with the Australian Embassy took us to Beijing, China. I lived in Beijing for two years; Guangzhou for three years; then back to Beijing for three years; Taipei for 5 years. I then moved to Sydney for college and then to New York a year ago.
2. How did you get to where you are now?
I did a degree in journalism and art history and somehow ended up working in corporate, doing marketing for a bank. I was really unsatisfied working in the finance industry and my sister was starting Catchafire in New York at the time. It was a great opportunity to move to New York and help her build the company. I loved the vision of the organization and wanted to jump on board. I left my job, went traveling for a bit around America and then came to New York City to help her build the company.
3. What is Catchafire?
It’s a social mission organization that matches professionals who want to give their skills to non-profits and social enterprises that need help. We match professionals and organizations based on a variety of characteristics including skills, cause interests and time availability.
4. What’s your typical day like?
Working at a startup, my role has pretty much changed month to month because the company is growing so dynamically and quickly. You have to learn as quickly as your market expands. You have to keep up with your market and change your product according to new customers that come in.
There is so much you don’t know about the company because you’re building it at the same time. My job has changed from volunteer recruitment to human resources to operations to sales, it just depends on what the company needs and you try to be as proactive as possible but there’s a lot of reactionary stuff you also have to do based on what’s happening in the market.
5. What’s one of the most interesting matches you’ve made between professionals and organization?
We matched creative director Maria Rapetskaya to a motion graphics video project for the United Nations Development Program’s Equator Initiative Gala. Maria’s video kicked off the gala and was narrated by Ed Norton!
6. What do you find most gratifying about what you do?
Being a part of building a social enterprise start-up alone is extremely satisfying. Within the year that I’ve been here, I’ve seen Catchafire grow from four full-time staff to 15, outgrowing three different office spaces. We are now serving 1,600 organizations and 6,000 professionals.
The journey has been the steepest learning curve of my life. On top of that, knowing that we are creating great social impact and revolutionizing the way people think about giving their time has been ultimately very satisfying because I know that I’m making a difference the world and making the world a better place.
7. Do you see yourself working in the corporate world again?
Probably not. I’m inspired to go the entrepreneurial route. But if I ever get desperate for money, corporate is a good fall back option.
8. How does being a TCK benefit your career?
It’s given me the ability to be a great sales person. In my lifetime, I’ve had to speak to so many different people from various background and cultures and learn how to relate to them so I can make friends. Moving to a new city every three years makes you learn the skill of how to market yourself so that you can fit into a new culture and environment and forces you to be outgoing and gregarious.
My TCK culture has given me the skills to know how to do that naturally, I’m not scared of approaching people or doing cold calls because that’s what I’ve had to do my whole life in creating a home for myself in whatever new place I go to.
9. Is there anything about being a TCK that held you back in your career?
I think it’s made me very indecisive in terms of feeling that there are so many different options, places to live and so many different career paths. I’ve been so fortunate to see so many different opportunities and have those be a reality if I wanted them. But what that causes is stasis from too many options, so not ever knowing if I’m ever in the right space.
For me, it hasn’t given me a very direct career path because I want to dabble in so many different things and live in so many different places so it’s not really a one-track career.
10. What advice would you give to TCKs who want to work for an organization like Catchafire?
Do a lot of research about what kind of social enterprise start up you want to work for. Working for a start up is a lot of work so you have to be passionate about the mission. Talk to as many people in this space as possible. A lot of early stage start ups don’t post jobs publicly. Rather, a lot of opportunities are gained through word of mouth. Don’t be scared to make the jump. You won’t regret it.