The educator and chairwoman emeritus of Youth Diabetes Action talks about practising gratitude and the difference HK$8,000 can make to a child living with diabetes

There is no questioning the influence—and sources of inspiration—young children have had on Joanna Hotung. In 1996, the CEO of the KG Group and AmCham Women of Influence Entrepreneur awardee founded arts school Kids’ Gallery (and subsequently, Star English, Face Productions and Mills International Preschool) when her daughter’s failed art project made clear a dire need for individuality and the creative arts in education.

In 2001, faced with her daughter’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis and a lack of peer education and resources, she established the Youth Diabetes Action, a charity that helps support children and their families in Hong Kong living with diabetes. From fundraising initiatives to assistance programmes and conferences, Joanna (along with a dedicated committee) is at the forefront of ensuring that these children with the condition are not left behind.

The enterprising philanthropist, educator and mother-of-two sat down with us to talk more about the charity and their upcoming goals:

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Above Joanna wears the Macie B jacket and Macro B pants by Leonard (Photo: Moses Ng/Hong Kong Tatler)

When did you first start volunteering?

I’ve been involved in supporting children’s charities including the Hans Andersen Club, Playright Children's Play Association and Treats since 1991, and founded Youth Diabetes Action in 2001.

What drives you to volunteer?

My work—both business and personal—has tended to revolve around children and education, and my voluntary work has followed this pattern. I take great pleasure in working with young people and doing my best to improve conditions and opportunities for them as they start out in life.

Tell us about Youth Diabetes Action – how did the idea come about?

My daughter Natasha was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2001 at the age of seven. It was a huge shock to the family as we had to learn how to do her daily finger prick blood tests and 4-6 insulin injections every day and accept the reality that there is currently no cure for this illness.

Once I got more used to the reality of my child living with this health condition, I realised how important peer support and education is for young patients and their families, so I founded YDA with two medical professors to provide educational, emotional, and practical support to affected families. YDA also provides financial subsidies to families who would not otherwise be able to afford to buy the supplies and medical equipment required to look after a child with diabetes.

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Above Joanna wears the Maria mid-length dress by Leonard (Photo: Moses Ng/Hong Kong Tatler)

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your philanthropic work?

Diabetes in children is still quite a niche disease, although unfortunately numbers of diagnoses are growing rapidly, with on average seven new cases diagnosed per month now in Hong Kong. As YDA’s membership base grows, our resources are stretched and funding requirements increase. There is no subvention received from the government which does not even provide the medical supplies required to test blood sugar and inject insulin, so the demands for funds are always ongoing.

What do you have planned for the future?

The past five years we focused on a capital project to purchase our own premises to create a centre of excellence for children with diabetes. This project was completed last year, and provides a home from home for our young members and their families. Our focus now is on advocating to the government for better financial support in providing for free the medical equipment required for ongoing healthcare. Without financial support, many of our members have to reuse syringes and blood testing equipment or skip treatment altogether to save money—which can lead to serious future complications.

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Above Joanna wears the Maria mid-length dress by Leonard (Photo: Moses Ng/Hong Kong Tatler)

What are your most important values?

Practising gratitude, kindness, and empathy.

What can our readers do to help?

Support children living with diabetes in Hong Kong. It costs HK$8,000 to pay for the medical supplies of a child for one year and makes a huge difference to their future prospects, supporting YDA’s vision that “no child should be held back because of diabetes”.

To find out more about the Youth Diabetes Action or donate, visit

Giving Back is a column featured and developed by in partnership with Leonard. The aim of this series is to identify women and highlight the charity they support to bring a greater awareness and understanding of their cause.

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