Bessie Zhang, currently volunteering at Moral Fairground, has dedicated herself to being a business woman with a social conscience. Having worked at multiple social business enterprises, she has had a hand in running social programs with asylum seekers, raising funds for girls’ education in Cambodia and promoting fair trade on the world stage.
You currently volunteer for Moral Fairground, which is an organisation aimed at creating awareness and promoting sustainable and fair-trade business practices. What sparked your passion for this organisation and the issues they promote?
A few years ago I started getting involved with volunteer work within the social enterprise business sector. I am very passionate about utilising my business skills from a consulting background to help small and medium enterprises run their businesses. On one side, social enterprises function as a business. On the other side, more importantly, they try to solve socially pressing issues.
My first instance of volunteering with a social enterprise was with an organisation called Free2Feed, which offers cooking classes run by asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. This helps them practice their public speaking and English skills and also gives them paid experience in running a cooking class. This in turn, gives them transferable skills to help them find employment in Australia as it is often quite difficult for these minority groups.
This volunteer experience sparked my interest in social enterprises as it touched my heart that this organisation had such a genuine interest in helping solve this social issue.
With such various passions and roles you have taken on, how do you strive to achieve a work-life balance? Do you have any tips for how to juggle various responsibilities simultaneously?
I am currently still learning how to get the balance right. I believe it is a lifelong journey and the balance constantly shifts depending on your priorities at the time. For example, when I was at university my priority was to get as much volunteer and real life work experience as I could to prepare me for the workforce. As an international university student, I started taking on volunteer roles related to my research. At the time, I was studying Asian and Pacific studies along with diplomacy, so I started out hosting a lot of conferences which they had in Canberra. From there I built my connections and figured out where I wanted to pivot my volunteering towards. I always get so excited about new projects or volunteer opportunities, but have learnt to put my time towards projects which match my values and that I just can’t say no to!
Which of your past accomplishments are you most proud of?
I think the work I’m most proud of is my volunteer work. While studying in Canberra I was the International Director for the Rotaract Club which worked collaboratively with an organisation in Cambodia called ‘Girls Go Back to School’. I am most proud of this project as I feel I was able to make a real difference to people’s lives, which really warms my heart. The organisation helps the girls make handmade bags, which get shipped to Australia, where the Rotaract Club then sells the bags and sends back the money to Cambodia to support the girl’s tuition fees. I still hear news today from the girls we helped through this organisation and a few of them are just about to finish university. I am very proud of their achievements.
How did your studies at university prepare you for the workforce and what advice would you give people graduating this year?
I am quite a tolerant person and I am good at dealing with uncertainty as I find it exciting. Every time I come across challenges it excites me as these challenges are a chance to overcome them and progress, consequently learning and growing.
Before graduation, I focused heavily on my GPA and being the best in my class. After graduating, I realised there is so much more to learn when you step into the workforce and start your career. Therefore, my advice would be to never let perfection get in the way. Everything in the business world happens so fast and there are so many uncertainties after Covid-19 that we now need to be more flexible and adaptable to changes.
It’s important to know your core values for your career. It’s okay to feel like you’re taking a step back or having deviations from the direct pathway to your career goal, because if you really want something, in time you will get there. This was the case when I graduated and all my friends accepted new jobs, but for me as an international student I decided to say no to new job opportunities while I focused on getting permanent residency, so that in the long term I could stay living in Australia. Sometimes it is necessary to make some sacrifices in order to achieve your goals in the long run.