If there’s one mistake that Samantha Kwok of Beijing Women’s Network thinks her organization has made, it would be that BWN has taken far too long to see the potential impact that a 4,000 women-strong organization can have. BWN, a community for women in Beijing that provides resources, events, and networking for professional development, started in 2015 with just 12 women, and has expanded exponentially in the past three years.
Part of the reason they didn’t realize their full potential, Kwok says, is that they were completely volunteer-run, their team saturated with the day-to day tasks of event planning and communications. “We never took into account the big picture of what it would look like when we had 4,000 members, or even 40,000 members,” Kwok said after winning the Community Giver Award at the Shanghai Creator Awards, the annual event sponsored by WeWork that celebrates local entrepreneurs’ creativity and impact.
The power of 4,000 or even 40,000 women, as Kwok sees it, is twofold. First, each year BWN donates all of its profits from events and activities to a selected charity. The group raised 35,000rmb for Rural Women, which helps women in rural areas outside Beijing develop skills to make an income. “Multiply that by another hundred,” Kwok says of the potential charitable impact of a larger group. Second, BWN’s mission is to provide support and opportunities to women in the workforce. “What I’ve seen is that every interaction is a new opportunity—the bigger the network grows, the more opportunities there are.”
Kwok herself joined the Beijing Women’s Network because she was a young entrepreneur looking for a friendly community. “In the beginning, I went to a lot of entrepreneur meetups, and there were lots of men. I felt alone. But immediately at BWN, I felt like I had people in my corner.”
Participating in and winning at the Creator Awards is one way in which Kwok says she can “finally be able to give back. BWN helped me in my time of need.”
For other professional women in Beijing, Kwok sees how the positive community of BWN, with its events, lecture series, and networking opportunities, can help them achieve their goals. “The growth in confidence that I see in the women who come to our events: They make friends and find support they need, whether it’s working in an environment you don’t like, finding courage to change careers, start a business. The women around you are here to give you advice [and] encouragement.”
Leslie Dong, Kwok’s managing partner, says, “As individual women we realize we’re not alone. We’re impacting more women facing tough issues every single day. It’s a collective challenge.”
Through the Creator Awards, Kwok and Dong are eager to streamline their online communications and platform, and grow their network. Of course, being the professional networkers they are, they have forged connections with other finalists, hoping to cement future collaboration down the road. “We can help other finalists fundraise through our network,” Kwok said. Dong sees a lot of potential overlap among the finalists on stage that night— clothing donation via baosquared, community-centered thrift stores via Buy 42 Charity Store, and fetal monitoring devices from Modoo: “A lot of the issues focus on women’s issues and families.” For the now bigger-picture Beijing Women’s Network, every new encounter holds a wealth of opportunities to seize.
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.