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“I found that I was not living a life I wanted most,” Lam says. “My life values and work were not aligned because I didn’t think my job was meaningful [to our society].” Although she was regarded as successful by society’s definition of success, she was adamant that she did not want her son to tread the same path, to just follow mainstream expectations to study hard and find a good job.

Parenthood caused Lam to reconnect with her roots. She decided to breastfeed rather than use formula, to use cloth nappies instead of disposable ones. “I always wonder why I can’t I do what my mother did 30 years ago,” she says. “Often people become lazy and are influenced by advertisements.”

Lam says many parents buy things for their children, not because the children need them, but because the parents think they need them. She believes a child’s attitude depends on his or her parents.

Katherine Lam Suet-ying joined a trip to Bangladesh with Education for Good

The big turning point came in 2013 when she participated in a workshop held by a social enterprise which aims to help the visually impaired. It was Lam’s first experience of a social enterprise and she was very impressed. “I really liked the concept of social enterprise, the combination of bringing good social impact and running a sustainable business model. It’s something realistic and matches my background.”

After the workshop, Lam read the autobiography of Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunnus, Banker to the Poor. The book describes how Yunnus set up the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in the early 1980s and how it improved the lives of millions of impoverished people.

Inspired by the book, Lam joined a trip to Bangladesh with Education for Good, a local organisation that aims to promote creative social entrepreneurship.  There, the banking executive saw how community banks offering small loans to the very poor could make a big positive impact.  “Grameen Bank is just a simple and crude hut with only a desk and a chair,” recalls Lam. “But I was very touched because even though it’s so simple, it works and changes many people’s lives.”

The day after she came back from Bangladesh, Lam decided to quit her banking job and take a career break to take a course in social entrepreneurship at Education for Good. It was a difficult decision; her boss tried many times to urge her to stay and suggested she keep her job and start a social enterprise at the same time. Lam was moved. After all, she had a good working relationship with her boss, a comfortable working environment with stable hours, and a team working for her.

n Bangladesh Lam learned how small loans could make a      huge difference to the very poor
In Bangladesh Lam learned how small loans could make a huge difference to the very poor

However, Lam says she believes that to start a new path, it has to be all-or-nothing. Her husband, who is also a banker, was sceptical at first. But after she shared more cases of meaningful social enterprises with him, he began to come around.

It is always a struggle to step out of one’s own comfort zone, but sometimes it is necessary in order to grow and learn. Lam says she has gained more than she could have imagined when she chose to follow her heart.

She says the best part of her new journey is making many friends who share similar beliefs and learning to be a more humble person. “My ultimate goal is to run a social enterprise that is sustainable and will bring good social impact to our society.” Lam says. She envisages a project that is related to the environment or education.

Although the details are yet to take shape, the former banker is preparing herself to embark on her new journey.

Edited by Louie Cheng