China's Children International | Creating a Global Network
The other day I had the pleasure of chatting with Charlotte Cotter, one of the founders of an inspiring organization, China’s Children International. Nominated by one of their members, CCI’s mission is to empower Chinese adoptees from all over the world. An adoptee herself, at age 5, Charlotte moved to Newton, MA. She grew up with other adoptive families and children and partook in different activities through a network called Families with Children from China. As she grew older, she felt she was outgrowing these activities.
In the 90’s, China opened up to early adoption, and because of the one-child policy simultaneously in effect and societal pressures to have a boy, a lot of healthy baby girls were given up. In the US alone, there are over 80,000 Chinese adoptees and more than 120,000 across the globe. Tackling a real phenomenon, Charlotte and co-founder Laney Allison have created a global network of Chinese adoptees with over 3000 members. They hope to empower Chinese adoptees from all over the world, by creating an inclusive and supportive community to share this common beginning.
At 17, what did you imagine or envision CCI to be?
We didn’t have a full picture of what it would look like, in the beginning. We just had a vision of connecting Chinese adoptees from all over the world and creating a platform where we could share stories. It just happened to be that the most accessible platform was online.
What was your first step in 2011?
The first thing we did was we made a website and an email. We weren’t sure where it would lead, but we thought a first step was better than no step. We emailed around the Families With Children from China, and we quickly got an email list going.
What were you emailing out in the early days?
In the early days, we tried to get enthusiasm for our new programs, getting members to join our facebook group, our e-magazine, and eventually, we got very lucky and partnered with an organization called OneSky.
They are an international NGO that is working with social welfare institutes in Asia to train nanny’s and improve their services. We began offering an international, Chinese adoptee volunteer trip to a medical care home, a pre and post operational care home in Bejing. That’s still running, we have two trips per year.
Every step led to the next, and Charlotte and co-founder Laney didn’t stop. They continued to connect with Chinese adoptees on a personal level, engage in their Facebook group and introduce more programs, all while staying true to their vision and motto - “Same beginnings, different paths.”
Do you see connections and engagement within your FB groups?
Yes. It’s also really cool to see the diversity within our community. We all share common beginnings, but it’s the different paths that have been shown. There are so many different opinions and a range of questions that people have. There is no one such thing as the “Chinese Adoptee experience” which is cool. The other thing is people come into CCI at different places in their journey. Adoption isn’t a one-time event but rather a life-long process of understanding where you are.
Aware of how private and personal adoption can be, Charlotte and Laney have thoughtfully opened the conversation. Starting with small, 1-on-1 connections and growing virtually, they now have 3000 members around the world. They have introduced several “programs” for Chinese adoptees - different avenues where Chinese adoptees can connect. Apart from their Facebook group and their volunteer trips, and an e-magazine, they also have a speaker series.
With members around the world, how do you host speaker series?
We’ve been doing them through Hangouts on Air, and we stream them over YouTube. We reached out to some influential figures in the adoption community and offered a select number of seats to our community to sit in and listen. We got Jenna Ushkowitz, from Glee, and she’s a Korean adoptee. Because of her connection with the adoptee community, she was really willing to come online and chat for an hour.
Tell me about a challenge you overcame over the years.
We're a volunteer organization, so until recently, everyone had been doing CCI as a side project. That meant that for our board members often the demands of school and work and life cut into time to dedicate to CCI. We figured out that it was best to front-load the work during off-times, such as Summer or Winter vacation, and try to get as much done during these times so that when we were busier in the Fall and Spring, we would already have new content to release that had been prepared previously.
What was your motivation along the way to keep going?
I think we all have very personal reasons. For me, it’s being able to help Chinese adoptees find their strengths, being able to support them, foster them in leadership positions and help them realize they are more capable than they think. It’s been gratifying to mentor many people who have now surpassed me, which I’m glad about. They look at CCI as a place for them to gain self-confidence and leadership skills that they can apply to the field they're interested in going into.
If you had to give one piece of advice to another woman, what would it be?
It's okay to feel like you don't have every single detail worked out before you take steps to move forward. I'm not saying that preparation isn't important; it is. However, in innovative spaces, you cannot possibly foresee and take measures to prevent every single specific difficulty that you might face. Innovating by nature requires being comfortable with a certain amount of messiness and adjusting to a steep learning curve. You're never going to feel completely "ready," so it helps to put aside the idea that you need to feel like you have it all figured out from the start. For instance, we're expanding into Local Chapters, which brings a whole host of other safety concerns. We're positively thinking about and working on solutions for these potential problems, but that doesn't mean we also can't take some preliminary steps to see whether the program will have a following. We're going to have to accept that we'll make some mistakes; that's how we can improve. So you're never going to know what is going to work or not work unless you take steps to do it.