Financier Turned Philanthropist

Lucy Chow uses her business expertise to cascade awareness about the need to give back.

As owner of the Elements Group, a Dubai-based events company that serves predominantly financial and luxury brands, former financier Lucy Chow integrates a non-profit component into the events she organizes. “I want to do my bit to get the word out,” she says.

Her passion for philanthropy is contagious. Chow reinvented the concept of a ‘gift bag’ during an exclusive women’s luncheon she organised for Mont Blanc’s Princess of Monaco Grace collection. In lieu of traditional gift bags, she suggested charitable donations on behalf of each recipient. To Chow’s delight, Montblanc embraced the idea without hesitation, and it was highly regarded among attendees.

Her endeavoring spirit and event organizing prowess are part of the reason Chow is a bastion of Dubai networking. As Co-Chair of Dubai’s chapter of 85 Broads, a worldwide network of “trailblazing” women, Chow has a platform to amplify her initiative of generosity to the chapter’s 30,000 members; each annual Global Forum has included a panel on philanthropy. Held this past May at the Capital Club, the third event of its kind offered a panel aptly dubbed, “Time to Give Back.”

Chow did not always have the capacity to pursue her philanthropic ambitions. During her 16-year tenure as a Senior Vice President at HSBC, the Chinese-born Canadian barely had the brain space, but envied those who did. “Work was so consuming it was hard to find that time to give back.”

She slowly carved out space in her mind. While in Hong Kong with her husband, Chow attended a fundraising event at the behest of a friend involved with Room to Read, a non-profit focused on literacy and educational gender equality. Founder John Woods impressed a room full of bankers with compelling statistics. “They were building schools faster than Starbucks were opening coffee shops. Any of us who have had access to higher education would agree that education helps end the cycle of poverty,” she recalls.

It wasn’t until she left HSBC and moved to Dubai with newfound free time that she began to devote herself to good causes. Chow spearheaded Dubai’s chapter of Room to Read with a fellow Canadian and became involved with Acumen Fund as a donor and ambassador.

Acumen’s business model was unlike other non-profits she’d encountered, appealing to her financial rationality. It is modeled like a private equity fund, but invests strictly in early-stage social enterprises. “Acumen turns the giving model on its head. It’s a top down approach to alleviating poverty.”

Prioritizing long-term social returns over quick financial profit, the fund’s investments have had a prodigious impact on low-income communities in the Middle East and Africa.

“A few generations ago, if I was born in China, I would be farming. It just so happened that it didn’t work out that way. We are interconnected and it’s a huge obligation for those that have to help those who don’t.”