Cover Sarah Vee (Photo: Affa Chan/ Tatler Hong Kong)

Filipina entrepreneur Sarah Vee is using her platform to connect Hong Kong women—here’s how she hopes it will change the world

As a nine-year-old, Sarah Vee was obsessed with the virtual pet platform Neopets.com. The website, which still exists, allows users to own virtual pets and build a virtual life with others who share their interests. This idea of community intrigued Vee, and by age 11, she had learnt the basics of coding and created her own platform for Harry Potter fans like herself. “I built a website with HTML code and JavaScript; I learnt how to send newsletters, keep users engaged with virtual activities, manage forums and create images to attract new users. I didn’t know I was marketing or branding then—I was just having a great time being a kid,” she says.

As an adult, though confident in her online life, when struggling in her personal or professional life, she kept it to herself. Vee became a single mother after breaking up with her partner and shortly after suffered the tragic loss of her best friend. The two events were catalysts for change, which forced her to gradually open up to others. She says that surrounding herself with the right people was key. “I didn’t have anyone to rely on anymore. But having just a handful of supportive people in your life is all you need to start believing in yourself,” she says. “I needed help, but I was ashamed to ask. I’ve learnt that being strong means not being afraid to ask for help.”

In 2014, Vee channelled her understanding of human connection and experience working in PR and events at Maximal Concepts, Play Hong Kong and Voltage PR into a women-only platform called Girls of Hong Kong. It began as a Facebook group for women who liked to attend events and socialise. Through word of mouth, the group grew to 200 members within six months; Vee then created a WhatsApp group which, she says, “organically turned into a support hotline for all things that women need”.

By 2016, the Facebook group had more than 2,000 members and the WhatsApp group had more than 150 users. Women were sharing tips ranging from where to get the best manicure in the city and the most affordable medical treatments to which lawyers to call when things went south. It became a safe space for women to share their needs without judgement. “Joining is free and there are no prerequisites: not age, job industry, ethnicity or how much money you have in the bank. None of that matters here. When women join the community, they contribute their knowledge to someone who might need it,” Vee says. When the pro-democracy protests broke out in 2019, the group’s true potential was unlocked. People needed help, and the platform became a go-to for support and advice on everything from safe places to seek shelter to ways to send food and drink to those on the frontlines.

Vee takes pride in having built a community of inspiring, powerful, strong women, and has over the years brought them together for a number of successful in-person networking events. Business Blitz, the 60-minute speed-networking event, and Member Meet & Greets were regular occurrences prepandemic, and helped facilitate connection and collaboration. Since Covid-19, those events have been put on hold, but Vee and her team have pivoted to virtual panel talks to help inspire others. “It is useless to wait for things to go back to normal. You have to move fast and adapt quickly,” she says.

Last year, the entrepreneur rebranded the company as Women of Hong Kong (WOHK) and hired chief operating officer Jessie Drew Hawkins to usher in the new era. An official website followed, which spotlights achievements by women in the community and acts as a directory for female-led businesses, ranging from arts and crafts to food and beverage to manufacturing and fitness. “If the women need to market their business but don’t have an audience, they can use our website,” Vee says.

Most recently, the team launched the WOHK Academy, an educational subscription platform where members can access podcasts, videos and reading materials by experts in various fields. The library of information is aimed at equipping women with the tools necessary to excel in both their personal and professional lives, with topics including financial management, self-improvement and how to deal with being an introverted entrepreneur.

With 3,500 active members, and 300 SMEs registered as premium members, Vee is just getting started. “We want to take this to Singapore, India, Australia and the UK,” she says. “We want women worldwide to benefit from what the Women of Hong Kong have, which is a supportive community within reach.”

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