Tingjun is a catalyst in every sense of the word – she makes things happen. Co-founder of The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), she harnesses her passion for adventure to inspire others into positive action. She believes that giving is a journey, and that big change happens in small steps. We catch her amidst a thunderstorm in the offices of TCRP to talk about her story, what she would change in the world, and how she would wear our pants to go skydiving.
What was your catalyst of change?
On our first trip to Timor I met a woman – Rosario Martin De Cruz from Hiam Health. I remember her saying to me, with tears rolling down her face, I want my country to be like your country; I want my people to be like your people - healthy in their body, smiling in their faces. That for me was the catalyst. I might not be the person in the trenches fighting in the front lines to create change but maybe I can just support her. Support that one person who is doing that, who is out there doing good. That was my first step in learning how to give back to make a difference – it doesn’t need to be big, and doesn’t need to be solving the all the world’s problems.
TCRP all started just because we wanted to support her. The giving journey always evolves but it starts with a first step. One person, one story.
What was the high point of your last TCRP trip to Vietnam?
It’s our fifteenth trip now but there were a lot of firsts. It was our first time working in Vietnam, and the first time working with a partner to organize the trip. Honestly, the high point was that it was the first trip where I took a step back - Catalysts who were working with TCRP before were stepping up to play different roles.
The collaboration and partnership was exciting, and seeing that move to sustainability where we are not doing everything ourselves is inspiring. Seeing it being pulled off successfully is fantastic. I didn’t have to do everything or be the crazy perfectionist I usually am, and the feeling of not being needed anymore was great. It was the first trip that I felt like that.
When you first start something you’re a jack-of-all-trades, but over time you learn what your strengths are. If over time you’re able to focus your strengths and find people who can work alongside you to help bring the organization to the next stage, that’s success.
Sustainability is the hardest thing to achieve. 5 years in and I’m still struggling with that. Getting others to care as much as you do is hard.
The low point is the same as all the low points I’ve had before. In a way the low points are cyclical, and usually revolve around the same theme of doubt and uncertainty, whether its about my own direction or the organisation’s. And sometimes you catch yourself feeling like even though you have come so far suddenly you find yourself back at square one.
Surrounding myself with the right people, who really believe in the vision and want to see it succeed as well gets me going again. They tell me to get over myself and to refocus, and they step in and step up. That’s when I feel like I am really not alone in this and that are people who really care and have as much skin in the game as I do.
What do you miss that’s different from when you first started?
We were very small and didn’t have to worry about so many people. It was just four of us! Our adventures also used to be much more extreme, life or death type adventures and that’s what I really loved. But if you want to build something people want to be a part of or can survive being a part of, you need to scale back on that.
That said, we might be going skydiving for our next adventure… I can wear the pants to do that!
There’s a lot of people who want to make a difference but don’t know how or where. What would be your advice for someone with those questions?
I think the key is just starting. A lot of people are paralysed by the enormity of the world’s problems. Its important to recognize that giving is a journey. Its like investing, and you need to take time to learn about what works for you, and invest in learning about how to do it well.
Start small, narrow down the types of causes, the geographic area, and then choose 3 charities in one location to see which one is most aligned with you. Grow from there, learn, and realize that it’s a long-term journey with no one right way to go about it.
If there’s one thing you could change in the world, what would it be?
That people would be less afraid to give; less afraid of making a wrong decision of who and what to give to. Everyone wants to do the right thing but they don’t know what the right thing is, so they do nothing.
If everyone shared a little bit more of what they had, or cared a bit more, the world would change.
Tell me about your objects, one old and one new.
This present object is the TCRP Buff from 2012 that comes with me on every trip. Its symbolic of TCRP - there’s a buff for each trip from when we first started in 2009 until now, and every Catalyst gets one on each trip.
The old object is a pill case in the shape of a bullet. It was my grandmother’s, and she used to collect pill cases. I found a bullet round one day and it just fit.
Ting Jun Zhang is a force of nature and true multi-hyphenate. Having been trained for over ten years as an elite national athlete and with a background spanning corporate grant-writing, broadcast journalism and news production, she is a motivational speaker and emcee as well as the Co-Founder and Director of The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), a nonprofit organization started in 2009 that uses adventure as a platform to raise funds, human capital and public awareness for critical social issues.
We are inspired by her authenticity, passion and adventurous spirit, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design.