In honour of International Women’s Day in March, we’re revisiting our recent series of features on four female leaders who are making a mark in Hong Kong. In part four of our story, we shine the spotlight on ALIA AYRES.
Providing Hope & Change
ALIA EYRES is the CEO of Mother’s Choice and a mother to six of her own children. Most recently, she was recognised as a Southeast Asia Regional Honouree at YPO’s Global Impact Awards.
You were born in Hong Kong but left for a while; what brought you back here?
I left for almost 14 years and lived in Switzerland, Venezuela, England, the US and Israel! I moved back in 2009 as a newlywed because Hong Kong is home, and I wanted to start my own family and lay down my own roots as an adult here in this amazing city.
What has been the highlight of your expat experience?
My family has been in Hong Kong for almost half a century, so I didn’t feel so much of an expat until I moved back with my husband who is Irish but grew up in East Africa. The best part of moving back has been building relationships with people from all over the world through our work, our kids’ school and our church. It’s truly a privilege to be friends with people from different countries and cultures.
And the toughest challenge you’ve faced?
Becoming very ill during my pregnancy with my fifth son and having him born almost two and a half months prematurely was a real challenge for me and my family. For more than six months, either I was in and out of the hospital, or my newborn baby was. I had to rely on others to help me with everything – both at work and at home, and in caring for my other children.
I learned to appreciate what we always say at Mother’s Choice – that it really does “take a village to raise a child”. To ask for and accept the help of others, to put the small things I previously worried about into perspective, and to foster gratitude more in my everyday life and work. I’m still overwhelmed when I think about all the people who stepped up to help me, many of whom I didn’t even know very well, during that difficult time.
How did you get involved with Mother’s Choice?
My parents and their close friends Gary and Helen Stephens were the co-founders of Mother’s Choice. So, I was raised around the volunteers and their families who put so much into the early years. They inspired me with their community spirit and small acts of courage and kindness that had a bigger impact than any of them could have imagined. Never in a million years did I ever think that I would work at Mother’s Choice full-time one day!
It wasn’t until I moved back to Hong Kong as a corporate lawyer 11 years ago and wanted to get more involved as a professional, that I learned that those in the business world can have a part to play in the non-profit sector too. It was only after three years of volunteering and supporting as a young professional that I made the leap and applied to be the CEO. That was almost eight years ago now, and I can say that it has been both the most challenging and most rewarding career decision that I’ve ever made!
As a mother of six and a business leader, what’s your advice to women wondering how you fit so much achievement into one life?
I actually don’t fit so much in – no one can do it all! I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about what’s really important to me at work and at home, and then prioritising those things. I can’t do everything with my kids or do everything at work, but I have identified what I need to do to make me feel like I’m winning at home, and what I need to do to make me feel like I’m winning at work. I let everything else go, or I let someone else do it.
I’ve also had to learn how to negotiate (and then re-negotiate, as life changes) about home management jobs with my husband. If we’re both going to enjoy life and work, we can’t just follow traditional gender roles. We’re learning how to figure out what each one of us is good at, and making sure that we’re both pulling our weight at home.
Finally, whether you’re married or have kids or not, we all need to take care of ourselves. I used to think that self-care was an “extra” or a “nice to have”. I’ve come to learn that making time each week to do things that bring me joy and inspiration is critical for avoiding burn-out, even if it has nothing to do with my work or my family.
Mother’s Choice is a local charity serving the many children without families and pregnant teenagers in Hong Kong.
“Volunteerism is a key part of the Mother’s Choice DNA – volunteers make up 80 percent of our work force! The main group serves at our Child Care Home, and they work alongside our licensed childcare workers to care for, cuddle and nurture our children,” says Alia.
“We’re currently short of almost 100 volunteers, a situation exacerbated by the recent social unrest and the coronavirus. We not only need volunteers, we also need people to financially support our work serving vulnerable girls and babies in our city. There’s also a common misperception that Mother’s Choice is well funded, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, especially during this challenging year for Hong Kong.”
Looking to adopt or foster? Alia’s advice…
“There are so many vulnerable children here in Hong Kong who need a safe, loving and temporary place to live through foster care, or a forever family through adoption. Yet, the reality is that it takes a very special and strong family to help these children and their own families to thrive. We find that the common denominator for success in both adoption and fostering is coming with the motivation to make a difference in the life of a child. We’re always looking for more families to foster the hundreds of children on the waitlist, and we frequently run information sessions about Project Bridge, our innovative foster care programme, for those who want to learn more.”
This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.