Everything to Write Home About: Karl Lam

Meet Karl Lam,17, a student, mental health advocate, journalist and freelance public relations consultant based in Hong Kong. Moved by the plight of people around him who struggle with their mental health, including his peers, he aims to spread awareness about mental well-being and the importance of inclusive communities. LINDA WANG catches up with this young multi-hyphenate to find out what drives him.

How did you get into journalism and to be interested in social issues?

I first dipped my toes in journalism when I was accepted into a summer internship. I was 13 or 14 at the time, so from a very early age, I was exposed to an office environment with many “grownups”. I’m grateful to have entered this industry because it’s given me the skills and opportunity to highlight important issues and help others be heard. I see the journalist’s role as similar to that of facilitator or matchmaker. The goal is always the same: helping people discover like-minded communities and facilitating meaningful connections. In my experience writing for the Time Out Group and South China Morning Post, I get to hear and see many things. So whenever I identify a gap or a problem in my community, I always ask myself, “How can I change this? How can I put my skills to good use?”  

Not many people under the age of 20 are advocates for causes or writers. But have there been times when your age was an obstacle?

Age doesn’t define who I am; but my drive and passion do. Perhaps what sets me apart from my peers is my curiosity, meticulousness, and an observant nature. Whenever I encounter rejection, no one will outrightly say it’s because of my age. However, I do get the sense that it is an underlying factor. When I approach prospective clients for freelance work, some will look at how old I am, second guess my credentials and abilities, or ignore me completely. It’s a constant battle, but I continue to “hustle” even when doors close in my face due to my youth. But I believe these experiences build character and resilience, as well as fuel my determination to prove myself. I know that for every 20 rejections I get for being young, I might get one opportunity for being young.  

Karl with a community book he authored, Humans of German Swiss, during a podcast interview with RTHK Radio 3.

You’re currently a rising senior at the German Swiss International School. What do you hope to do after high school and college?

I want to be doing work relating to how I can help communities around me. I will certainly continue fighting for cross-cultural and intergenerational discourse on mental health stigma, but more importantly, I want to redefine what it means to be a leader in social impact. The world we live in is extreme. We either leave our entire careers and dedicate our whole lives to becoming philanthropists, or we work so hard we forget about changing the world for the better. That dichotomy needs to be re-examined, and I believe there should be mix. For instance, I might run a workshop on both marketing strategies and emotional well-being. The topics may seem unrelated, but if you’re passionate about both these areas, they can go hand in hand.  

Tell us more about some of your recent or upcoming projects.

I recently partnered with co-working spaces, The Hive and WeWork, to host an awareness campaign and fireside chat, respectively. Through these collaborative communities, people came together to share successes, failures and support one another. I used both events as opportunities to raise awareness about the importance of social inclusion and workplace well-being, and also offered professional advice on content marketing and PR. In terms of what’s coming up, I’ll be partnering with Dr Jonathan Rosand, who’s the Co-Director of the Henry and Allison McCance Centre for Brain Health and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. We hope to join forces in Hong Kong to shed light on his research regarding neurology and mental health. There will be a sit-down interview or podcast on mental health, where Dr Rosand will provide scientific insights into the issues, and where I’ll speak on the day-to-day stress facing students.  

Karl at one of his mental health public speaking engagements.

Any advice for other young aspiring changemakers out there? 

The word “changemaker” is a funny one. It gives the perception that you have to be Gandhi and create some kind of phenomenal change to be worthy of such a title. I believe change isn’t measured by how many people follow your mantra, but by the gratification you derive from the work. My advice is: identify what it is that you want to change, find that passion, be determined and hustle your way in.  

We know that you write and speak professionally, but we’re also curious about what you’re reading. What’s a book you’d recommend to our readers?

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio. Yes, it’s an illustrated children’s book but don’t knock it till you’ve tried—in this case, read—it. It’s a fantastic tale about two girls swapping their school lunches (a hummus pita and a peanut butter jelly sandwich), and carries an important message about cultural inclusion.  

Banner image by Zun Zun via Pexels. All other photos courtesy of Karl Lam.  


Linda Wang is a 2019 Summer Associate (Editorial) at the Lien Centre for Social Innovation. She is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies Mathematical Economics, Computer Science and Political Science. She also writes for the online journal of Sigma Iota Rho, an International Relations Honor Society. Linda is passionate about social entrepreneurship and their potential for meaningful change. In her free time, she loves listening to podcasts and audiobooks, travelling the world and journalling. She can be reached at itslinds@sas.upenn.edu