Once driven by the desire to make money, Kevin Vuong, BMOS’11, had an “epiphany moment” while on a trade mission to the Asian Pacific region in 2010. And now today, he makes money with plans to give it away.
“Growing up, we didn’t have very much money. When that happens you just want to make as much money as possible, which is partly why I went into finance,” said Vuong, a second generation immigrant whose parents were refugees from the Vietnam War. “I traveled abroad to Asia and realized how lucky I was to have been born in Canada and to have been able to pursue my education at such a great institution as Western.
“It’s one thing to read about challenges abroad; it’s another thing to truly see them first-hand. When I came back my way of thinking changed and I didn’t want to just make as much money as possible – I wanted to do more than that.”
That experience prompted Vuong to look at ways to use his skills and experience to make a difference.
Vuong works for a number of organizations in Toronto, where he lives, including serving as Co-Chair of the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy and as President of the Southcore Community Association. He also volunteers his time with Western’s DAN Management Alumni Council, where he serves as Chairman, and with Toronto’s alumni chapter.
Despite all his volunteer work, he felt like he could do more. Recently, Vuong decided to become a planned giving donor, making a gift to Western in his will that, when realized, will establish the Vuong Canadian Leadership Award to support a student in the DAN program who demonstrates a drive to give back to the community and support those less fortunate.
“Western is the No. 1 reason I’m where I am now. It’s important to me to help and have an impact. If anything I do helps even one student have an easier time, then I’ve done that. I always knew I wanted to give back to the school. Initially that began by offering my time and expertise and my relationships and my network,” he said.
The decision to make a planned gift came to him while completing his officer’s training with the Navy, where he currently serves as an Intelligence Officer at Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship YORK.
“It was the dead of night and I was exhausted wondering why in the world I had voluntarily signed up to do this,” he explained. “We had just finished a simulated gas attack training exercise and it was quiet and there was no one around. I started to think about some of the challenges I’ve faced. That set me on the path to creating a planned gift.
“As much as I was already doing for Western, I felt like I wanted to do more. I asked myself, ‘What were the challenges that I had?’”
Growing up in Brampton, Ont., Vuong was mentored by students from the Ivey Business School when he was in high school. Their influence prompted him to follow in their footsteps and study finance. He enrolled in Western’s DAN Management and Organizational Studies program with the intention of transitioning to Ivey, but after working in a bank during his first year and a summer at TD Securities in second year, decided to stay in the DAN program.
“I already had my foot in the door at the bank and the DAN program gave me the flexibility to pursue my other interests in politics and public policy so I’m glad I chose that route,” he said.
During his first year at Western, Vuong held a full-time job at a call centre for TD Canada Trust, attending classes from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. and then working from 3 - 11 p.m. every day.
“My mother has Scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease with no cure and can’t work, and my father was laid off in my first year at Western. As the oldest child, I felt a responsibility to help my family. You’re not able to do quite so well in school because by the time you get home you can only do so much before going to sleep and repeating it all the next day,” he said.
After his first year, Vuong cut down his workload to part-time after securing a line of credit, making it “more manageable” and also making it possible for him to get involved in campus and community organizations. Since then, he has amassed an extensive list of accomplishments, including being named Canada’s Top Under 30 Pan-Asian leader in 2014; an RBC Emerging Scholar in 2015; a Geneva Challenge global finalist; and a Public Fellow as a leading Canadian thinker under 35 for the 2016 Spur Festival. He has also represented Canada at international forums including the 2010 G8 and G20 Summits, the 2013 G20 Summit, and was a Western News Newsmakers in 2014.
Following graduation, Vuong spent a few years in banking and capital markets, and then returned to Western to complete a master’s degree in Geography. Halfway through the program, however, his family faced financial challenges that led him to withdraw and return to work full-time.
Instead of returning to banking, Vuong switched gears and now, in addition to his continued work with the Navy, he is Head of Municipal Partnerships at Ryerson University’s Magnet Project, where he builds cross-sectoral partnerships across Canada, seeking to combat unemployment and underemployment among individuals who face barriers.
Although he jokingly admits “inner turmoil” working for an institution other than Western, his career is more in line with his commitment to the notion of “service before self” – a trait he hopes that future recipients of the Vuong Canadian Leadership Award award will have.
Perhaps more important to him, however, is this award will honour his family and the fact he was able to complete his education, he said.
“I’m in a place where I can afford to make that gift – but just two years ago I had to withdraw from my master’s program as a result of financial challenges. Part of the motivation of my gift is so that no student has to face a similar decision to what I did, where they have to choose between helping to support their family and pursuing his or her education.
“My parents worked hard to provide for my brother and me. I’m doing this in the spirit of what they’ve been trying to do their whole lives – provide for the next generation. I’ve just taken that and expanded the definition to include more than just our Vuong family.”
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