Experience through Development, Entrepreneurship, and Advocacy: Christina Wong, Employ to Empower

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How and when did you start this business? Would you please share your growth story?

It started from a place of curiosity – growing up, I’ve always been curious as to why people live in the streets. And since I didn’t get answers from school or my family, I thought I would get answers myself at age 14 and volunteer in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighborhood of Vancouver, known as one of the poorest postal codes in Canada.

Today, I learned two key lessons that shaped Employ to Empower (ETE). The first lesson was to listen to what people need rather than assume. This lesson was learned through a conversation with a DTES resident when I gave him a free care package. He politely declined and said he needed a haircut for his job interview tomorrow, not the care package.

This inspired me to bring the street store to Vancouver, a free, dignified shopping experience for people facing homelessness to choose what they want and need for Christmas. By the 5th Street Store, I learned that people need ongoing support, not just a one-time donation. That’s when I quit my corporate job and started ETE, a registered charity supporting people with barriers through entrepreneurship opportunities.

Christina Wong, ED, Employ to Empower

Tell us the products and services you offer.

We offer an experience through our program pillars: Development, Entrepreneurship, and Advocacy. These three pillars are interconnected with one another. Anyone interested in entrepreneurship, has a business idea, or has a business they wish to grow can take our 10-week Development course, where people will build their self-confidence and learn key basic business fundamentals like market research, digital marketing, and creating financial models and elevator pitching.

Upon completing the 10-week course, entrepreneurs can apply for the Entrepreneurship program, where they get a 1:1 mentor to support them in achieving their business and personal goals holistically. After a couple of months of mentorship, entrepreneurs will access marketing platforms like podcasts and exhibitions to help them gain business visibility and sales.

Street Store(Picture Courtesy: Instagram)

What were the initial difficulties you faced?

Burnout and delegation. When you start something new, all you want to do is protect your concept and make sure it’s perfect. I’ve worked very hard to unlearn some of these concepts about traditional leadership. True leadership isn’t about doing it all on your own – it’s about sharing your vision with your team to make it even stronger. I’ve learned to let go of the attachment to perfectionism and allowed myself to be more human in this entrepreneurship journey.

Street Store(Picture Courtesy: Instagram)

How did you maneuver your business during 2020-2021? Kindly list a few learnings.

To this date, we’re still pivoting. At the start of COVID, I’m sure you can relate that many of us were affected by mental health challenges, especially the DTES. 

So, we created a COVID-19 program called #CalltoEmpower, where we hired program entrepreneurs to make phone calls to isolated DTES residents. The best part about it was that it was run by people with lived experiences like homelessness, substance use, etc. This also allows them to have higher relational empathy for the neighborhood.

Learning that digital marketing is a profound challenge for our entrepreneurs, we have been facilitating digital marketing modules in our business development course as a part of our programming to help folks learn how to sell their products online.

And today – we are excited to share that we are in the early stages of creating OUR e-commerce platform where folks can apply what they’ve learned from our course and put their product on our online platform to help them sell their product and reach a broader audience.

Street Store(Picture Courtesy: Instagram)

How did you hear about Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant Program?

I found out about Visa Canada’s She’s Next Grant Program on Linkedin – at the time, we only had three months of funding left, so seeing this opportunity was a big deal for us. 

Kindly tell us about your plans for 2022?

We are growing quickly and are looking to support 50 low-income entrepreneurs in the Downtown Eastside. We will support each entrepreneur to develop the skills, confidence, and experience to enhance their economic stability and contribute to their community.

Any words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs?

Everything in moderation, including moderation. Remember that having all of our buckets perfectly filled to our brim isn’t always realistic, and to have grace and compassion for ourselves. We live in a world that’s fueled by productivity, and sometimes it’s OK to take care of yourself.

For more information on Employ to Empower

Instagram: Facebook: Website


Yugbodh Singh
Yugbodh Singh

This Story is authored by Yugbodh, Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have stories to share kindly email: – info@theonside.com

SOURCEEmploy to Empower, Vancouver

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