Without distance learning, it wouldn’t have been remotely possible for me to study law at such a reputable institution
University of London alumna Sabina Fung shares how distance learning enabled her to balance a law degree with a busy career, all while raising a young family in the Philippines.
You started your degree in the Philippines and finished it whilst living in Amsterdam, all whilst raising a young family. How was this experience and what did it mean to be able to study flexibly via distance learning?
Without distance learning, it wouldn’t have been remotely possible for me to study a law programme at such a highly reputable institution back then. It was almost 19 years ago and University of London was a pioneer in distance learning, offering a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
The support and communications from the university was ample, thoughtful, and relevant. Course materials were well designed and structured so I could plan my study to accommodate my daily schedule. I was able to select the number of courses to complete in a year while taking care of my two-year-old and at the same time running an online jewellery retail business and later on having a second child and working in a fast-paced TMT (technology, media & telecom) conglomerate.
Furthermore, I could take exams in cities like Hong Kong and Amsterdam. I could choose between 'self-study' mode 'in-class' mode on selected courses in local universities and institutions that University of London collaborated with. Also these were located in cities where they would fly some remarkable professors and lecturers to teach face-to-face. I could enjoy high quality in-person education while maintaining the flexibility to suit my pace, schedule and location.
What do you find is the key to achieving a good work/life balance?
To know myself – what’s important to me, what drives me, what authenticity looks like for me. To me, a good work/life balance requires self awareness and reflection along with the willingness and ability to prioritise. Integrating work into my life that promotes happiness has become my way to attain harmony in work and life.
You hold a Bachelor of Laws from the University. Why did you decide to pursue this course, in particular with University of London and what impact has the degree had on your career?
I started my career in consumer banking, spearheading new business initiatives, products, and markets. Creativity and risky ventures require knowledge and competence in laws and compliance.
Drafting and reviewing legal agreements and terms and conditions as well as risk management is very important in the banking sector and so I decided to pursue this course to equip me with a solid foundation in laws.
Furthermore, I found that the financial and legal jargon is often difficult to understand and this puts consumers at a disadvantage.
This professional capability equips me with the ability to strike win-win business deals with business partners as well as overcoming some critical hurdles in mergers and acquisitions when I need to craft out a viable business strategy and implementing business integration, just to cite a few examples.
I also led my teams in various companies to decipher the jargon the finance and insurance sectors often impose on their customers by simplifying and rewriting the legal terms and conditions as well as agreements into human-centric literature. This resulted in improvements in customer experience and reduced the difficulty for our salesforce to explain these legal terms. It helped to educate the public with better transparency in financial products and services. This is crucial to financial inclusion.
You have held leadership roles in banking and insurance, asset management, telecommunications and healthcare, and specialise in creating new business strategies. What interests you most about the work that you do?
The positive impact and beneficial changes to society, brought about by teams that I've lead.
I have a work philosophy that I've developed over the years – make myself obsolete. Every new business venture, initiative or marketing campaign needs new transformative aspects which make part or all of the previous ones obsolete. This is 'unlearn to learn' at its finest.
I believe humility and being my authentic self can transcend limitations and challenges in different ways more effectively.
I enjoy the process of discovery, creativity and improvisation which entre- and intra-preneurships bring about.
As part of your voluntary work, you co-founded STEM Initiative Hong Kong, which inspires and encourages school age children to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects. Why do you feel this is important?
Seeking truth, learning to fail and problem solving are some common aspects found in STEM. These are all skills that children should master at an early age.
Secondly - parents are more attracted to professions like doctors, bankers and lawyers for their children rather than to encourage them to pursue STEM academically and professionally.
Very often, they see being entrepreneurs or joining startups in a negative light. That perception is beginning to change. In the past, we invited Stanford education professors to teach educators and parents in Hong Kong and sent local educators to Stanford to learn how to teach STEM.
You have lent your expertise to GradVenture, a competition for UoL students and recent graduates who have early-stage start-ups. Can you tell us more about your involvement in this initiative and the support you have offered to these entrepreneurs?
I was honoured to be invited by University of London to be a mentor to some of the GradVenture semi-finalists. It was a pleasant experience to work with these creative and energetic participants whose social venture ideas aim at improving people’s wellbeing and building communities. My heartfelt congratulations to one of the winning teams that I coached.
I engaged them to reflect on their business strategies and proposals by adopting a social impact assessment framework:
- Define the theory of change and impact value chain – what, why and how they are going to tackle the challenge they have identified to solve. Who are they trying to help?
- Quantify their outcomes by establishing measurable social impact metrics in terms of social, environmental and financial success.
- Track and lean data collection
What would you say to other alumni who are interested in giving back to the University by volunteering in the way you have done?
When I was younger, there was a professor in my business school, who inspired and protected me from the trials and tribulations of life and encouraged me to go on, in particular when I was venturing in my startups. I want to be that person to someone.