World Changer Series - Yaki Wo

Yaki speaking about the "China Accord" at COP 21 in Paris

Yaki speaking about the "China Accord" at COP 21 in Paris

From sustainability consultants to international development experts, here at Kind Type, we are super privileged to know so many incredible people that dedicate their life to doing good. We thought it might be a good idea to pick their brains and see what makes them tick. Starting from this week, we will be running our ‘world-changer’ series and will be featuring regular interviews with some truly inspirational people.

This week, we are super stoked to be chatting to Yaki Wo, a sustainability consultant for Architecture 2030 and founder of Conscious Layers and Pacific Pals.

Tell us briefly about what you do.

I don’t have just one job! I am a self-defined multipotentialite and have a diverse range of interests. With everything I do however, I have been motivated by a strong desire to create good.

I spend three days a week working as a consultant and Asia Lead of a US-based non-profit organisation called Architecture 2030. The mission of the organisation is to phase out carbon dioxide from the global built environment by 2050 in order to keep global average temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius. My role as Asia Lead is to develop and implement the strategies, programmes, and build partnerships with businesses, other non-profits and governments. I work remotely with my colleagues in the US, China and our liaisons in South Korea and India.

I have also founded or co-founded a few other projects. These include Conscious LayersPacific Pals and Empowering Women through Cooking.

What projects are you working on right now?

With Architecture 2030 we are developing, refining, localising and promoting a zero-carbon building code at the moment. We are developing the Californian zero carbon building code in partnership with the Californian Energy Commission and I have just come back from a trip to China to meet with potential partners interested in developing and adopting a Chinese zero carbon building code.

For the rest of my week, I am also working on Conscious Layers, a community project based in Auckland that aims to empower everyone to be a maker and mender of their own clothes; Pacific Pals, a project to engage people to explore and experience climate change emotionally and creatively, by connecting Pacific Islanders with people from other regions in what resembles a penpal relationship; and Empowering Women through Cooking, a project my friend Dina started in Jordan, and now underway in 10+ countries, collating stories of and original recipes from inspiring women.

How did you get into this line of work?

I studied journalism and communications at uni in Hong Kong and joined Amnesty International as a human rights campaigner upon graduation. While volunteering for various sustainable initiatives, I started to connect the dots of human sufferings and environmental degradation and began to learn about climate change as the existential threat of our time.

In 2010 I joined The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation’s climate team, where I managed multi-million, multi-year grants to non-profit organisations and initiatives worldwide working to slash greenhouse gases. These range from developing national climate mitigation plans and scenarios in Latin America to research on capping coal consumption in China, to facilitating and mobilising mayors from the biggest cities globally to take more ambitious actions.

What inspires you?

Oh lots of things. Natural wonders from vast landscapes and starry skies that remind me of my triviality to perfectly symmetrical patterns created by puffer fish on the ocean floor. I’ve recently re-watched “The Overview Effect,” a short film about the cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts after seeing our planet from space and was still left in awe. People who are wise, humble, forgiving and persistent inspire me. I read a story recently about an owner of a small noodle shop in Hong Kong. He earns just enough for a living in the costly city, but for decades he has offered free meals to those in need. Wealth is not about how much you have, but how much you give.

Who/what influenced you the most in your life?

My mom. Unlike many stereotypical Chinese mothers, she is very liberal and has always encouraged me and supported me to pursue my own goals. Never has she questioned me about my choice or said no to my decisions. She was a full-time housewife until she and my dad separated when I was nine. With very little education and work experience, she single-handedly brought up me and my brother. She has been suffering from leukaemia in the past two years but all the other patients and medical staff at the hospital are impressed by her optimistic and cheerful attitude.

What would you say to young people wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I know it sounds really cliché, but follow your heart! Only then will you live with no regrets. If you simply want to work in the social or environmental field because it is the hip thing to do, that it fits your definition of a liberal, progressive millennial or Generation Z, or because of how lucrative purpose-driven conscious buinesses can be, pause. Pause and spend some time to really learn about the issues and your passion before doing anything.

There are many important social issues, from climate change, to inequity, to mental health, and all of them are in one way or another caused by the lack of connection – connection with the self, with others and with our planet. Solving these issues require us all to cultivate empathy.

Any parting thoughts?

I am going to quote Einstein: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. The world’s problems are all interconnected. We need everyone to engage in systemic thinking and systemic change, now.

Rhea James Fox