By: Peter Horsfield
Passion, determination, and a selfless desire to serve mankind summarize the life and career of Rachael Chong, a young professional who gave up her chance to rise up the corporate ladder so she could help others and make a greater impact in the world. As the founder of “Catchafire,” one of today’s most successful volunteering sites, Rachael is a powerful inspiration to a young generation of professionals who are looking to make their mark in history.
Why Rachael Chong is Extraordinary
Rachael Chong is a young philanthropist and entrepreneur who is best known as the founder of “Catchafire,” a non-profit organization which connects young professionals to various organizations and causes so they can volunteer their skills. Rachael has been active in philanthropy throughout her career, and also significant in the development of several non-profit organizations such as BRAC USA, the Duke Microfinance Club and FINCA International.
As a genuine philanthropist, Rachael has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work. She is a recipient of the “Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award,” the “Changing the Game, No Apologies Award” by the AWNY, and the “Duke University Start-Up Challenge Social Enterprise Track Award.” She has also been included in the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company.
Ever since she started her career, Rachael has been “radical” in her view of helping people, which is why she entered the world of microfinance and volunteering. For her, there is something about volunteering that brings great fulfilment; perhaps that she is able to use her skills for the betterment of the community. She said, when asked why volunteering is good:
“Because everyone wins! For the social good organizations we serve, it opens up a whole world of access to services they could never afford ordinarily or know where to find. Organizations can spend a lot of time and resources trying to figure out how to do something themselves when they don’t have the staffing or money for. When you bring in a pro bono professional, you’re guaranteeing that the job will be done efficiently, and it frees up the organization’s time and resources to devote to other important tasks. It’s also great for the professional. Pro bono looks great on a resume. And of course, giving back to a cause you really care about feels great, too!”
Like all young professionals, Rachael has experienced the difficulty of having to bootstrap in order to grow her organization. But, unlike others who were weary of the concept, Rachael saw it as an opportunity to become better at managing philanthropic activities:
“Bootstrapping is completely to your advantage. Operating under limited resources forces you to be laser focused simply because you can’t afford to make careless mistakes. You don’t have enough cash to be stupid. This is a great exercise. If you can bootstrap your way to the next phase of your business, you will build a confidence that will allow you to believe that you can take on anything. You’ll need this irrational level of confidence to take it all the way, so don’t be shy – build your confidence.”
Rachael Chong is an amazing inspiration for young people who want to do something good and significant, but are unsure where to start. She is the epitomy of someone who truly wants to help people, and she uses her skills and talents to encourage others to follow her:
“Prioritize your options and then build fast and iterate. You want to test, learn, fail and iterate as fast as possible. Start-ups are highly resource constrained, but they also have the ability to be extremely nimble. Use this nimbleness to your advantage to constantly innovate, but also keep your eye on the prize and be guided by your mission.”
Top Reasons why Rachael Chong is Extraordinary
- Rachael Chong is the founder and leader of “Catchafire,” one of the largest volunteering services in the world.
- She was significant in the establishment and development of numerous non-profit organizations, including BRAC USA, Duke Microfinance Club and FINCA International.
- She has been named as one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company.
- She is a recipient of the prestigious “Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award.”
- She is a fellow of well-known institutions such as the NYC Venture Fellows and West Coast Village Capital.
- She served as a Judge at the Global Social Venture Competition in 2011 and 2012.
- She gave up a promising career in the world of banking to focus on microfinance, in which she believed she could be of better service to people.
- She was a recipient of AWNY’s “Changing the Game, No Apologies Award” in 2013.
- She won the “Summer 2010 Huffington Post’s Innovators Series.”
- She won the “Duke University Start-Up Challenge Social Enterprise Track” in 2009.
Biography of Rachael ChongDate of Birth: | Born in: / Nationality: United States of America
Rachael was born in Australia in the early 1980s to wealthy parents who owned restaurants in the community of Cambra. Growing up in a wealthy and comfortable lifestyle, Rachael was very privileged and enjoyed many things that others did not have. In addition, Rachael’s parents were very loving, and instilled in the young Rachael and her siblings the value of caring for others – something that would greatly influence Rachael’s career choices later in her life.
