NGO Interview Series

Interview with Justice Without Borders

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Q: Cynthia Chan, Pro Bono Committee, WILHK

A: Justine Lam, Head of Office, Hong Kong, Justice Without Borders

 

Q: Tell us a bit about your organisation and the people it serves.

A: Justice Without Borders is a regional non-profit organisation, started in 2013, that is dedicated to providing cross-border access to justice to migrant workers who have been victims of labour exploitation or human trafficking. We help them seek just compensation from their abusers, even after they return home.

We do so by building a NETWORK of reliable partners in home and host countries; building KNOWLEDGE on transnational litigation methods and sharing them with our partners; and developing practical KNOW-HOW in screening potential cases and bringing legal action.

JWB was established to help migrant workers who slip through the cracks in their journey between home and abroad.  These are migrant workers who may have a valid claim against their employer or agency in Hong Kong, but sometimes cannot remain in Hong Kong to pursue their claims.  They move beyond the local government's reach, so we step in as a bridge to help them reconnect back to the legal services they need.

Hiring lawyers to pursue a claim from another country is expensive, and many of our migrant worker clients cannot afford to do so.  Secondly, law firms and even NGOs here in Hong Kong don't always have the necessary contacts back home to keep in touch with the client and make sure they can continue with their case.  Neither do they have the knowledge and know-how to identify, screen and pursue such cross-border cases, some of which have never been done before.

JWB seeks to bridge all these gaps by working with partners both in the host and home country to provide free access to these services for our clients.  Our services are free.

 

Q: What are some of the challenges (legal and other) you are currently facing?

A: The issues we are addressing are so systemic that five, seven or even ten years would seem a relatively short time-frame. When we started, almost nobody could get compensation if they left their country of work, no matter how badly they were abused. The infrastructure for cross-border access to justice simply did not exist. Local social service organisations didn’t know each other. Local lawyers didn’t know how to bring these claims. People went home and didn’t even know that they still had rights. 

That’s why we are building better networks of people who are helping these workers in tandem, building knowledge about how to fight such cases that had never existed in the migrant worker sector before, and accumulating the know-how to actually make it happen. We have shown proof of concept with our successes building local organisations’ capacities to help these workers, and in our own casework. Still, we are a long way from making cross-border claims a normal, everyday strategy.

The scope of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) from just the two home countries we focus on is massive. There are roughly 380,000 Indonesian and Filipino MDWs working in the Philippines, and another 380,000 back home. Reaching all of the areas from which workers migrate abroad is a monumental task. For us, we really need to scale up. So, obviously that is an issue of funding and resources.

 

Q: Can you share a story of how your organisation has had a positive impact on an individual or group?

A: Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination laws can help protect MDWs from bad treatment but only if they know to make a claim. This is particularly true for those who face termination for unrelated health issues.  Amy(not her real name) came from the Philippines to work for a local employer, only to find that she was out of a job when she arrived in the city. When her would-be employer learned about her history of successfully overcoming breast cancer, they decided to terminate her contract, even though she was healthy and ready to work. She went home empty handed and in worse financial condition than before.  JWB received Amy’s case from Help for Domestic Workers (HELP) and together with Simmons & Simmons, we reached a settlement with the employer that helped Amy get back on her feet.  To learn more about this case, click here.

 

Q: How can people find out more about your organisation?

A: You can visit our website at: www.forjusticewithoutborders.org.

 

Q: Can you leave us with a fun fact about yourself?

A: Working across borders on a daily basis, the JWB team has a love-hate relationship with online meetings. Yet we have learnt to live with connection and tech issues even before COVID-19. Come to us if you are still struggling with the frustration of virtual meetings!

Interview with Resolve Foundation

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Q: Penny Barsha, Pro Bono Committee, WILHK

A: Victoria Wisniewski Otero, Founder and CEO, Resolve Foundation

 

Q: Tell us a bit about your organisation and the people it serves.

A: Resolve Foundation is a s88 Hong Kong NGO founded in 2017 to create a more diverse and inclusive Hong Kong so as to give voice to everyone in the society and bring positive impacts to advance social justice. With the goal to nurture and empower future community leaders, our signature Social Justice Fellowship Program provides group workshops for fellows, one-to-one mentoring and helps them to design a leadership roadmap to set goals and seek ways to achieve them. Our fellows come from diverse walks of life, but we prioritize people from traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups in Hong Kong.

In our first two years, the themes of our fellowship have been racial equality and inclusion, as well as ending gender-based violence. This year, the theme is on disABILITY and empowerment: Less assumptions, more conversations. We also hope our Fellows can continue their social justice journey after engaging with our community, so we are also rolling out an alumni program and opportunity fund, and have recruited an Alumni Community Officer (an alumnus themselves!) to our team to support this new program.

Lastly, we do work to raise awareness through our media and public engagement. This is an area that we seek to develop further in the coming years so that everyone can feel empowered to take everyday action to advance social justice and inclusion in Hong Kong.

 

Q: What are some of the challenges (legal and other) you are currently facing?

