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INTRODUCING WOMEN OF HK

In 2014, a social group of 12 ladies came together to form Girls of LKF. What started out as a group to find the best parties in the 852 quickly evolved into a tight-knit community of supportive women, and now, over 4,000 contacts and 7 years later, it has grown up to become Women of Hong Kong.

We sat down for a raw and open conversation with enigmatic co-founders Sarah Vee and Jessie Drew to talk about their almost decade-long journey, what they’ve personally struggled with the most, and what led them to create this platform to help women succeed in both business and their personal life.

1/ Tell us about yourself and your background!

SV: I’m a Filipino-born and raised in Hong Kong - I’ve lived here all my life! I’m also a single mom with an 11-year science enthusiast for a son, he likes to keep me in check! For most of my career, I’ve worked in marketing and events but what people don’t know about me is that I’m a closet tech-nerd since I was 11 and have always been fascinated by community building. Last but not least, I’m a big fan of scent - candles, perfume, home diffusers, food, you name it!

JD: I am originally from Florida, but I have been living in Hong Kong for 8 years now. I came over here for a semester of school, but I quickly told my mom that “I love Hong Kong and I am never coming home.” She didn’t believe me at the time, but I am still here! And now I am doing what I love in the place that I fell in love with. I always feel grateful for that!

2/ What is your favourite thing about living in Hong Kong?

SV: I have two! The first is the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life! You have the locals who have been here all their lives and then you have the travellers whose hearts were stolen by the city and have stayed. The second is the drive that people have. There’s something about living in Hong Kong that pushes you - they say Hong Kong people are hard workers!

JD: The first night I arrived in Hong Kong, I cried as I had never traveled so far from my home alone. But, by the next few days, I fell head over heels for Hong Kong and I have always been so enchanted by this city! I think about it often but I can’t put my finger on an exact reason why it is so captivating. But, it is definitely the diversity of people (and food), unique culture (that is an extension of multiple cultures) and charming landscape and buildings. It is such a special place that is unlike any other and it will always be my second home.

3/ How and/or why did you start Girls of LKF?

SV: I love this question, it always feels like I’m taking the listener on a journey! In 2014, I worked as a marketing and events manager for a well-known venue. Back then, the competition was about which club looked like it was the most fun to be in so most of the clubs hosted tables for models to give off a lavish impression. I suggested hosting a table for ladies and invited close friends to join us for the evening.

What started out as a marketing idea with a handful of women unfolded into a Facebook Group network with over 200 women in under 6 months. This network of women shared the same interest: coming together, feeling safe in an environment that normally feels predatory and connecting with others without feeling like we had to compete or one up each other.

JD: I was working under Sarah and I will never forget handing out drink tickets to women at one of our first events. It is always so funny to look at pictures of that time and think about how we would never guess that Girls of LKF would grow up into Women of Hong Kong!

4/ When did you realise that you could take this from a social group and turn it into a platform?

JD: Sarah announced that she was planning on doing so in the Women of Hong Kong WhatsApp chat and I was at a transitional point in my life, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with Sarah again. We had a few calls at the beginning and realized we had similar values and thoughts about how to help women and now we are working every day to follow that path!

SV: When the protests happened mid 2019, the conversations shifted from recommendations and advice about the next best hot spots to life-altering discussions and requests to be supported. The atmosphere changed and when COVID happened 6 months later, questions about recommended lawyers, whether domestic or employment related, and job vacancies were at an all-time high. Thankfully the support was always abundant. The community should be available to other women in Hong Kong. As Jessie Drew mentioned, I made an announcement in the group and here she is - stuck with me!

5/ Tell us about the biggest challenges you have faced and how you overcame/learned from them?

SV: Unlearning what I’ve learnt! A lot of our learned behaviour comes from generations of trauma and auto-pilot living. We have ended up responding or thinking certains ways because that’s how the people around us acted while we grew up. I’ve had to re-parent myself when it comes to attachment to people, self-love, boundaries, judgement, and even down to conversations. I struggled with knowing how to speak to people and would end up rubbing them the wrong way!

JD: I believe we are always being challenged and you are never too old to learn. I have been through many struggles in my life, but recently I am working on my boundaries and walking away from things or people who are not meant for me. This is not the most significant challenge of my life, but it is one I have always had a hard time with. So, I figure it is important to share a recent one as we should all keep on a path of positive change no matter our ages, that way we can continuously evolve into the best version of ourselves.

"There's power in vulnerability, and when we open up as a collective without judgement, we ultimately create a safe and supportive space for women around us to thrive - including ourselves." - Sarah V
6/ What is a memorable experience you had on this journey to creating WOHK?

SV: A favourite of mine is watching women find the courage to speak about a topic that makes them feel vulnerable. There’s power in vulnerability, and when we open up as a collective without judgement, we ultimately create a safe and supportive space for women around us to thrive - including ourselves.

Second to that would be getting invited to speak about Women of Hong Kong on a global scale, at two separate events! The first one would be for RESHAPE 2021 by Insider - their main panelist is Barack Obama, isn’t that wild? The second one is for YOUTH SDG Summit by Unite2030 as part of the UN’s General Assembly.

JD: The support and love so far will always be close to my heart. I have always had a hard time believing in myself and I have constantly felt like people can’t see value in me and anything I do, so it has been overwhelming to be able to connect with so many women. Specifically at our launch party, we were so grateful to be able to sell out and have so many women there just to support us. I think we all knew this was the right path at that point!

