As we see 2019 out, we also bid a heartfelt farewell to our director and founding member, Wen Yi. As fellow founding member Emily says: “Just Cause simply wouldn’t exist without Wen Yi. She has been a founding partner since the beginning and a critical person at each step in our journey so far. Despite (or perhaps because of) her level-headed understanding of the risks of being a wide-eyed social start-up, she has always been the most dedicated believer in our “Just Cause”.”
Our Director, Emma, concurs: “There's a saying in the navy: ‘Ship, shipmate, self’. That really reflects how Wen Yi works - she's always thinking about the best interests of the organisation and colleagues before herself. She takes the lead on all the important behind the scenes tasks that keeps the ship sailing smoothly and she's always makes sure all of us crew are well taken care of. Needless to say, we wouldn't be where we are today without her!”
A true nerd with a massive heart, Wen Yi inspires us by embodying all the values that we feel are part of Just Cause’s DNA. She has that stellar combination of intellectual curiosity and a determination to make a meaningful difference. She can digest mountains of academic journal articles and analyse oceans of quantitative data to uncover what will drive the greatest social impact. We will miss her dearly – trusted advisor, superb listener, Excel whiz, fact-sleuth extraordinaire, finance guru, loving mother, wonderful friend.
On her last day, we caught up with Wen Yi herself to look back on her time with us.
1. Tell us the story of how you came to be a founding member of JC.
My Just Cause story began when I met Emily five years ago. I had just transitioned from the world of asset management, where I had been involved in grantmaking at our employee-led charitable foundation. In that role, I was responsible for sourcing and screening potential grant recipients. Having no other frame of reference back then, I applied my fundamental analysis research skills to the task - seeking to understand the macro and micro factors that influenced "value". For publicly listed companies, there are common proxies such as earnings per share. The non-profit world, however, is much less easily quantified! It was somewhat frustrating trying to quantitatively assess and compare non-profits without losing the nuances of their work. I also realised that our constant information requests were challenging for smaller non-profits. They were overstretched and understaffed, and there was no common platform for donors to benefit from existing research. This led to some soul-searching where I wondered if my research would truly help the non-profits, especially if they would have to repeat the process with many other donors to make their budget for the year.
After hearing about Emily’s dream of creating a repository of unbiased information about non-profits to help donors make better decisions, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to be part of the founding team!
2. You've had a variety of work experiences. What makes JC different from the other places you've worked at?
Nothing will ever compare, I think! I joke that Just Cause was my “first child", though Em and I have had two (actual!) children each since. This is the first place where I feel happy to take time away from the family. I think there are three things that make it distinct:
First and foremost is the team with whom I get to work, what we stand for and how we go about our mission. The team is incredible in so many different ways. They are remarkably talented, yet humble. Though wonderfully able to take a strategic view, they remain steadfastly human-centred in their approach. We are blessed with so much talent and generosity.
Next is a strong commitment to learning and improvement. We invest time to gather feedback, consider how each piece of work went, and share thoughtfully about what can be improved. Each person genuinely desires (and will demand) honest critique so they can get better. We've also taken deliberate and sometimes painful decisions as a team in order to better deliver impact.
Last is a truly caring and supportive environment. 2019 unfortunately has seen health and personal challenges affecting different individuals. The team rallied around each time, first to care for the person, and then to ensure that the work continued to be delivered to the highest quality. Though this has resulted in sleepless nights and grey hairs, the genuine solidarity and joy when each teammate bounces back makes it more than worthwhile.
3. What are you proudest of having done at JC?
One of our early milestones was launching the original "giving guide", an online resource that provides unbiased information about non-profits. This had been one of Just Cause’s founding visions, but it was a large undertaking and we were on a shoestring budget. So much had to come together to make it work. We had some support from Credit Suisse for the website development, but the bulk of the research would have to be self-funded. We had a friend working on the website for a very low fee, and I worked three days a week elsewhere while contributing two days pro bono at Just Cause. I am grateful to have been a part of pioneering this effort; I learned tremendously from the non-profits and grantmakers that contributed. We've evolved the concept of the resource since then but I think it is safe to say that the spirit of learning and sharing continues.