Time Auction Founder Fion Leung Is Reshaping The Idea Of Volunteering. Here's How

By Samantha Topp

The idea behind Time Auction is simple: volunteer your time and meet your idols. Here, founder Fion Leung shares where her platform is heading

Tatler Asia
Cover  Fion Leung

In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters

In the time it took to eat a bowl of wonton noodles, Fion Leung had made a decision that would reshape the idea of volunteering in Asia and change her life. Leung, then working in finance, was having dinner with her friend Suetyi Wong and they were discussing how they could pursue their passions while making a difference to the world. An idea dawned on them: what if people could be incentivised to volunteer for good causes with the promise of meeting their heroes?

And from that grew Time Auction, a platform where participants exchange volunteer hours for time with an industry leader. For example, 10 hours spent teaching children to read or redistributing surplus food could be exchanged for a seat at an afternoon tea with Black Sheep Restaurants founder Syed Asim Hussain or Cantopop star Sammi Cheng.

Time Auction has grown substantially since it was founded in 2014, expanding across Asia and eventually to the US, amassing a total of 73,479 volunteer hours along the way. 

Here, Leung discusses her work in her own words.

When I was working at a bank, I saw volunteering as a once-a-year thing. We’d all go and do team building or a CSR (corporate social responsibility) beach clean-up once, and I think most people still see volunteering that way. With Time Auction, I want to make volunteering part of somebody’s lifestyle. We want to change the idea of volunteering by making it more aspirational, because you’re giving back while learning and honing your professional skills.

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When you donate or help out, it gives you an instant happy feeling: that’s the most immediate benefit of volunteering. But other than helping people out, volunteering also really puts things into perspective: it gives you the opportunity to see how fortunate you are. You also tend to try more things that are outside your comfort zone and that allows you to understand more about the world. The entrepreneurs who volunteered their time find it really positive too, because they’re meeting people they’ve never met before who they've had an impact on somehow.

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When Covid-19 happened, we saw there was a gap we could fill at Time Auction. Because of Covid-19, we had to postpone a lot of events and people were finding it hard to volunteer, because most of it requires face-to-face interaction. But we realised there were still people who wanted to help. So, we decided to launch a new programme that connects NGOs with highly-skilled volunteers, like photographers and graphic designers, to do virtual volunteering. We’ve already matched 840 people with more than 70 NGOs.

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I’m really optimistic about the future of volunteering, and with Covid-19 people seem to be more driven to help each other because we’re all facing the same thing. I’ve seen a lot of grassroots and self-driven initiatives emerging to help people in need during these crazy times. I really hope that this is something that will end up staying post-pandemic.

See honourees from the Philanthropy & Charity category of the Gen.T List 2019.

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