Women of HK’s Sarah Vee on Turning Self-Doubt to Confidence
Hong Kong/ Venture/ Careers

Women of Hong Kong Network Founder Sarah Vee on Turning Self-Doubt to Confidence

She Believed Sarah Vee on Turning Self Doubt To Confidence 3

As a litmus test, what are the first thoughts that come to mind upon mention of the term “girl’s chat”?

To Sarah Vee, these are conversations of empowerment, conscious connections, and self-growth. In 2014, the Hong Kong-raised Filipina took her first leap into sparking this discourse and founded the online community known as Girls of Hong Kong. 

Within five years, the girls have welcomed an entire network of up to 3,000 members overall, with active conversations between hundreds of members daily on everything from motherhood to studies, and from where to find the closest hairdresser’s to guidance in tough times from law-related incidents or family emergencies.

“I said to myself a year ago that I'm going to build this website to test the waters. I want to see what works and what doesn't work when connecting women to one another. And after a year, it worked!”

Just last year, the platform had graduated into what has now become the official Women of Hong Kong (WoHK) motherboard, a female-led space straddling both a digital platform and real-life opportunities to connect. Spearheading the movement with the help of dedicated community members, Sarah gives The Beat Asia a glimpse into her experience in creating herstory.

“The most common misconception about Women of Hong Kong is that people assume it's a business network. Business is one of the many bonuses you can get out of it, but it's only 30% of what the business is about. It’s much more than that."

"I like getting the opportunity to correct them because when I explain that this strong, resourceful, powerful network of women can improve your lifestyle in more ways than one, they realize it’s something they needed to be part of for a long time but didn’t know existed. Business is just a bonus.”

The WoHK platform is one that has been shaped by its participating members from the ground up and inside out. From longtime locals to expats who have just moved to the city, the group extends open arms and provides networking and social mixer events where even the shyest of wallflowers can feel comfortable enough to bloom.

Network wide WoHK events are frequently offered, the latest being a highly attended Business Blitz at Soho House HK, curated for introverts, where blossoming entrepreneurs and working ladies can meet and mingle in a speed-meeting format to broaden their reach as well as personal perspectives. 

Women who have upgraded their membership are also able to introduce and even lead their own events, classes, and courses, furthering their own foundations by sharing their skills with others who show a glimmer of similar passions and interests.

“We are a network of women that have built a community to make you feel safe enough to ask the questions that you need, knowing that someone there has the answers for you and is open and ready to support you."

"You need to know that this network has women willing to be open to the idea of vulnerability, where you can ask questions, and someone is ready to share their knowledge without judgment.”

“We don't need to know how old you are, how much money you make, where you're from...none of these matters before asking for help or for you to be able to get support from the network."

"As long as you are honest with yourself and the intentions you have with the network, you’ll fit right in.”

“We’re for the students, we're for the stay-at-home moms, we’re for the migrant workers who need support, we’re for the women pivoting their careers, or restarting their life after a divorce. The network is all encompassing. You get what you make out of it”

Stepping into the community is simple. The space Sarah has created is one that has been constructed to prompt women into embracing what makes each person feel their best. 

In a world where values associated with womanhood are oft labelled as weaknesses, the unlearning of limiting self-beliefs and redefining of self-identity lies as one of the network’s core visions, summarised in the tenet of “reshaping how we see ourselves and others.”

A self-proclaimed tech-nerd at heart, and an expert in digital marketing, branding, and events planning thanks to her PR career background, Sarah drew upon her own strengths to kickstart her vision into becoming concrete. 

In reflecting on the hard practical work put in and the journey so far, Sarah explains that the most important catalysts of action, in fact, came from within. As agent zero behind the whole initiative, she had to be the one to lead in taking the leap of faith.

“The most unexpected change from developing Women of Hong Kong was the growth of my mental state. The experiences challenged me to really look inwards. To build and run a network for women isn't just about the marketing, or events, or simply giving them what they want at face value as if this was just a product."

"You have to have the right intentions. You have to come correct. When you commit yourself to creating a support system for others, you have to be very honest with yourself first—am I doing it because it's mission driven, or money driven? This has always been mission driven for me, I wished I had something like this when I was younger.”

“The challenges that came with engaging in the network woke me up to a lot of my own negative traits, and I realized I wanted to be better for myself. Today, I feel extremely accomplished and much happier in my own skin - but it took a lot of unlearning old behaviors to get here. You can only meet others as far as you have met yourself.”

“You can only be forgiving of other people as long as you have the ability to forgive yourself. You can only be as empathetic towards other people if you can exercise that for yourself. You can only be so proud of other people, if you are proud of yourself."

"Who you are gets reflected onto other people as you live your days, triggers are there to teach you what you need to address, and it will keep showing up until you do something about it.”

Challenging everyone to challenge themselves, Sarah stresses the importance of reframing that voice of self-doubt into one that opens doors for all, and homing in on that same niggling feeling of uncertainty yet transforming it into a beneficial interaction. 

Comparing the growth of the community to that of roots branching from a fertile seedling, the phase of self-growth is shown as only just the beginning.

“People assume that being vulnerable means you're weak, but when you enter a state of mind where you can just be more comfortable with being honest and vulnerable, the world opens up for you."

"If we choose not to shy away from what we assume our weaknesses are—like being angry, vulnerable, emotional, caring so much—and we really use that as a way to connect with other people, it changes how people have relationships with us. They start to feel safe enough to also be honest with you.”

The bread and butter of the entirety of WoHK comes in the form of the kinship that spurs from the community-held pillars, from “reinventing how you see yourself” to “rewiring how we view others” and “creating a supportive space to encourage collaboration” resulting in “breaking generational traumas” for everyone involved.

“When we feel safe with other people, then other people start to shine as well. Other people start to become who they really want to be, without feeling like they need to put up a front. When you show people sides of yourself deemed as shortcomings with honesty, you actually start to inspire them to show up as themselves.”

Today, with 6,300 sign ups and counting, WoHK is a force that has broken the molds bounding the femme experience by uniting its members through constant sharing and unconditional mutual support. 

Looking to the future, Sarah hopes to transplant these scalable key pillars of values to women in other places who have yet to find their safe space to discover the sense of uplift that a community can offer.

“The network has grown quickly. And I'm hoping there will be women who see the vision behind creating social impact and feel confident to tell me “I want to expand this in my city!”. This is what supporting women is all about, I can't do it alone. 

"I want this to expand with mission driven intention, and if it works in Hong Kong, it would probably work in other cities too. Women elsewhere will get help, we can do this together. It just takes you saying ‘I’m in.’”

Get connected with the Women of Hong Kong via the WhatsApp group here, and keep up with their upcoming events by following their official Instagram.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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