The world is full of competition and discrimination, and so many people think inwardly about “what’s in it for me” before considering helping others. It’s so important to support people with different projects and ideas without expecting anything in return.
Nydia Zhang is the Co-founder and Chairman of Social Alpha Foundation, a not-for-profit, grant-making platform supporting blockchain technology for social good. She is also a board member of the fundraising committee at the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children (HKSPC), a member of the Fintech Association of Hong Kong, and sits on the Global Patrons board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A graduate of the University of Washington, Nydia is also a cryptocurrency investor and blockchain enthusiast.
Where did the idea for Social Alpha Foundation come from?
Philanthropy and social good have always been passions of mine. I have been involved in various charities such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children across the US and Hong Kong. When I was first introduced to blockchain in 2016 by my co-founder, Jehan Chu, I was astounded by the possibilities it offered as a way to create a new generation of prosperity. Two years later, blockchain had evolved into a social phenomenon, born out of an underground fintech culture, but the general public’s understanding and attention was mainly focused on the crypto market price volatility rather than the progress of blockchain technology and its potential benefits. As a result, blockchain was often characterized as a speculative bubble at best, and a ponzi scheme at worst.
In order to reshape the world’s understanding of this emergent technology and cultivate a sustainable ecosystem, the blockchain community must take responsibility and come together to help the world realize the full capabilities of blockchain technology. This is why we created Social Alpha Foundation: to recognize the full potential this technology has to offer which may benefit society.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The most interesting part of this job is that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day: I could be on a panel at a Singapore conference on one day, to attending meetings in San Francisco or working with the team in Hong Kong the next. As my work takes me all over the world, my schedule can be pretty crazy. To keep me balanced, I try to prioritize my tasks at the beginning of each day so I can manage my time efficiently and always try to make time for exercising and family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m old-school and still like to keep a notebook everywhere I go so I can write down any idea that pops into my head. I love bouncing these ideas off different people to get their opinion and get an understanding of different and diverse perspectives.
Another exercise I like doing is visualizing how the world would look in five years if my ideas were actualized. Once you start to think about the wider landscape, angles become clearer and your thinking becomes more comprehensive in terms of the skills required.
Lastly, you have to be brave to take the first step and be prepared to figure things out along the way.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I love that brand name charities have started to collaborate with blockchain projects to seek solutions for social welfare issues. Seeing the momentum building across the philanthropy sector is so rewarding.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m very disciplined with time management, prioritizing tasks and allocating strict time frames when completing tasks. If I allocate two hours to writing up an SAF proposal, then two hours is exactly the amount of time I will spend on the task. Regardless of whether I have completed the task, once the time is up I will move on to the next task. By being disciplined and having self-control, it helps to focus my concentration and get me in the zone. Avoiding distractions for a designated timeframe helps me stay organized.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be patient and let your work speak for you.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Blockchain will create a new economy and social order. When I first started investing and learning about blockchain back in 2016, no one around me knew what blockchain was or why bitcoin had value. Now that blockchain has emerged from the underground fintech culture and transformed into a social phenomenon, different industries have started to look into the technology and consider its adoption.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be helpful to others. The world is full of competition and discrimination, and so many people think inwardly about “what’s in it for me” before considering helping others. It’s so important to support people with different projects and ideas without expecting anything in return.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
When someone says “NO” to you, question it. It is common to get rejected on a proposal. It can be upsetting and feel like a dead end but I always ask how we can improve. A no isn’t permanent and might not be forever. Facing rejection can be a great learning experience and gives you an opportunity to improve.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Two days before one of our grantee’s arrival in Hong Kong, I discovered there had been an administrative error and we wouldn’t be able to host a class at an important partner’s venue although it had been confirmed months ago. Our partner was upset with us and called off all of the agreed activities. We had no choice but to try and find a suitable venue for the event in two days.
I was embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed such a rookie mistake sooner, frustrated that we lost an important partner, and extremely nervous about the seemingly impossible task of securing a large venue in the most in-demand area of Hong Kong.
I allowed myself 15 minutes of ‘freak out time’, then picked up the phone and rang our partner and all parties affected by our mistake to apologize. After that, we contacted everyone we knew who might be able to help us look for a new venue. Long story short, we pulled off and hosted one of the most successful blockchain workshops in Hong Kong with 200 attendees.
My advice would be to take a deep breath, and then take responsibility for your mistake. Feeling sorry for yourself and pointing fingers won’t solve the problem.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A blockchain application where people with rare illnesses receive token rewards for sharing and reporting details of their condition to medical research centres, universities and hospitals.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We just hosted our first education grantee, Aparna Krishnan (Head of Education for Blockchain at Berkeley), who taught classes on crypto-economic design to the Hong Kong blockchain community. We are extremely proud to spend this money (it costed more than $100!) because we recognize the impact Aparna’s visit had on the enthusiasm for blockchain knowledge in Hong Kong which we believe is priceless.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Be Focused app (time management app that allows you to create tasks, configure breaks and track your progress). Turn it on and be focused!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Blockchain Revolution” by Alex and Don Tapscott. A good book to understand the underlying idea and philosophy of blockchain technology.
What is your favorite quote?
“Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s about giving and being.” Kevin Kruse, Founder and CEO at LEADx
- Time management is an extremely important skill so that you have a healthy work-life balance between building something that change the world for the better, while still being able to spend precious time with your family. The discipline that comes with time management allows you to have a razor-like focus that is invaluable when it comes to completing tasks.
- Blockchain technology has a transformative power: it harnesses global distributed networks and creates massive communities that can change the world together.
- Visualize, visualize, visualize: What you can envision, you can make a reality.
- ‘No’ is never permanent: A ‘no’ now does not mean a ‘no’ in future – ‘no’ gives you the opportunity to better an idea and correct course so that you can finally reach your ‘yes’.
- Always take accountability for your mistakes: pointing the finger and looking for someone or something to blame does not help resolve an issue. Accountability is the first step towards finding a solution and rectifying an issue.
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