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Charlene Wang: Asia’s social changemakers


Photo: FYSE

After working for the US foreign service for 6 years Charlene Wang founded Tranquil Tuesdays, a Beijing based social firm selling tea and artisan teaware.  Founded on her passion for tea and her commitment for women empowerment she has build the venture to train and hire Chinese women who are having difficulty finding a job that recognizes their full potential.

Andrea Lane (L): How do you make a positive impact?
Charlene Wang (W): We’re investing and challenging Chinese women to honor and live out their full-potential.  We hire disadvantaged women and women who need a little bit more attention and patience to flourish to work in our company fulfilling the highest positions needed.  Tranquil Tuesdays, believes that just as the flavors and aromas of tea slowly develop and reveal their inherent qualities as you let it steep, with the proper training, support, and encouragement any woman can live up to her full potential and work in a job that showcases her innate talents.  Tranquil Tuesdays, was founded to support women’s empowerment and exists to train and hire Chinese women who are having difficulty finding a job that recognizes their full potential.
Also we’re helping the world drink better tea by finding, sourcing, and showcasing China’s greatest unscented and unblended teas for an international audience as well as creating beautiful handcrafted teaware based on traditional designs to help brew tea in the most authentic and ideal way.

L: You came from working in the US Government to starting your own social enterprise. What has been the biggest learning/ mindset shift you had to undertake?
W: When you’re a USG bureaucrat you have a very defined position in a large organization–very focused and specialized with lots of resources at your disposal to support you carrying out your specified duties.  And when you’re living in China as a diplomat you have a very privileged life.  Starting your own social enterprise is almost the complete opposite setting: you need to do everything on your own with a lot less resources and from no position of privilege.  Fortunately the Beijing social entrepreneurship and general entrepreneur community is really supportive, friendly, and open so in fact there are a lot of resources out there, but it is a bit different than simply calling up the IT department to fix your computer or going to the supply closet to refill your office supplies.
Also you need to spend more energy proving yourself to get people to listen to you.  I remember I went to a meeting of an international multilateral organization supporting women, who if I met them from the US Embassy they would roll out the red carpet and treat me with lots of respect.  When I went representing Tranquil Tuesdays, they treated me like I was some street cat who wandered into the wrong room and couldn’t be bothered to give me the time of day.

L: You manage all the parts of the social enterprise, from hitting the road to source the tea to selling your tea. What is a unique advice you could give to someone who is about to start a social enterprise alone like you?
W: There are good days and bad days (just like everything else) but I think when you’re starting your own thing, the hard days feel a bit harder and the consequences feel more mortifying.  I once read a quote “in a start-up if you don’t do anything, exactly nothing will happen”  it is a hard and scary truth but when you are feeling super discouraged it is easy to slink into “do nothing mode.”
In those cases having a network of supporters is really key but the most important thing is just to keep on pushing through the hard days and believing in your vision . I mean I guess this is basic life advice applicable to anyone, but honestly this super basic advice was really important to me. I’m really fortunate to have the worlds most supportive husband who would believe in what Tranquil Tuesdays, could be and really encourage me when I wanted to give up.  So maybe the advice is find someone like Tony Chen before you go through the crazy process of starting your own social enterprise.

L: What was your hardest lesson learned?
W: How to hustle! And by hustle I mean always being ready to make your pitch, present what Tranquil Tuesdays, has to offer, constantly prepared not to miss an opportunity as well as that fine balance of following-up and persistence to close a deal without crossing over to someone’s bad side due to annoyance.  For some people it comes naturally, but hustling does not come naturally to me and until we have the resources to hire or find a full-time sales person, I’m the main Tranquil Tuesdays, hustler and I’m still learning it.  Honestly now when I go to Silk Street or Yashow I have so much respect and admiration for all the women at the stalls because they’re great hustlers–I even approached one women there to see if she wanted to work for us!
One of the hardest lessons I’m currently learning is the code of buyers (the gatekeepers for people selling wholesale to retailers).

L: Where do you see Tranquil Tuesday in 5 years? What is your future plan?
W: In five years we hope to have hired and invested in a lot more women and have more comprehensive support services available (the model I really aspire towards is what Homeboy Industries offers the men and women who they target) and be synonymous with premium Chinese teas (like when someone thinks quality high-end Chinese tea they will automatically think Tranquil Tuesdays,) selling well at top gift, design, and gourmet stores in America, Europe and other world capitals.


L: What are the 3 best tools, websites, books etc that helped you start and manage your business?
W: Again I have to point to my friends (and husband) who are also entrepreneurs in Beijing–hands down the number one most valuable resource way more than any website or book for advice, pointers, and insight.  Google apps (which are free!) have been a lifesaver in terms of email and calendar management and we found InFlow this great free inventory management program that also has a free Chinese version (can you believe?) that might be the most crucial software resource for us .  Maarit Pokkinen, who volunteered to offer some pro bono coaching has also been beyond helpful in helping us bring Tranquil Tuesdays, to the next level.

("Written by Andrea Lane as part of the Women in Social Enterprise Conference Series Coverage")

The Women in Social Enterprise Conference hosted in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu in autumn 2013 aims inspire more women to pursue their passion, think big and come together to address societal challenges in the 21st century. Women had the opportunity to network with local and national entrepreneurial role models discussing their ideas, failures, successes and lessons learned.
More info at http://wiseconference.weebly.com/

 


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