As a young Chinese girl living in Australia at the time, Rachael was not immune to racism; back then, Australia was an overwhelmingly-white country and racism was rampant, which affected many families like Rachael’s. In spite of this, her parents did not allow themselves to be overcome by hatred, and this inspired the young Rachael as she saw her parents as examples of what it means to be a good citizen.
When Rachael was around eight years old, her mother accepted a job in the Australian Foreign Services Department and became the highest-ranking diplomat of another ethnicity – which was particularly impressive, considering the prevalence of racism at the time. Rachael later stated that her mother was one of her greatest inspirations and role models because of how she taught her to handle both responsibility and criticism.
MOVING TO CHINA
In 1989, after the infamous Tiananmen Massacre in China, Rachael and her family moved from Australia to China after her mother was appointed as a foreign diplomat in the country. Living behind the walls of the Australian embassy in China, Rachael initially struggled to get along with others; at her school, her classmates were of many different cultures, and she had no concept of race relations whatsoever.
During her stay in China, Rachael went with her parents to live in Guangzhou for a short time before settling in Beijing. Because she came from a wealthy family, she knew little about the seriousness of poverty until she witnessed it first-hand among her fellow Chinese people. Once, she had even given food to an eight-year-old boy she found begging in the streets.
This experience resulted in a radical change of views for the young Rachael, who had been living comfortably until then, unaware of just how many people suffer from poverty. From then on, Rachael was inspired to help the poor members of her community.
The early 1990s brought misfortune to the Chong family, whose businesses in Australia were devastated by the financial crisis at the time, which affected almost every sector of society. Fortunately, though, Rachael and her siblings still lived quite comfortably due to their parents’ work (her mother was a diplomat for the Australian government while her father established a new, moderately-successful business in China), and were able to receive quality education.
In Rachael’s elementary and high school years, she developed her desire for philanthropy through numerous extra-curricular activities. In high school, Rachael was often praised as being among the brightest students in the class, and she graduated with excellent grades.
GOING TO THE UNITED STATES: RACHAEL’S COLLEGE YEARS
After graduating from high school, Rachael moved to New York to study at Columbia University’s Barnard College. During her first year at Barnard, Rachael spent one semester in the Arizona desert with fifty other students from all over the world to study in the Biosphere, an enclosed ecological institute which studies life systems.
During her summer vacations, Rachael stayed busy by engaging in philanthropic and charitable activities and joining various organizations and their programs. In her first year, Rachael started working with Shell, and worked as an intern for Goldman Sachs in her sophomore year. During her junior year, Rachael spent some time with the UBS Investment Bank (as an investment bank analyst and sales and trading agent), and the company was so impressed with her performance that they offered her a job upon her graduation.
While studying at Columbia University, Rachael not only proved to be among the best and brightest students, but also showed her genuine desire to help people and create the world she always dreamed of: a world free from hunger and poverty. However, in her time working with several investment companies, Rachael became frustrated with the lack of opportunities to use her skills for the greater good. Realizing that she was limited in her career path, Rachael decided to leave the banking industry and search for new opportunities:
“After college I went into investment banking like many of us did back then. While I was there, I had the brilliant idea to stay sane by volunteering my newly minted finance and business skills. Only problem was that for the life of me, I couldn’t find an appropriate skills-based or pro bono volunteer opportunity. I thought it was crazy that people who wanted to give their skills couldn’t find a way to do so.”
FROM BANKING TO MICROFINANCE
After Rachael graduated from Columbia University in 2004, she turned to the world of microfinance and began working as a “public sector team intern” with FINCA International, a well-known non-profit organization. Two years later, in 2006, Rachael founded the “Duke Microfinance Club” while pursuing her graduate studies at Duke University. She completed her studies and earned her Master’s degree in 2009.
In 2007, Rachael was also significant in the establishment of “BRAC USA,” where she served as its Program Manager for over a year. While working with “BRAC USA,” Rachael was able to use her skills to develop programs that would help people, and also learn newer methods to improve what she already knew.
Eventually, Rachael’s work at BRAC led to the establishment of “Catchafire,” a non-profit organization aimed at encouraging young professionals to become involved in organizations and causes. Using the tagline “Give What You Are Good At,” “Catchafire” has become one of the largest volunteering services in the world, giving over six-million dollars in services to non-profit organizations. Although based in New York City, “Catchafire” has since expanded to other cities, and continues to grow as more and more people offer their talents and efforts to causes that are worth their while.
