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News > Life After Hymers > Jonathan Advises on Environmental Challenges

Jonathan Advises on Environmental Challenges

Jonathan Wong (OH 1987-96) is Chief of Technology and Innovation at the United Nations
Old Hymerian Jonathan Wong
Old Hymerian Jonathan Wong

Jonathan Wong was at Hymers from 1987 to 1996. After completing his A-levels, he continued his studies at the University of Manchester. We asked him a few questions about his memories of Hymers and his subsequent career.

What is your fondest/funniest memory of Hymers?

There are too many to recall. However, I remember playing in a cricket match – I was a bad off spinner - where Mr Nicholls was umpiring. He gave me four of the dodgiest LBW decisions I have ever witnessed. I’m sure for two of them I didn’t even appeal!

Who was your favourite teacher and why?

Mr. King. I remember telling him I was going to business school. He said to me “So you just want to go out into the world and make money?” That stuck with me. Also, he gave me my acting debut in Guys and Dolls!

Are you still in touch with anyone from Hymers?

Yes, quite a few people. Lifelong friends!

Were you in any clubs/societies/sporting teams?

A group of us were mad into basketball. We thought we were so cool in our baggy shorts and playing rap music. I’ll always be grateful to Mr Parker and Mr Walmsley for setting up the basketball team, giving up their lunchtimes to supervise us, and putting up with our questionable fashion and music choices.

What career path have you followed?

To be honest, I never had a career path in mind. However, I always wanted my work to make peoples’ lives better - particularly those most in need - and had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak (I had a few business ventures on the go when I was at Hymers!). I also grew up spending time in Shenzhen and Hong Kong in China as I had family there. This fuelled my curiosity for travel and learning about different cultures. A lot of who I am has been shaped by three ports - with Hull, Shenzhen and Hong Kong all being fishing cities - although they are all a bit different now.

I think these factors led me to pursue roles with “purpose” and “innovation” in a variety of organisations. Having finished university, I worked for the NHS Institute for Innovation, founded a venture capital fund which invested in social and environmental start-ups, was Head of Innovation at the UK Department for International Development, and currently I am the Chief of Technology and Innovation at the United Nations for the Asia-Pacific region living in Bangkok, Thailand. The latter two jobs have allowed me to travel the world from as far-flung as Kyrgyzstan to as wonderous as Iran. I have also worked in some of the poorest and conflict-ridden countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. These are the toughest places to work as the challenges these countries face often seem unsurmountable, but the resilience of human spirit you witness keeps you going.

As Chief of Technology and Innovation at the United Nations, Jonathan is responsible for the Asia-Pacific region which consists of 62 countries and two-thirds of the world’s population. In short, he advises governments on how they can tackle some of the toughest challenges of our time. How can we tackle the climate crisis? How can we provide education, healthcare, and clean water to the billions who don’t have access? How can we make economies work for the many and not the few? In this role, he focuses on harnessing technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship to develop solutions to such grand challenges.

I also invest in start-ups developing solutions to social and environmental challenges. As examples, I recently invested in an amazing women entrepreneur in Nepal who is rolling out clean energy taxis in Kathmandu, and a very cool start up that has set up a crowdfunding platform to allow urban financiers to invest in some of the very poorest rural farmers in Bangladesh. I love these sorts of businesses. Ones that are providing climate-smart solutions and helping the very poorest to earn a living.

But there is a diversity of opportunity for people thinking about a career in UN. Whether you’re into sciences, languages or the arts, there’s a career path open for you to pursue.

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