7/ Who inspires you the most and why?

SV: I used to answer this with famous people and this is the first time I’m saying this but I am continually inspired, wowed and blown away by women who realize they are worth more. I have met women who say “I’ve had enough of how I’ve been living my life, it’s time for a change,” and dive head-first internally where you face parts of yourself that you’ve long denied, and it is an absolutely painful but rewarding process. These women exist! Lily Chan, Sarah Kalmeta, Hafsa Khan and Jessie Drew.

JD: Definitely Sarah because I know her stories and struggles. She is very strong, but still loving and is now craving to help others, and I am so happy I can be on this journey with her. But I would also like to say any woman who has had to fight to get to the point where they are now as well. We all go through hard times as women and it makes me so happy to see women living their dreams. That will always be inspiring.

8/ Biggest lesson from starting your own business?

JD: Like most people, we only share the best parts and sometimes we make it look easy, but we do have really hard days where we are feeling down and it can be hard to continue. I think we have been okay because we let ourselves feel those feelings and we cry and we let it out. Always, afterwards, we will come back with support for each other and we will push through again. So the biggest thing is just to not give up. Feel those bad feelings and push through!

SV: All that glitters is not gold! I’ve learned not to jump into things, do the research needed, give it time and weigh out the options. Resilience is necessary and you can’t be a perfectionist! The most successful people get somewhere because they’ve gone through failure and learned from it. Take that first step, even if you think you aren’t ready.

"I have always had a hard time believing in myself and I have constantly felt like people can't see value in me and anything I do, so it has been overwhelming to be able to connect with so many women." - Jessie D.
9/ Top tips to other women in HK?

JD: If not Women of Hong Kong, find any group that truly supports everything you do. If I hadn’t reached out to Sarah this year and found support through her and the group, I would still feel very alone and I believe I wouldn’t be in Hong Kong right now. When you are around positive, understanding, patient women who believe you are capable of growth and learning, it is a game changer. And that is the gist of Women of Hong Kong. If we could all support each other like that, I can truly imagine how much more strong, confident and resilient women will slowly become.

SV: We’re all in the same boat! We’re all going through something, chances are the woman who you least expect might just be the one you can relate to the most. Find your circle, competition is yesterday’s news. Think collaboration, connection and support.

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10/ You both inspire us because you ladies continuously put yourself out there as leaders and seem so fearless - how have you gotten there and developed that confidence?

SV: As women, most of us have been conditioned to think or grew up with the idea that we are each others competition. Seeing others this way creates that lack of self confidence because we’re constantly feeling inadequate; we have to continually be better than others or we are failures. For me to overcome that, I started to tell myself to find 3 things I admire about a woman when I catch myself being judgemental. Because of this practice, I started to feel more confident in my own skin and be more empathetic towards those around me.

When you know who you are, and know that’s enough, you will no longer see other women as competitors but instead people you have the opportunity to learn from and grow with. The moment you see other women as power players that you can stand by and vice versa, you’ve changed the game for yourself on so many levels. Jessie Drew and I have created a work environment for each other where we aren’t afraid to be honest and vulnerable. We’re human and we have our moments but the understanding we give each other creates a space where we’re unafraid to fail - we almost look forward to it, simply because we find more ways to grow!

JD: I am still fighting with my confidence and it can be a very hard battle. Some days I don’t feel like I should be a part of this journey, or that someone would be able to help women more than myself. It is definitely a battle, but on my bad days, Sarah is usually encouraging me, and I always do the same for her. Sarah has believed in me and some days I am not sure why, but it is wonderful to have support from someone who believes in your potential.

11/ How do you manage your work life balance? Do you feel that you achieved that balance?

SV: Boundary setting! When I’m not working, I have an 11 year old to raise. When my 11 year old is busy, I need time to myself. I’m learning to identify what is a priority to me and what can wait. I remind myself that for every appointment or engagement I say YES to, I’m saying NO to something else. Your time is limited and precious, so learning to prioritize is key!

JD: That is still something I think we both work on. It is hard to put down the phone and close the computer at the end of the day when you believe in what you are doing and you want to keep working. When you are at the beginning of your dreams, sometimes you do have to put some extra effort in, but we both know that it will pay off in the end and we will find that balance as we continue to find our success through Women of Hong Kong.

12/ Whats next for you guys and for WOHK?

JD: We have so many ideas! We are really looking forward to anything we can do that will help the women in our community connect, grow or even just walk into a room with the confidence to be their true selves. I don't think I can give away too much, but if you are interested in making connections with amazing women, learning more about yourself, or supporting others, please stay tuned and make sure you are signed up as a free member!

SV: As Jessie Drew said, we have a lot to roll out. I’m in the middle of building additional benefits on the site for members such as “Mentorship Programs”, “Initiatives by Members (charities and missions that the members strongly believe in)” and “Barter Deals” for members to redeem free products from business owners in exchange for receiving a review - it’s our way of helping SMEs get started because everybody knows starting a business is hard! A few reviews about their service or products can help them get them more visibility.

In the long run, we’re aiming to expand our business to other countries - think Women of Singapore, Women of Malaysia, and so on.

We’re currently looking for people who see and resonate with us to come forward and say “Hey! I’m here and I want to join you, and I want to execute these ideas with you!”. Women of Hong Kong is a mission-driven organization, it’s about time we changed the game for women around us, and it starts with you too (yes you, reading this!).

Lots of Love, xoxo
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