Home Education African American female entrepreneur Chika Mora on her company What’s Good Beijing

African American female entrepreneur Chika Mora on her company What’s Good Beijing

by Tom Pattinson
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Chika Mora is the founder of inclusive events platform What’s Good Beijing. She has been in China for four years and knows the importance of finding a community away from home. She tells her story to Judith Mwai

I originally came to Beijing back in 2017 on a teaching fellowship through Princeton in Asia. I had been an early childhood educator for about three years at that point and felt a desire to ‘disrupt’ my life a bit. I came to China to force myself to live a different life in the hopes of discovering something new.

I accepted a position as an English lecturer at China Foreign Affairs University because it was a new challenge in my career as an educator and afforded me a schedule with substantial free time. I believed this would give me the chance I felt I needed to try and figure things out.

I spent all my free time following every interest and passion I had, and reflected, researched, and explored things I thought I wanted to do. I was searching for an activity to focus on outside of work to help me build new skills and to potentially find another career path.

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I felt like I was waiting for some sort of sign that would give me a clue into what I was really meant to do. Then the moment came. I was invited to a dinner a friend of mine was hosting for black women in Beijing and I met a young woman named Maria.  Not long after our meeting I stumbled upon the idea for an events platform and needed a place to start. I reached out to Maria on WeChat and after a few meetings, I knew she was the person I should work with to build What’s Good Beijing? From that moment on, she has been my co-founder, business partner, and best friend.

As a newcomer to Beijing, I knew going to events would be a great way for me to get to know both places and people. I would go through every source I could find for event information (WeChat groups, subscription accounts, websites, blogs, word of mouth). I quickly figured out a couple of things. One, that finding these events was a heavier lift than I expected. And two, that a lot of the events I would attend were hosted by people within the local black expat community.

My lightbulb moment was the Mainland China premiere of Black Panther in February 2018. A black woman who owned a media company hosted a premiere party for the film at a local Beijing movie theatre. Tickets sold quickly and it was a fabulous red-carpet affair. The night before the event I checked the WeChat group and saw several people begging for tickets despite the event being sold out. They’d only just found out about the event. So I asked the same event group chat if they knew of one single platform that promoted all events happening in the city, and when I realised there wasn’t one I decided to launch What’s Good Beijing? (WGB)

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Our desire was to create an inclusive events platform because of all the amazing events happening within the black community. As we began the building process, we quickly found that there was an overwhelming number of events from the wider Beijing community that also struggled with visibility. We made it our mission to effectively gather all the information we could find to better promote these events in a digestible and aesthetically pleasing way.

As we began the building process, we quickly found that there was an overwhelming number of events from the wider Beijing community that also struggled with visibility

Our first and main product became our weekly events magazine – What’s Good Beijing? – which consisted of only the images of event posters and their QR codes from WeChat. We believed images were the best way to quickly absorb information. We then categorised and curated the events for our audience which began with just one small WeChat group. By the end of year one, we had three functioning groups and to date we own and manage five groups on WeChat.

As our following grew, so did our business model. We would receive inquiries about venue suggestions, promotional strategies, even event logistics. We then decided to expand our business into providing event consultation support for individual event hosts all the way up to larger corporate entities such as hotels. With all the knowledge and experience we gained in event planning it seemed natural to start hosting our own events. We already had a clear understanding of what existed in the city so we could easily see what was missing. We became known for our popular event series called “Trap N’ Paint” which was a night of music, paint, and creativity. Attendees would party and paint while listening to trap hip-hop music, an underrepresented genre in Beijing’s nightlife scene.

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It was a full-circle experience to bring our online followers to offline events, to connect with them and to facilitate their connections with others. Beijing is a big city and so it can take some time to adjust and find your niche. Our platform brings diverse people together because we bring diverse information together. People are able to use our magazine as a jumping-off point to find a community they can belong to. We would receive overwhelming feedback from our followers about how our platform helped them cure their boredom, connect with people, and push them out of their comfort zone. This was always our ultimate goal, which tells us that we truly are what’s good in Beijing.

