“It’s a charity group.” “It’s inspired by art.” “They hold events at bars…” We'd heard a lot about Global Friendship before conducting this interview, but we never realized just how much the group does for our Guangzhou community until we spoke with its founders.
First inspired in 2014 by the TED talk ‘Can Art Change the World?’, Global Friendship has, in the last year, transitioned from being a part-time portrait and charity project to a full-time, comprehensive business, providing support for expats in areas like housing, jobs, legal consulting, medical expertise and more.
To learn just what the GF community – which has recently grown to include more than 2,000 followers on WeChat – is about, we caught up with cofounder Fabiola Benitez and co-manager Patrick Feng.
Global Friendship was first inspired by the idea ‘can art change the world?’, but it seems GF does more diverse activities now. Can you talk about the transition?
FB: During the first two years of Global Friendship, Rochelle and I – who share backgrounds in social work – were mainly working part-time taking black-and-white portraits of our diverse community, inspired by the TED talk we saw.
We also launched the T-shirt project, the proceeds of which went to our charity ‘Educate a Child’ founded in 2015 to help students in Guizhou. But once we finally held an exhibition last November at Party Pier, it felt kind of like an end of GF – and we were almost ready to move on. I was even thinking of leaving China.
So what happened?
FB: Patrick spoke to us and said, "You’ve created something great that can be continued"… and we were like, "Really?! How? We’re broke and we have no energy!" (laughs). But with his support, we’ve been able to step it up and establish a more sustainable platform. The membership started in February 2017, and since then, we can definitely see a future with this.
What other activities or services do you offer since launching the membership program?
FB: With membership, we want people to actually feel support here, for housing, jobs, medical, legal, etc. So, the idea is people come to GF like "I need help" and we connect them with those who can help. We meet with the third parties to be sure they are people who share our values, and who we can confidently recommend.
PF: Our service account is like ‘GF 911.' As a member, you can message our WeChat with your request and we have tailor-made services to help foreign members – like providing a shifu to come fix your cracked phone screen or doctors who can recommend medicine in Chinese for you to buy. Visa help, medical advice, legal consulting – basic questions in areas like these are free.
Watch a video of all the services Global Friendship offers below (VPN off):
"We believe that when people are happy doing what they’re doing, they become better people"
Can you talk about the meet-and-greet events you hold?
FB: Yeah, so for example, we also have passion workshops once a month where members can host an event and share their skills or passion. We see many people are here ESL teaching or doing business because those are the options. But we have so much more to us – the lives we led back home – so we want to offer a platform for people to pursue their real interests.
We believe that when people are happy doing what they’re doing, they become better people, and that affects those around them and the whole community.
PF: We hope to hold one workshop every night. Who knows who will walk into a bar when someone is presenting – maybe on photography, for example – and offer them a job on the spot? Or at least a part-time gig. We want to give foreigners an opportunity to settle down in China with their passions – not just earning some money, but doing what they love.
What is your vision for the future?
PF: We want to expand to cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu, to build a service platform for foreigners and establish an international community.
FB: We also want people to take advantage of being part of Global Friendship to further themselves and grow within our community. That’s our aim, and we will keep working towards that and planning events that allow our platform to flourish.
Want to get involved? Contact Fabiola on WeChat (Fabi_Fabs) or follow the official Global Friendship WeChat account (GlobalFriendship).
[Photos courtesy of Fabiola]