A: During this trying time with much uncertainty, we have been working on different contingency plans based on the arrangements made because of COVID-19, and measures to ensure health, safety and wellbeing for our people. We have to adjust our planning since our Social Justice Fellowship Program has been postponed to June, as was originally due to start in April. Besides, we have had to adapt to new ways of communication as our team members have been working from home via Zoom or Google Hangout and some of our activities for our stakeholders have also been converted online. Lastly, many NGOs in Hong Kong are struggling to adapt their fundraising strategies during this time as they are not able to hold events and do not know how the economic situation will impact on people’s willingness to donate and give. This is why I have joined a taskforce of nonprofit leaders to pen an Open Letter to Funders in Hong Kong, signed by 174 non-subvented nonprofits. We also see many opportunities to bolster and reinforce community initiatives in the post-COVID world and drive a more inclusive society. You can read our reflection in an op-ed we wrote in the SCMP as well as read more about our COVID response on our website.

In terms of legal needs, we are always looking for support on different tasks. In the past, we have had pro bono legal assistance to help us incorporate and secure s88 status; to prepare board governance materials; develop a data privacy policy; help us draft our team handbook; review our IP needs and much more! We would be looking for support on developing policies in regards to coronavirus, for example a checklist of how we might need to manage events in the future, or an infectious disease protocol, for example. As a new organization, we are also continuously improving on our policies and governance and one of the areas we want to work on next is a more robust conflict of interest policy. We would also like to explore opportunities with law firms to commission research related to social justice topics we cover in our fellowship. Finally, we have been developing a corporate engagement partnership program and would be happy to speak more to your company about this!

 

Q: Can you share a story of how your organisation has had a positive impact on an individual or group?

A: We continue to assess our impacts to the community in many ways through different evaluation and in-depth interviews under our impact assessment framework that we developed last year. In general, most of our Fellows believed our Social Justice Fellowship Program provided them with leadership development, campaigning skills, and awareness on their human rights in Hong Kong. On a personal level, they gain more confidence and learn about self-care from our workshops, as well as building a stronger and closer interpersonal connection with mentors, advisors and guest speakers. During the course of the fellowship last year, our 20 fellows collectively reached over 47,000 people. 80% of our fellows said they would not have achieved the same without Resolve’s support.

For example, we can tell you about Harmony, 2019 Fellow and university student whose social justice goal is to use stories to educate the public on gender issues and promote sex education. You can read her journey with Resolve “From ‘how to be a good housewife’ to how to be an advocate of gender education” here. She noted, “Without the support of Resolve, I wouldn't even have had the courage to submit the proposal to HKU. I didn't feel confident since it was the first time for me to execute a project,”. Through our programs, we hope to build the capacity and empower the future advocates and leaders of tomorrow. Read more here: https://www.resolvehk.org/fellows-story-harmony.

 

Q: How can people find out more about your organisation?

A: First, I would encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter, which is a great way to stay in touch with our work. We are also very active in all three social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

You can also visit our website for more information https://www.resolvehk.org/  or contact us directly via email: hello@resolve.org.

 

Q: Can you leave us with a fun fact about yourself?

A: Last year, I took my team to a painting studio to relax, as it was a challenging year given the social unrest in Hong Kong. I thought it would be nice to do something peaceful together. During the activity, I discovered that I actually really enjoyed it very much and had a knack for it. I started going to the studio in my free time and finally ended up buying painting supplies for home. Since then, I’ve been painting every weekend and it has helped me to have this kind of hobby during COVID-19 in particular. I think it is so crucial for people in the nonprofit sector, who are often so passionate about their work, to have different kinds of outlets and identities, and I’ve been happy to discover this new side of myself! So far, I have painted a portrait of my cat, a polar bear on an iceberg and the Lion Rock at night. Looking forward to my next inspiration!

Interview with ProBonoHK

 

Q: Tinny Ip, Pro Bono Committee, WILHK

A: Davyd Wong, Founder and Director, ProBonoHK

 

Q: Tell us a bit about your organisation and the people it serves.

A: We are a leading organization whose mission is to enhance access to justice by providing pro bono legal advice and other assistance to disadvantaged groups of people whose legal needs would otherwise go unmet. Affluent as it seems on the surface, there is a huge disparity in Hong Kong between those who have the means to afford access to private legal assistance and those who do not. We serve to close a crucial social service gap for people who do not have the financial resources to obtain private legal advice.

Our core work – the pro bono community legal clinic – connects two socially important but at times distanced groups: the legal profession and the social work sector. At our community legal clinic, through our solicitor volunteers, we partner with social worker organizations to host regular legal advice meetings as well as legal seminars, tailored for each specific group of audience.

As a community-based service, our clients are also the clients of social workers, and the core beneficiaries would be individuals living in poverty and those suffering various social disadvantages. They include all walks of life in the community, be it housewives, single parents, manual laborers, office ladies, retired persons, refugees, the homeless and many other marginalized individuals in our community. The range of case types is wide, and mainly includes family, welfare, immigration, employment and criminal matters.

We also work to encourage and facilitate the legal profession to do more pro bono work by setting up programs and developing opportunities for law students, solicitors, barristers and in-house counsel to participate through skills-based volunteering.