I find myself especially lucky that I do not need to look much further than my family for mentors and deeply influential people. The primary person being the matriarch of my family, Ojinika Doris Ibekwe Mora. She is a proud Nigerian mother of eight children and a formidable woman with the intelligence, grace and humour to match. So much of what I am, came directly from her. She set the foundation for who I am and for what I have accomplished.

My mother showed me what a fighting spirit looks like. I watched her fight alongside my father to provide for our family as immigrants in America. I watched her fight for success in her career as a pharmacologist over several decades. I watched her fight for her integrity in the face of both gender and racial discrimination. My whole family watched as she fought for her life while battling several types of severe cancer. I was raised by the living and breathing definition of resilience. And what truly was remarkable and borderline otherworldly to me was the faith and positivity she used to light her way through any dark moment. If she could do all that well then of course I had to believe that I could do just about anything.

Humility, passion for life, unwavering faith, and a strong sense of self are just a few of the impactful qualities of my mother that I have tried to ‘copy and paste’ into my own life. In my adult life I see the real influence my mother has had on my core beliefs and principles: The first being the importance of taking pride in who you are and where you come from. I am a proud queer Nigerian American woman and have learned from my mother to bring my full self with me everywhere.

I am a proud queer Nigerian American woman and have learned from my mother to bring my full self with me everywhere.

Taking pride in who you are takes courage and bravery since you cannot always be promised a warm welcome. This is why my mother showed me how to hold on to your joy. Joy is an internal feeling that gives you the power to find positivity despite your outward circumstance. Whether things are great or terrible, a joyful person will always try and find a reason to smile. My mother taught me to be a “child of change.” This means three things: (1) always seek to be a better version of yourself (2) embrace the change that life throws at you and (3) actively bring change to any spaces that you occupy.

While I acknowledge the gross inequities that still exist for women in business, I cannot say I personally have dealt with any gender-specific challenges while in China. I am proud to say that I have had so many transformative and positive experiences throughout my entrepreneurship journey so far. During the nascent stages of WGB I was able to build meaningful and diverse partnerships with male and female entrepreneurs across different industries. I was impressed with the various support groups and networks for women in business and the spirit of collaboration in the air. I was even lucky enough to speak on a panel of other ambitious businesswomen at the US Embassy about female entrepreneurship.

I had never even experienced this many successful female entrepreneurs in one place in my life. Since WGB is a woman-owned enterprise, we consciously supported other women through event promotion, production of advertising materials (videos, photos, posters), and listening ears.

I had never even experienced this many successful female entrepreneurs in one place in my life

I also discovered a strong community of black women in business here in China. As a black woman I know we are uniquely underrepresented in this industry and believed it was important to connect with others just like me. So much so that WGB gave special focus to hosting and supporting events that honoured the contributions of black women here in Beijing. Interestingly enough, as adults, all five of my sisters including myself work in and/or own a business. This illustrates the positive impact of gender diversity in the workplace. People struggle to believe in what they cannot see.

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The diversity of our backgrounds, identities, and experiences tells a story and provides each of us with unique perspectives. Nigerian feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a 2009 TED talk warns of the dangers of a “single story.” I believe that this lack of contextual knowledge about diverse peoples makes you ill-equipped to understand, represent, and to serve them. A diverse business environment acknowledges that no one person knows or has done everything. This is the benefit that gender and overall diversity bring to business.

I received the best piece of business advice long before I thought about being an entrepreneur. When I was about 11, my brother said it was important to “fail better.” I thought he misspoke and meant to say, “feel better” so when I finally heard correctly, it made even less sense.

When things would go wrong in my business or in my life I would always get swept up in the negative emotions of failure. The anger, anxiety, fear, and insecurities would all bubble to the surface. It often would derail my progress and even trigger bouts of depression. By the time I was able to move past it, I would always regret the time wasted. As I thought about the concept of “failing better” I began to realise that failure was not just something you could experience, but a skill you could develop. In my process of getting better at failing, when things would go awry I would try to reframe and reimagine the failure to help get through it more effectively.

I believe keeping a sense of humour when problem-solving is as important as staying calm. My ten years in early childhood education taught me the power of a playful mind. I learned to never underestimate the ability of play to trick the brain into doing amazing things. When experiencing failure, using playful humour can often help keep the stakes from feeling too high, thus keeping you calm and effective.

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