In an interview, Rachael described the work of “Catchafire:”
“Catchafire works a bit like a dating site—we match professionals who want to give back with social good organizations that need professional services but can’t afford them at market rate. Say you’re a PR manager, a graphic designer, a video editor, or a marketing executive. You fill out a profile with Catchafire, giving information about your skillset and your cause interests. Meanwhile, social good organizations can list projects in areas that require a certain set of skills—for example, a social media campaign for an HIV-AIDS education nonprofit, or a fundraising event for an animal shelter. Our special matching algorithm suggests possible matches.”
Today, Rachael continues to look for ways to improve her organization’s services. Looking back at what “Catchafire” has accomplished, Rachael understands there is still much that can be done, and as long as improvements can be made, she will never stop:
“One of the biggest challenges we’re faced with now is how to expand Catchafire into other markets (we currently only serve organizations with a presence in the greater New York City area), without losing the personal touch and individual passion that has made us successful so far. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far, but we think the model has the potential to make a huge impact on the way social good organizations operate, and for that to happen, we need to scale up tremendously.”
It does not require a job with a large and prestigious company to impact the world in a great way; all you need is the desire to do it, and the determination to devote your time, effort and resources. As Rachael says:
“My vision is to change the world for the better in a really, really big way. Catchafire has the potential to create a more efficient and effective nonprofit / social good sector and build a movement of socially conscious, action-oriented, talented individuals. I couldn’t imagine a bigger goal or a cause I care more about. My vision for Catchafire is a life vision not only a career vision.”
- 2002-2004: Multicultural and International Student Association (Columbia University)
- 2003: Goldman Sachs
- 2004-2005: UBS Investment Bank
- 2005: FINCA International
- 2006-2007: Duke Microfinance Club
- 2007-2008: BRAC USA
- 2008- Catchafire
Organizations and Programs Supported
- BRAC USA
- Duke Microfinance Club
- FINCA International
- Multicultural and International Student Association
- Youth Challenge America
- Project Have Hope
- Goods for Good
Awards and Achievements
- 2009: Became a Finalist for “New York City Entrepreneur” and a Semi-Finalist in the “Dell Social Innovation Competition”
- 2009: Won Second Place in the “DFJ Gotham East Coast Venture Challenge”
- 2009: Won the “Duke University Start-Up Challenge Social Enterprise Track”
- 2010: Conferred Fellowship by West Coast Village Capital and won the “Innovators Series” of the Huffington Post
- 2011: Named Judge for the “Global Social Venture Competition”
- 2011: Became a Finalist at the “Startups for Good Challenge”
- 2012: Conferred Fellowship by the NYC Venture Fellows and received the “Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award”
- 2012: Named Judge for the “Global Social Venture Competition” and Judge for the “Talbots Scholarship Program”
- 2012: Included in the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company
- 2013: Received the “No Apologies Award” from the AWNY’s “Changing the Game”
The Huffington Post (Rachael Chong)
LinkedIn (Rachael Chong)
Gotham Gal (Rachael Chong, Woman Entrepreneur, Catchafire)
Care 2 (Turning The Table On Traditional Volunteering: An Interview With Catchafire’s Rachael Chong)
ClaudiaChan.com (Interviews: Rachael Chong)
Catchafire Blog (Meet Rachael Chong, The Passion Behind Catchafire)
Quotes by Rachael Chong
Everyone wins when people volunteer their skills.
A great brand should be a reflection of a great product.
Giving back to a cause you really care about feels great!
Keep your eye on the prize and be guided by your mission.
My vision is to change the world for the better in a really, really big way.
More than 80 percent of young professionals want their career to address social good in some way.
Prioritize your options and then build fast and iterate. You want to test, learn, fail and iterate as fast as possible.
I couldn’t imagine a bigger goal or a cause I care more about. My vision for Catchafire is a life vision not only a career vision.
I always pepper in time to meet new people, especially people who I can learn from, who have interesting stories, who can push me and grow me.
If you can bootstrap your way to the next phase of your business, you will build a confidence that will allow you to believe that you can take on anything.
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