 

Q: What are some of the challenges (legal and other) you are currently facing?

A: From a modest beginning, we set up the very first community legal clinic in Hong Kong in 2017, and we are actively expanding the scope and depth of our various initiatives and projects. These are some of the challenges we are currently facing:

  • First and foremost, we face a manpower challenge. We rely on our volunteers regarding all stages of the processes of the clinic, leading up to the actual advice session by lawyers from private practice. Due to high demand, we are also expanding our community legal clinics at other locations.  This means that it is even more critical that we engage more solicitor and other volunteers to help with the caseload. We also need more lawyers of different specialties to join us in order to improve our service. Similarly, we provide regular training programs and education to various community groups in Hong Kong and develop public resources so that they can better understand their legal rights and obligations. These services all rely on volunteers and other unpaid professionals to coordinate, produce and deliver.

  • We also desperately lack funding as we currently only have funds to hire a part time case practice manager on a temporary basis. 

  • An additional challenge has been due to the current special circumstances in Hong Kong and the world, we are piloting remote services and we are tackling hurdles from both operational and technical aspects.

 

Q: Can you share a story of how your organisation has had a positive impact on an individual or group?

A: A pair of glasses may not sound like a lot to ask for, but for Ms Tsui (alias), it literally changes the way she sees the world. Ms Tsui, a recipient of the social security scheme, has an eye problem which requires special spectacles that need to be replaced every few years. The cost of a pair is as much as her entire monthly expenses, and in the past eleven years, she was able to claim for the cost under a grant from the CSSA (a government social assistance scheme), and had been able to do so for several replacements. However, when she tried to apply again this year, a new officer told her that the subsidy cannot be issued unless she produces certification from an optometrist or medical doctor, and that they had been too lenient with her in the past.

A medical certificate may not be a lot to ask for, yet she nevertheless fell into a gap in the system – she couldn’t get such a certificate. Even though she had trouble moving around in her daily life without the glasses, the doctor said an “absolute medical need” could not be certified and the optometrist on the street simply refused to issue any papers that goes outside their daily job. At our clinic, our lawyer advised Ms Tsui of her legal position, the potential grounds of objection and other relevant options. Not every case needs to end up in court in a high-profile judicial review. Our lawyer provided Ms Tsui with a timely assurance that she has valid legal grounds, and that there are alternatives rather than being pushed back by the system in an outright refusal. Now, armed with this knowledge we were able to help Ms Tsui stand firm and go back to the department to continue her fight. She prevailed in the end and got back her modest subsidy. Justice was served!

The impact of our case work also goes beyond the individual we helped. As we are working with the social workers network, each case we served can enhance the capability of our partnering social workers as we facilitate their understanding of how to handle similar cases in future. It is numerous small cases like this that are being faced daily by our clients, and their social workers, and it is cases like this that expand our community knowledge base one case at a time.

 

Q: How can people find out more about your organisation?

A: For calls for volunteers, updates on our actions and upcoming events, please visit our website: https://www.probono.org.hk/.

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Q: Can you leave us with a fun fact about yourself?                

A: All our legal partners provide their work free of charge and at the standard they give to any paying clients. If we had been charging commercial rates, our pro bono network has already given the equivalent of more than HK$1m  worth of legal advice in the last three years!

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Interview with HER Fund

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Q: Penny Barsha, Pro Bono Committee, WILHK

A: Judy Kan, Executive Director, HER Fund

 

Q: Tell us a bit about your organisation and the people it serves.

A: HER Fund is a helping hand to the most neglected women and girls in Hong Kong. Founded in 2004, we provide capacity-building, leadership training and small grants to grassroots organizations led by and serving the most disadvantaged.  We also increase the visibility of marginalized women and girls – and the issues they face. Our 4 focus areas are: Freedom from Discrimination, Poverty, Violence and Promote Women's Civil Participation.

 

Q: What are some of the challenges (legal and other) you are currently facing?

A: It’s obviously a challenging time for everyone at the moment. The challenges we are currently facing have remained the same despite the Covid-19 outbreak, but have been magnified by the growing inequalities in our society. For example:

  • it's difficult to fundraise to provide grants for our beneficiaries to fight for gender equality, and to support our operations (especially under the existing circumstances when everyone is facing their own challenges);

  • we and our grantee partners often have legal needs that require support, which we as an organisation can’t provide, for example contract drafting and review, consultation on legal cases; and

  • new community groups formed by our beneficiaries are difficult to establish and register without legal support, for example with company incorporation and drafting articles of association.

 

Q: Can you share a story of how your organisation has had a positive impact on an individual or group?

A: You can find a story here: https://www.herfund.org.hk/en/resources/blog/detail/26018574908787403. It’s about a group of women who are working to rebuild the health and wellbeing of wives and mothers from grassroots families in Hong Kong.

 

Q: How can people find out more about your organisation?

A: Please find out more about us here:

 

Q: Can you leave us with a fun fact about yourself?

A: I love cooking but not washing dishes, and I am a change-maker and a dreamer!