Inspirational Woman Interview: Gloria So
Gloria So is the Founder of Barefoot Love, a social enterprise that aims to build bridges between distinctly different sectors of society through custom designs and cards. Barefoot Love’s mission is to commit 100% of our profits from handmade calligraphy cards and prints to people in need by partnering with front-line NGOs. Barefoot Love also provides a social media platform to share stories of the people who are encouraged by our monetary gifts. Currently, Gloria also serves as a Social Justice and Youth Empowerment Coordinator at the Christian Alliance P.C. Lau Memorial International School in Hong Kong, where she integrates community development and social justices issues in classroom and extracurricular settings. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Queen’s University and a Master’s Degree in Development Education and Global Learning from University College London.
What is your background?
Gloria So: I grew up as a culturally confused Chinese kid in Canada. I moved to Hong Kong after my undergraduate studies and unexpectedly have been here ever since. During my day job, I am also a Social Studies lead teacher and run social justice youth leadership development programs in an international school. Since moving to Hong Kong, I’ve been able to travel to more than 35 countries around the world and complete my Masters degree from the Institute of Education from the University of London in Development Education.
You are the Founder of Barefoot Love, a social enterprise focused on creating and selling calligraphy cards and prints for social change. Barefoot Love donates 100% of its profits to people in need by partnering with front-line NGOs and philanthropic organizations. What inspired you to found Barefoot Love, and how is Barefoot Love is different from other art-focused social enterprises?
Gloria So: My students inspired me to found Barefoot Love. Last year for an extra-curricular club I founded called the Social Justice Club, the student leaders were brainstorming for a way to fundraise. Because I often doodle and got into modern calligraphy the previous year, I told them I could quickly make some postcards for them to sell. After the conference they were at, they exclaimed to me how the public had loved the art I had made and were willing to pay double for what they were selling. That was the first time that I realized people would actually pay money for my cards and prints. Because the Christmas season was coming, I ended up selling handmade Christmas cards as well. My goal was to make $1500 HKD to give to one person in need as a symbol to persevere onward, that God has not forgotten them. From there, the foundations of Barefoot Love started!
Barefoot Love is different than other art-focused social enterprises because it aims to build bridges between distinctly different sectors of society. Because my background is in education and partnering with small grass-roots charity organizations, I did not want Barefoot Love just to be known as simply a fundraiser or donation to disadvantaged people groups in society. Instead, my hope is that it will provide a life-giving platform through our Spread the Love workshops as well as the cards themselves to share stories on individuals who are often forgotten in society as well as an invitation for anyone to get involved. My vision is that Barefoot Love is a collaborative social enterprise, where I partner with individuals or organizations that believe in providing opportunities through practical ways that can uplift individuals, while in the midst of living in the tension or in situations that often have no quick fixes to.
Can you tell us about some of the organizations that Barefoot Love partners with and supports?
Gloria So: There is a saying that says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” There are many organizations out there that deal with the feeding man a fish, they are much needed. But the organizations that I want to support are ones that look beyond people’s material needs, but provide holistic and long-term support in helping to restore the dignity of an individual, wherever they are at. As well, they also walk alongside and directly involve in leadership the very community that they are trying to help. One such organization is Inner City Ministries. ICM is involved in whole person ministry amongst the poor and marginalized, seeking to meet the spiritual, physical, and emotion needs especially within the South Asian community in Hong Kong. Another organization, Urban Promise Toronto aims to reach children in Toronto Community Housing with the love of Jesus, and raise them into leaders who restore their community by walking with them over a 20-year period. Another organization we have supported is The Dale Ministries. They are a community that seeks to be welcoming and empowering to people who often experience poverty of spirit and space. Their drop-in programs and outreach are run by community members of all backgrounds and ability for their community through partnerships with local organizations and outside on the street. Another organization we support is The Vine Community Services, Ltd. They are dedicated to utilizing education, training and physical, financial and spiritual resources to affect change by ensuring those that are marginalized and vulnerable such as refugees in Hong Kong are empowered to access those rights. The latest program we’ve sponsored is their Kids in Kindergarten program that ensures that refugee children can afford to attend kindergarten in a local school.
