YangYang Tao’s story
YangYang first joined our Mentoring Women in Business programme as a mentee back in 2012, matched with mentor Safiye. In this blog, YangYang reflects on their journey together.
China and the UK
My mentor reminded me of what I was doing and what I was capable of. She helped me dare to dream more, learn more, do more, and also hope that I can become better.
This was originally posted on Business Fights Poverty.
I work at Hua Dan in Beijing and Sichuan Province which is a non-profit organization dedicated to using theatre to bring out the full potential in people, to encourage them to lead their own lives and their communities with courage, confidence and creativity.
I dreamt for years of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. My work at Hua Dan inspired me to start a new project with my colleagues– Dumpling Dreams – to bring stories from China to the outside world. I wanted to share compelling stories about migrant women in China and foster links with the outside world, putting a human face on my vast country.
My friend sent me information about the Mentoring Women in Business Programme and although it was nearly the application deadline something compelled me to go online and submit my details.
At the end of February 2012, I received an email informing me that I’d been matched with my mentor, Safiye, the microfinance director at Citigroup in London, and that we needed to contact each other as soon as possible to begin our online correspondence. After I’d finished reading the email, my first reaction was: is this even possible? The mentor I had been paired with was a stranger from the other side of the world, unfamiliar with my mother tongue, life, culture and country. To be honest, I was more nervous than excited … and even a bit sceptical about the entire endeavour.
March 2012: Our first online video call. We started off showing each other the scenery from outside our windows. She showed me her world, with mid-morning rain drops sliding down the window panes. I showed her the colour of the city lights of my city in the night. Safiye told me that she was also a little nervous to be part of this program, as it was also her first time participating in this sort of cross-regional online mentoring program. As we spoke further, I told her of my worries, my concerns and my uncertainties. But she quickly put them all to rest as she calmly discussed them with me, one by one.
Usually you wouldn’t easily share a personal “business idea” with another, nor would you lightly speak of your own “real” life – in all its worries and imperfections – to someone else. To admit that you’re not as confident as you’d like to be, to unreservedly expose the rawest, most genuine part of yourself to another who you don’t really know, takes courage. What is more, it requires trust. This last is perhaps the most powerful part of the mentoring program: it allowed me to discover a new understanding of trust.
Safiye said: “I am happy to support you in any way I can. You are doing excellent work and I am proud to be your mentor, do not worry about whether or not your questions are appropriate, I would like to hear them all the same.” Just like this, she helped me step out of my own limitations time and time again, until the ring I’d put around myself slowly started to widen.
At the same time I met my mentor, I came across a potential study abroad opportunity in the UK, the “China-UK Arts Management Professional Development Programme” run by the British Council. The programme fit perfectly with the type of work I was doing. Until then, I had never been abroad. If selected, I would be able to study in Britain for nearly two months, an opportunity and experience which I would treasure enormously. I set out to apply.
April 2012: Preparing for my interview with the British Council, I was swimming in a torrential downpour of work and travel requirements. My heart was convulsive and very chaotic. I wrote a long email to my mentor, repeating several times, “What if I can’t do this…what if I can’t make this happen?” She responded to me saying only, “I will call you tomorrow”. The next day, the call came at the pre-arranged time. I still remember seeing her on the computer screen, a pair of firm but gentle eyes looking at me. She said, “YangYang, let’s focus on how to make things happen. What can we do to prevent these, ‘what ifs’ to make you feel like this is something you can – as opposed to can’t – do?”
In May I received a letter, a formal notification that I was selected to go to the UK. I could hardly believe it. In three months, I would be sitting with my mentor, talking directly to her face to face. I would always say to her, what an “amazing and mysterious force this is”, but she would respond that all of this was the result of my efforts.
In early September, my trip abroad began. That first week was spent in London, where I began my preparatory course of studies. It was also in that first week that I met my mentor. Waiting for her to arrive, I felt my heart quicken. Suddenly, a woman appeared from across the corner, smiling as she walked toward me. I recognized her immediately. It was hard to be believed that nearly five months ago we were complete strangers to each other.
Dumpling Dreams was previously just an “idea”, but over the past year became an implementable and actionable plan. After I returned from the UK, my mentor and I firstly needed to brainstorm about how to raise the start-up capital necessary to put this dream into motion.
December 2012: Lenovo group launched their “For Those Who Do” venture capital contest. I submitted an idea I had originally developed with a colleague Jessica, and shared it with my mentor – and thus the Dumplings Dreams Project officially began.
In January, I received the amazing news the organization that I work with, Hua Dan, won the competition. Dumpling Dreams went from being a simple idea, to being an actionable plan, and now it has received its first start-up capital. Even after I had won the competition, I continued to get messages from my mentor; I could feel her joy, her happiness for me.
The next month was the final month of our mentoring relationship with the programme and Spring Festival here in China. I received an email from the Cherie Blair Foundation, reminding us to write down our feedback and evaluation of the mentorship program we’d participated in, as well as give recommendations for the future.
Of course, this wonderful learning process has not been without its challenges. Because of the time difference between us, there were moments when we couldn’t find a suitable time to speak. Due to poor internet connection, many conversations that were filled with promise and excitement ended in disappointment and incompletion. Because of our jobs, we were frequenting shuffling back and forth between different geographical locations; for her, she moved from country to country and for me, city to city. Occasionally, due to a sudden emergency, one or the other of us would have to cancel our conversation at the last minute.
However, it is precisely because of these challenges, that we’ve come to better understand each other and that we’ve come to a better understanding of each other’s way of life, each other’s work rhythm. And it was because of these challenges that deepened our trust in each other. In an age when internet connectivity pulls our voices and locations closer, yet often does not help with the growing gap between our hearts, this mentorship program has not only allowed me to develop and grow in my professional life, but has also impressed upon me a new understanding of the capacity of relationships between people, bringing to my concept of “relationships” a new and positive definition.
My Dumplings Dreams cultural exchange performance plan has come a long way from its seed as an idea when I started the mentoring programme. Step by step, it has begun its journey towards a realizable goal with all my wonderful colleagues in China and new collaborators in the UK. Safiye reminded me of what I was doing and what I was capable of. She helped me dare to dream more, learn more, do more, and also hope that I can become better. Also, by being mentored myself, I have learned how to mentor others and accompany other women and youth to find their path in life. Perhaps this is what empowerment is…
Find out more about our global Mentoring programme
Mentoring Women in Business is one of the Foundation's three flagship programmes. We pair businesspeople everywhere as mentors with women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries as mentees for an incredibly rich, personalised, cross-border, online experience. This is transformative for mentees and mentors alike—and their companies.
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