In Conversation with Angel Chen
I’m a Chinese born Australian social entrepreneur, mentor, granddaughter, daughter and a soon-to-be wife whose entire life changed when my mum decided to migrate to Australia when I was 3 years old.
My mum is my biggest inspiration and is the strongest person I know. From not having enough money for petrol to running one of the largest organisations in a male-dominated sector in our hometown, from providing me an opportunity to be educated in Australia so I could have access to more opportunities than she did, she made everything from being impossible to possible. In addition, I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my neighbours, friend’s parents and Salvation Army that allowed me to experience an adventure-filled childhood when my mum couldn’t be present for much of my childhood due to work.
These taught me values around family, giving back and the need to be independent from a young age and is something that remains important to me today. Looking forward 27 years, I’ve finished law school, started DrawHistory (a strategy studio that works with social good organisations to amplify their impact in the community), joined the UN Women Australia’s National Committee to advocate for equal opportunities for girls but most importantly, what I treasure most is the ability to now help support my grandmother and mother.
What absolutely excites you right now? — I’m really looking forward to marrying my best friend (who also happens to be my partner-in-crime and business co-founder) in 3 months time.
What’s usually the first thing you do when you get home? — My goal is to change into exercise gear and go to the gym. My reality is to have conversations around the kitchen area with my family whilst grabbing a bite to eat (generally because I’ve either forgotten to eat lunch or work was too hectic to eat) followed by some Netflix binging.
How do you empower others, and why is this important to you? — I am a big believer in mentoring younger people and I think this quote sums up the reason - ‘One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions’ by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. I want to enable others to believe that they can pursue their goals and be curious about new goals and new opportunities. This is also the reason I’ve joined Unlimited Mentoring for the past 2 years and became a mentor for my high school.
Last month we celebrated IWD. Why is IWD important to you, and what’s something we can do on this day and everyday to empower women around us? — Since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day is a day that celebrates social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Being part of the UN Women Australia’s National Committee, it has allowed me to zoom into programs around the world that are driving these changes. It’s always been an important day to me because it helps me recognise the women and men who have fought tirelessly to give us equal opportunities and rights. I believe it is a human right to be treated equally and believe we can all be more powerful together. On the other hand, it is also a day where you recognise how much further we need to go, especially when you know that 1 in 3 women still experience violence in their lifetime, only 1 in 5 parliamentarians are women and half a billion women still live in poverty. For me, IWD provides a pulse on the progress or lack of progress each year and opportunity for us to set what our next step is to move the needle. The question I ask most to other women is ‘what is your next step and how can I help you?’ and I encourage you all to do the same.
What does it mean to you to be an Asian Between Cultures? — I think it means we grew up learning about different cultures - Asian traditions and culture from our home life and Western traditions and culture from our social, school and work life. When I was younger, all I wanted was my home life to be like all my other friends but when I look back now, it was a blessing in disguise from our parents that believed maintaining Chinese traditions and cultures was important. This is because it gives us an opportunity to be the bridge between these two cultures. It also gives you a leg up whether it’s making friends with people from different cultures or an ability to apply for jobs across different countries.
How does being an ABC shape the way you think of your relationships? — I think it allows you to empathise more with people from both cultures.
What are some of the blessings and challenges that come with being an ABC? — Some blessings include the ability to understand and communicate in different languages. It also means you don’t get ripped off when travelling in China as well as being able to call people out for being ‘racist’ in Australia (especially when they initially think you have bad english or can’t respond to them). I also really appreciate understanding Chinese values which focuses on bringing families together and building relationships in business. Some challenges include not knowing what my cultural identity is, whether I am Chinese or I am Australian. Nowadays, I accept that I am both and that’s okay.
Cultural identity and upbringing is a great way to start deeper conversations. Why do you think most people engage or disengage with these topics? — I really enjoy having these conversations with other ABC’s or anyone really. This is because although we are classified as ABC’s, all our experiences are so personal and unique and it’s always intriguing to hear from other people. For example, I lived with my grandmother growing up and she did not know how to drive. Yet, I had the most activity-filled childhood because my Aussie neighbours offered to take me to school each day, swimming lessons, cricket lessons, netball lessons, camping and movies with their children almost each weekend. I’d also been allowed to sleepover at friends houses since year 2 (for all asian children they will know this is odd!). Nowadays, when I look back I always get told that I had a very ‘white’ upbringing despite what others might think based on my family circumstances. Though, I have to say, even after my neighbours told me about tooth fairies and Santa Claus...I never really understood it and thought maybe they just didn’t go to Asian children.
What is a book/TV show/podcast that you think people definitely need to get into and why? — Personally, reading Lean In was one of the factors that led me to taking the leap into joining DrawHistory. Sheryl’s point that your ‘careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder’ really resonated with me. I’d been so set on my corporate career plan (from graduate to C-suite executive in 10 years) that when I got rejected from my dream graduate job in 2013 - I felt so lost and directionless. During this time, Sheryl’s point really stuck out to me and inspired me to seek new possibilities including co-founding DrawHistory. In hindsight, this has been the biggest blessing in disguise and I could not have been more grateful for the learnings I have gained in the past 5 years (including gaining a soon-to-be husband).
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your previous self? — Don’t be afraid to chase your curiosity.