Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter
Nicole Woolhouse is the Founder and Director of Box of Hope, an organization with the mission of providing underprivileged children in Hong Kong and Asia with educational gifts. Nicole moved to Hong Kong in 2005 with her husband and 3 children, having spent 5 years in London and before that living in Tokyo and Sydney. Before having children Nicole worked in publishing for Conde Nast in the UK and then ACP in Australia. A career in marketing gave her good grounding for starting Box of Hope with Harriet Cleverly in 2008, in just a few short years Box of Hope grew to collect over 20,000 boxes a year and be an important part of the Hong Kong philanthropic calendar.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Nicole Woolhouse: Before I was married I worked at House & Garden in London as the Interior Design Manager, and then we moved to Australia where I continued in publishing for 3 years. Followed by 3 years in Japan working as an Editor for a Translation Company, I finally returned home to London in 2001 to have three children. We then moved to Hong Kong in 2005 when my youngest was 3 months old.
Women LEAD: You are the Co-Founder of Box of Hope, an organization with the mission of providing underprivileged children in Hong Kong and Asia with educational gifts. Can you tell me more about Box of Hope and its impact?
Nicole Woolhouse: Once all my children were in school I was keen to do something, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to work full-time as I was keen to be here if my children needed me but I wanted to do something that made a difference no matter how small. Hence Box of Hope. When my son was 4 yrs old in the UK we used to make the same Shoeboxes to donate to children in Eastern Europe, I was amazed nothing similar existed here. So I approach a great friend, also looking for a project, and we decided we would launch Box of Hope. In our first year, 2008, we collected 1,200 boxes from only 6 schools and then this year we collected 21,000 boxes from over 90 schools! Our aim was to teach young children the importance of community and helping others whilst supporting and inspiring children in need in Asia. It was very important to us that the Boxes went to children in need in Hong Kong and Asia so that the children donating could understand how close to home the need was.
Women LEAD: What inspires you to further educational opportunity for underprivileged youth in Hong Kong and Asia?
Nicole Woolhouse: One of the most wonderful things about Box of Hope is seeing the pride on a child’s face when they receive their very own set of pens, knowing that when they start school they now have the equipment they need to help them succeed, it is truly magical. So many children in Asia struggle to get into the educational system due to illiterate parents, lack of funds or lack of equipment, it is an honor to be able to help in just a very tiny way and encourage these children to reach their potential.
Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Nicole Woolhouse: Girls throughout the world deserve the same opportunities and support as boys, if they learn this at a young age then they will always be empowered.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Nicole Woolhouse: When we first started Box of Hope we met with a wonderful woman called Shalini Mahtani, who at the time was the CEO of Community Business, she gave us incredible support and guidance with our plan for Box of Hope and encouraged us to just try and see what happened. I always admired her calm and optimistic approach to everything and even after suffering the terrible loss of her son, Zubin, she has gone on tirelessly working to promote inclusion and encourage social responsibility
Women LEAD: What advice do you have for prospective nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs?
Nicole Woolhouse: You can do anything if you put your mind to it. My advice would be to start small and see where it goes. If you reach out to people for help and guidance you will be amazed what comes back.
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?
Nicole Woolhouse: I really do believe that there are so many amazing women out there doing new and brave things that one just has to look at the world around you, no longer does being a woman hold you back.