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Podcast Episode #1: Cynthia Cheung

fom student to entrepreneur to United Nations consultant


Guests: Cynthia Cheung (left in picture), Youth Economic Empowerment Consultant at UNDP Youth Co:Lab; Sophronia Cheung (right in picture), Summer Intern at NextGen Network; Host: Belinda Esterhammer (center in picture), Founder and CEO, NextGen Network

In this episode you will learn:

  • How gaining corporate experience helped Cynthia to start her own business

  • How she started an e-commerce shop selling Christmas cards designed by homeless peopleWhy some startups failAnd the importance of understanding people


Cynthia not only started several startups but also previously worked for corporations like PwC and Vodafone Global Enterprise and is now the Youth Economic Empowerment Consultant at UNDP Youth Co:Lab. A Hong Kong national she is based at the Bangkok UN regional hub. In her work she empowers young people in the Asia Pacific Region and works with the government, policy makers, stakeholders, 36 countries and 24 country offices, to develop roadmaps as well as programmes to empower youth.


Cynthia’s journey

She studied business administration in Bath (England) and interned in two big corporations. She learned how these corporates work and also discovered the pro’s and con’s of the corporate world. These were valuable experiences and opened many doors for her career. She decided to go into entrepreneurship after graduation and won a startup competition. That venture failed but got her hooked on tech so she self-taught herself developer skills and convinced her friend to hire her as developer.

Being young you should try as many new things as possible, whether it’s the corporate world, entrepreneurship or learning something new outside of your studies.


Cynthia opened her own ecommerce shop while she was still at university in England…

Not just any ecommerce shop but a shop that sells christmas cards of talented homeless people. She came up with this idea when she saw homeless people selling cards and magazines on the street and after talking to them and seeing how creative they were she printed their art on cards. She describes it as one of those “why not?!” moments and just did it. Even BBC picked up on it.


Empowering communities and young people through Sparkle Academy in Myanmar

When Cynthia went on a missionary training around the ASEAN region and came across Myanmar she became inspired to start an initiative to give back. She met many founders, teachers and young people and decided to create opportunities for those young people to learn more about entrepreneurship and other relevant topics such as financial inclusion through Sparke Academy. Her goal is to empower change makers and to help them understand their community and what actions can be taken.

Corporate experience as catalyst for entrepreneurship

Cynthia’s corporate experience was useful as she learned how to scale – for example how supply chain and pricing work. Don’t stress too much on university studies as even if you don’t have business experience you can start a business. It’s all about your creativity, dedication and hustle!


Advice for future entrepreneurs

Build these relationships with people that your business is trying to help and figure out what their needs are. A few of her ventures started without her immediately thinking of starting a business but thinking “I have a friend who’s homeless, how can I help him?” or “if I have a friend with many kids who’s living in Myanmar and she can’t get a job, but she can is really good at weaving, how can I help her with that?”. So try to understand the people you want to help and pinpoint how you can do that with the resources they have and also combine this with your business as well.


Interested to learn more about entrepreneurship?
  • Whether you want to pitch a business idea or just learn first hand what it takes to start a company – participate in a startup weekend in your city!

  • Read about our hosts Belinda’s entrepreneurship journey HERE

  • Lastly, visit the website of the UNDP Youth Co-Lab and follow their magical journey

  • If you enjoyed this episode you will love to hear that our partner and one of our favourite podcasts #impact celebrates Women working in Social impact in their Season 3 of #impact Podcast. Find the interviews here.

  • Interested to connect with Cynthia? Drop us an email: hello(at)nextgennetwork.org and learn more about UN and Cynthia’s work in one of the next episodes!