What have been the biggest challenges you faced founding and leading Barefoot Love?
Gloria So: One of my biggest challenges is to really learn about business. I never had any interest in math, finance, or learning about business. However, God recently gave me a new perspective in how business can be used to further His Kingdom. Much like God, a creator who created something life-giving out of nothing, being an entrepreneur has been much of the same. I’ve really had to step outside what I was comfortable in and learn more about the basics of how to run a small business such as accounting, marketing, budgets, promotions, and product productions. Thankfully, He has also provided a community from to help me when I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Another challenge I faced was dealing with the freedom and power I had in making decisions. Often, I am so used to having to get approval for the various things I do in my job so suddenly having sole authority in making different decisions took some getting used to as well as allowed me to develop confidence in myself and the ideas I had.
On a personal level, why is women’s empowerment important to you?
Gloria So: Growing up in Canada and the oldest of three sisters, I never saw myself at a disadvantage because I was female. I was raised to work hard to achieve my goals and to know I am just as capable as anyone else. I never saw myself any different from my male classmates or even considered that opportunities in my future would be impacted because I was a woman. When I moved from Canada and had the opportunity to work and travel to various parts of the world, I realized that for the most part in the world, this is not a reality. A lot of the discrimination I have felt is often brushed off as “joking” or as a type of attitude or even is felt in the silence or self-censorship of women. That aspect in society is a much harder issue to pinpoint and address because it has to do with the mindset of both men and women. Women empowerment is important to me because women should be given the same opportunities that men have. It is not about one sex being better than the other, but that both sexes have the same opportunities to learn and grow from each other strengths and weaknesses. There needs to be a celebration of the collaborative power that happens when men and women, bringing in their unique strengths and mutual respect for the other, appreciate and work together.
What motivates you to fight for social justice every day?
Gloria So: One of my heroes in Hong Kong, Jackie Pullinger, once said this: “You have to care about the people more than the results. When people fail, you carry on because it is about the people. The cause is never greater than one person. The cause is never greater than the broken of the heart. Do not be afraid of a broken heart (we know where to get a new one, often a fuller one), The world needs your heart.” A social justice cause is never more than one individual. Instead of fighting for social justice everyday as a cause, I always aim to shift my perspective as advocating, building relationships, and creating a dialogue with the one person, who then becomes in my eyes, my friend and family.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Gloria So: I cannot pinpoint one woman who has impacted my life because there are so many, from people like my mother to Mother Teresa to my vice-principal to the strong women I’ve met in Hong Kong to Simone Weil to… the list goes on. I think the one quality that I see consistent in all these women is that even though the storms of this life happens and or their dreams do not turn out exactly how they planned, they humbly persevere onwards daily. They make the decision to face each day and continue the task that is at hand, regardless of opposition, sickness, and failure. And while doing so, they have shown joy and faithfulness.
What advice do you have for future social entrepreneurs?
Gloria So: Just start, even if all the pieces aren’t put together yet. You would be amazed by how many people will catch your vision and participate and how your social enterprise will change organically. Don’t be in a rush to make big decisions especially in the formation phase because many people will approach you with their ideas in expanding your business. Instead, take a step back and determine what are your core values that your business stands for. Be confident in what you envisioned and planned in the first place. As well, be vulnerable and ask questions to people in your networks, especially those who are experts in areas you are not. Be open to the advice and help that people provide for you, especially if they are experts in various fields. Barefoot Love is what it is today because of my community and the help people have given me.
What are your favorite books, websites, films, and resources related to women’s empowerment, international development, and social justice?
Gloria So: I love attending The Justice Conference every year, where their vision is to serve the discovery of ideas, celebrate the beauty of justice, and foster a community of people who live justice together. This conference always encourages me academically and creatively in learning about all the great things people are doing in furthering God’s kingdom and transforming ashes into beauty. Some books that have encouraged me especially when doing social justice is Ken Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice, Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and Rick McKinley’s This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself and Gary Haugen’s The Locust Effect. Some of my favorite documentaries include Born into Brothels, Exit through the Gift Shop, and Nefarious. Resources that have really helped me include organizations such as Free the Children and Desiring God.