Have you ever woken up one day so dissatisfied with your job and your life that you wanted to just drop everything and go and live out in the woods? Well, Jude Wu has. Born in Taiwan and bred in New Jersey, Wu has taken an incredibly unconventional path to becoming the managing director of Conservation International Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation with branches across 30 countries that preserves forests, oceans, rivers and lakes. And it all started with dropping it all and just heading out to the woods. “I literally woke up one day,” she recalls, “and said I cannot spend the rest of my life making rich lawyers richer. I need to feel like my life has a sense of meaning. So, within about six weeks, I quit my job, sold my apartment and found an internship in northern California, where I was surrounded by hardcore hippies for the first time in my life.”
This spur of the moment decision became a turning point for Wu. Going from the corporate world to living out in tents in the wilderness was more than just a little shock to the system. “Before then I never even owned a sleeping bag,” says Wu. “I had never camped in my life, so it was completely new and a little bit scary. But it was the most amazing time of my life to fall asleep to the moon, wake up to the sun and eat the healthiest food.”
Entranced by this new experience, Wu ended up doing an unpaid internship for two years and completely reinvented her lifestyle to a point where she considered going off the grid and living the rest of her life as a farmer. But, ultimately, she realised that she was in a position to actually do more out in the wider world. “I had a pretty good education and I had worked in the corporate world,” she tells us. “I know how to talk to people in government. I needed to be that person and not become the farmer.”
With that determination, Wu wandered out of the wilderness and got herself a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University, USA. And it wasn’t long before she was approached by Conservation International. Wu flourished at the organisation and was eventually asked to establish and head the Hong Kong branch from the ground up.
After months of hard work and a catchy tagline, namely ‘nature doesn’t need people, people need nature’, the public, says Wu, are becoming more aware of Conservation International and the work the organisation does. “I think one of the fallacies is that people don’t know how they can get involved in conservation. They might feel that they’re alone. We give people the opportunity. We give them the optimism that they can do something.”
There aren’t as many women in top positions in Hong Kong as many would like to see but Wu can boast that she’s one of just a handful of female managing directors in the city. “Growing up as a woman and as a minority in the United States,” she admits, “I’ve always had to be aware of whether or not I’m at a disadvantage. If I don’t think of it as a disadvantage and I’m able to project that, then you can very quickly change the way someone looks at you, from just being a woman to being an amazing human being. So, I’ve always tried to pre-emptively get people past seeing my gender or my race.” Wu adds that she hopes young women in Hong Kong can also turn any gender bias to their advantage.
There’s more good news on the horizon for Wu. She’s now just weeks away from giving birth to her first child. She tells us she’s looking towards the future and learning how to pass on sustainable living to her kids. “Right now I’m trying to figure out a way to do cloth diapers,” she says. “Disposable diapers create something like 1 ton of garbage over the lifetime of the baby.” Most importantly, though, in the long run, this sustainable way of living and care for the world attitude should, she says, become second nature to her children. “The thing is, when you grow up with this attitude,” she tells us, “it’s not a green lifestyle. It’s just a nicer lifestyle.” Olivia Lai
Find out more about Conservation International at conservation.org.