Five Soho House creators who are quietly giving back
We meet a handful of global members whose support in their communities serves as inspiration to us all
Sunday 9 October 2022 By Catherine Jarvie
When times are tough, it’s all too easy to think that individuals close ranks when the opposite is often true. As the surge in volunteering during the pandemic revealed, there is a silent army of individuals who are quietly committed to paying it forward whenever and however they can.
At Soho House, we’re aware of the privileged position we hold, both in our communities and the wider world. We’re also keenly aware of how that position can be used for good and are always delighted to hear of (and share) the many ways in which our members do that within their own communities every day.
The following stories reveal the scope and invention of five of those. If they in turn inspire you, we’re currently inviting members to sign up for our next creative mentoring programme, starting at Soho Farmhouse in the UK next month (details below).
But first, let’s hear how others are doing it.
John Boddie, cofounder of ChiGivesBack
‘ChiGivesBack by paying it forward.’ So reads the mission statement for the non-profit that John Boddie cofounded with two fellow Chicagoans. And it does – through a host of initiatives and charitable experiences. These include everything from providing meals and warm clothing to low-income families and the homeless, to its annual Chicagoland Toy Drive, which delivers gifts to children who might otherwise not receive one during the holidays.
‘Working in sports the last nine years has been incredibly exciting and it’s allowed me to focus on a true passion of mine, and that’s giving back,’ says Boddie, of his day job working with the Chicago Bulls. ‘We are in year five of ChiGivesBack and I couldn’t be more proud of our impact and footprint in and around the city of Chicago.’
Kingsley Wong, founder of A Freaking Dumpling
When is a dumpling not a dumpling? When it’s A Freaking Dumpling. For Kingsley Wong (day job: hospitality marketing consultant), the universal appeal of those little parcels of joy made it the obvious symbol for his charitable initiative. It sells handmade dumpling-shaped chopstick stands crafted by the potters whose work creating ceramics for Wong’s fine-dining restaurant clients was decimated during the pandemic in Melbourne.
Despite its success, when Wong moved back to Hong Kong he was, he says, ‘in no rush’ to start it there. ‘But then I saw the poverty gap in this beautiful city.’ So far, more than 22,300 actual dumplings have been donated through Feeding Hong Kong, the charity organisation Wong works with. ‘One chopstick holder equals six dumplings,’ he says. ‘That’s about 2,200 meals provided to the vulnerable ones.’ And counting.
Lizzie Pickering, author of When Grief Equals Love
‘I had a choice,’ Lizzie Pickering says of the period after her son Harry died in 2000. ‘To sink without a trace, or learn to make the most of every second.’ Not only did Pickering do the latter, but she also did it the best way she could – by training as a grief counsellor to help others deal with loss. ‘I think paying it forward is a healthy way of living with grief,’ she says. ‘I needed to look outside of myself and find the good in people and life.’
Today, alongside her work as a well-regarded film and podcast producer, Pickering volunteers for The Good Grief Project, mentors young people and helps out with other initiatives wherever she can, which currently includes hosting two Ukrainian musicians who fled the war. ‘Community is what helped me,’ she says of why she never hesitates to get involved. ‘Any time I can extend that to others I will.’
Maria McDowell, founder of Lollipop Mentoring
‘As a woman, you’re constantly thinking about how you’re perceived, especially in a leadership role,’ says Maria McDowell, founder of Lollipop Mentoring. ‘As a Black woman, this is magnified.’ Over the course of a 20-year career she has, she says, ‘had some great highs but also many lows – in the past I’ve been blackballed, bullied and suffered with anxiety.’
What ‘changed everything’ was mentoring. ‘Mid-way through my career, a senior white male colleague started inviting me to meetings. He made it clear, without obligating me, that he was advocating behind closed doors on my behalf.’ That experience – ‘and the many amazing mentors that followed’ – inspired McDowell to do the same. ‘We are all here to give back to others,’ she says. ‘I know this because when you altruistically help others, something just aligns and feels right.’
Bejay Mulenga, social entrepreneur
Self-confessed ‘serial entrepreneur’ Bejay Mulenga has built his career on empowering young people. His business, Supa Network, offers alternative education in business and entrepreneurship. He is also the executive director of the charity The Student View, which is dedicated to improving media literacy (scary fact: only 2% of young people in the UK can spot misinformation).
More recently, however, Mulenga has been focused on an issue even closer to his heart. ‘My cousin committed suicide just under five years ago and I wanted to find a way to commemorate him,’ he says. This month, he is participating in a London to Brighton charity cycle (funds raised go to suicide-prevention charity, Papyrus) and hosting a live music night in London dedicated to his cousin to do just that. See you there.
Our next mentoring programme, in partnership with Creative Mentoring Network, takes place at Soho Farmhouse in the UK, starting next month. If you’d like to pay it forward and share your skills, click here.