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ALUMNI STORIES2020sPaving the Way for WomenAlexandra (Ali) Debow ’20 and Weilyn Chong ’20 met in Middle School at HKIS but it wasn’t until their senior year of High School when remote learning disrupted their usual routines that they discovered their shared passion for entrepreneurship. This interest would keep them connected after graduating from HKIS.While in Middle School, Weilyn recalled wanting to shave her head in support of St. Baldrick’s Foundation but was met by a “no” from her mom. Her 6th grade teacher Mr. Edwards encouraged her to support the cause in a different way. He helped her set up an online shop to sell her handmade crocheted coasters instead to raise money and awareness to battle childhood cancer. This was the kickstart of her entrepreneurial journey. And when she began to understand the power of practicing gratitude, she created “Thankful Thursdays” in Middle School and stood before the entire school to express the importance of showing gratitude and kindness to others within the community. She expanded on this idea in High School and was a student founder of the Middle School and High School Wellbeing Board, whose mission is to foster wellbeing among students.
For Ali, a clear gap presented itself to her during her senior year. The 2019-20 school year was not your average school year, with interruptions in learning due to the months-long protests in 2019 and then the pandemic in 2020. Much of the Class of 2020’s final year was spent remotely. She saw a deep need within her classmates to overcome these challenges, connect with each other, and to find the positive in the situation. Her solution was to create an interactive virtual events platform called “Alive Vibe” connecting 30,000+ Gen Zs globally.
Above Alexandra (Ali) Debow '20 and Weilyn Chong '20 pictured in Tai Tam Country Park.When the girls arrived at their respective universities in the fall of 2020, Weilyn at Princeton University and Ali at New York University in Shanghai, they both felt there was a lack of female entrepreneurs on their college campuses. They both studied Economics and were frustrated to learn that only 2.3% of venture capital funding goes to female founders. Having been part of so many meaningful initiatives throughout their time at HKIS and feeling supported and championed by so many teachers, they reconnected over their frustration and founded The Entrepre女ers Network, a network for and by female entrepreneurs. The name incorporates the Chinese word for women “女” (nǔ ) and a nod to growing up in Hong Kong. Their goal is to share conversations to create an inclusive and empowered community of curious female college entrepreneurs built on the foundation of gratitude and education. “And when she began to understand the power of practicing gratitude, she ... stood before the entire school to express the importance of showing gratitude and kindness to others within the community.Life has not slowed down for the two in the six months since the founding of The Entrepre女ers Network, which now includes a team of over 20 project leaders around the world, including HKIS alumni. Ali and Weilyn are juggling not only their demanding studies: Weilyn is a member of the Princeton crew team, and Ali a member of the NYU Shanghai Women’s soccer team and the Founder of Entrepreneurs in Action, a global community of entrepreneurial spirits. And as if they aren’t busy enough, they are the co-hosts of three podcasts, The Entrepre女ers Podcast, a podcast for and by female entrepreneurs, Count Her In, a podcast for Gen Z entrepreneurs, and Kinda All Good, where the two of them talk freely about managing school, friendships, mental health and so much more. Also under The Entrepre女ers Network is a new podcast hosted by Ali’s younger sister, Nicole Debow (HKIS ’23) featuring female entrepreneurs in the world of design called The Design Find. Despite having so much on their plates, Ali and Weilyn wouldn’t have it any other way. They hope their efforts will pave the way for other young, female entrepreneurs everywhere to feel empowered, heard and the opportunity to succeed. To help empower female entrepreneurs contact Ali Debowand Weilyn Chong.HKIS Today+
Wellbeing and Leadership Creating a Place Where Students Want to LeadWhat do wellbeing and leadership have in common? At Hong Kong International School, we can’t have one without the other.At HKIS’s High School, student choice and voice are central to student life. This means that both inside and out of the classroom, students have agency over how they learn, what activities they want to participate in, and how to shape those activities. The objective is to give students the chance to do what they love, while challenging them to grow and developing their own high school experience.
For years, HKIS has done this. One way High School students have been able to propose and start student clubs is through a club incubation program, where students propose a club, run activities, and see if other students want to help keep it going through the years. This has led to a clubs program with over 120 clubs!
This had a knock-on effect: With more opportunities for leadership available for students, the High School principals began a leadership training program so students could learn to be better leaders, and with more students being better leaders, the strength of the overall programs improved, and led to a richer student experience. This impacted leaders across sports, service programs, academic clubs, performing arts, and student government — different types of students were able to become effective leaders. When students saw that there were different ways of being a leader in the High School, they began to say, “I can be a leader, too.”
It was in this context that Associate Principal for Student Life, Lauren Fine, began to notice that there was still something missing: Students needed to look outward, rather than inward. “It was one thing if a club was bringing students together, but how could we educators encourage the students to look at the different roles of a club and also look beyond just their club and interests, to the HKIS community and wider community as a whole?” asked Ms. Fine. Top Lauren meeting with student club leaders. Left Associate Principal Lauren Fine, who oversees Student Life in the High School. Right A lit up bulletin board displaying messages that students have written to one another. Ms. Fine pulled together a team of students to examine what a caring community should look like at HKIS. Through this process, students began to understand what the ideal school environment was for them: A place where students could feel safe, challenged, and cared for by their fellow students as well as the educators around them.
When Covid-19 shut down campuses, these programs moved to social media, where students could still take part in daily activities and stay connected to the community. And it was during the Covid closures that students realized the strength in collaboration and the different ways they could be part of a club: They challenged and lifted each other up during one of the most challenging times of their lives.
Ms. Fine reflects that the sort of environment that allows for innovation among students which impacts culture doesn’t happen overnight. “We wanted to create a culture where it is safe to try things out and fail. If you don’t model that, it’s harder for the students to know that it’s ok for an initiative not to work out. That’s where students learn the best, and learn resilience: When things don’t work out and they have to problem-solve and reflect on the experience.” “When students saw that there were different ways of being a leader in the High School, they began to say, “I can be a leader, too”.Above The "Sincerely, HKIS" bulletin board displayed in the middle of the High School campus for students to leave encouraging messages to each other. The combination of the right students taking on appropriate responsibilities, with coaching from educators built the strength of the community. One group of students wanted to make this visible, and so created the “Sincerely, HKIS” bulletin board, where they could leave kind and encouraging messages to students, to let them know that they were part of the community and appreciated.
Ms. Fine is still seeing the impact of the strengthening student culture in unexpected ways. She is inviting students from different types of student groups, not only student government, to discuss school issues. With these diverse perspectives in the room, a more collaborative and accepting school culture began to emerge — not just for those students who won a student election, but others whose strengths lay in different areas. “These students all come to this gathering, this team, all with the same lens of wanting to build a strong, positive, collaborative, safe, inclusive environment for kids. It’s like magic, all of a sudden.”