What is success if it is not shared with others?
As a sports fanatic, houseplant enthusiast and advocate for female empowerment and growth, Olivia Ho has been on a mission to create change through what she loves. Noticing the barriers that existed for young females in sports, an activity which she thinks is imperative for developing confidence early on in children and teens, Olivia has set out to create new opportunities for Toronto’s female youth through community led initiatives and programs.
We caught up with Olivia to discuss her work as a Sports Program Lead at MLSE Launchpad and to look back at a very successful first year running The Give and Grow, a women-led initiative building a community for women in Toronto. As someone with an inside lens into both big and small corporations working to make a change, Olivia is full of knowledge and advice that can help everyone work together to empower the next generation of leaders. Read our conversation with Olivia below and then head over to The Give and Grow’s instagram page to check out what they have coming up to celebrate the one year anniversary.
Hey Olivia! For those who may not be familiar, tell us a bit about yourself and The Give and Grow.
Hey guys! My name is Olivia Ho. I’m a cardiac sonographer at St. Mike’s Hospital in Toronto and a Sports Program Lead at MLSE Launchpad, leading sports programs for young women in the city. During last summer in the pandemic, with buzz starting around houseplants and as a way to stay creative, I started making basketball planters and it got the attention of some people on my socials. I started to think about how I could use the planters to bring together more people in the community and continue to empower young girls and that’s how The Give and Grow started.
The Give and Grow, a pun on the basketball term “give and go”, is a women-led initiative centred around growth. We run workshops, many of which through Launchpad, to help young girls gain confidence and give them the tools they need to achieve their goals. A portion of all planters sold goes toward youth programming in Toronto and we’re working on expanding our programming and workshops to other cities in Canada and internationally.
Through your work at MLSE and with The Give and Grow, you’re doing a ton of amazing work to create new opportunities for youth in the city. Why is this cause one that is so important to you?
Growing up in a Filipino and Vietnamese household, basketball culture was huge for me and in my community. I always played in leagues but noticed early on that you’re always a bit of an outlier if you are a girl who is good at sports. I watched a lot of my female peers grow up without sports and it was hard to see the divide between how boys and girls were raised with sports. I also noticed all of the financial barriers that existed and wanted to create opportunities for as many people as I could through sport.
This is really interesting and you’re definitely right in the observations you’ve made about youth upbringing with sports. How has Launchpad helped you achieve these goals?
MLSE is great because they can help make amazing connections to enhance the programming run for the youth. Although they’re a big company, they really do care about helping smaller and less-privileged communities. In addition to the sports programming, they also run food programs and job training through Launchpad. All programming is free and we have an amazing team of staff that are representative of the groups of kids. We do this to help create a connection between everyone and so that the youth can see themselves in their leaders.
You’ve said that The Give and Grow was never about basketball planters but they’ve clearly been a great outlet to bring women together and empower the next generation of leaders. Why do you think this has caught on as such a successful part of The Give and Grow experience?
I’ve seen a few people do them before I did, including one of my friends who helped me learn to do them and it was very fun. House plants have become so popular and I think making the planters is a great activity to bring the community together. They also fit into the brand well under the idea of growth.
Besides the workshops, what can people do to get involved in a cause they feel passionately about?
Really immerse yourself in the space that you care about. Find people doing work for the cause and interact with them. Follow them on instagram, go to their events, send them a message etc. Reach out to people a ton and ask questions. Just go for it and don’t be afraid of rejection. You will start to connect with people with a shared vision, like I have, and that will be the building blocks for your involvement in change.
Taking that leap isn’t always so easy. What are some ways you’d advise someone to help them get out of their comfort zone?
Sometimes all you need is a prompt to understand how you are feeling. A big part of our workshops consist of activities to help people get out of their comfort zone. We have booklets with prompts to help get people talking and thinking about what is important to them, what their goals are, stories from their past, etc. These activities help show people that we’re not all so different from one another.
You’ve partnered with some amazing people and organizations to help run workshops and create opportunities for women. What are some tips you’d give to anyone looking to find the right partners?
Most importantly, make sure you truly understand who you are and what you want. Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve and that will help you evaluate new partnerships. Secondly, do your research on others to make sure that their brand and mission aligns with yours.
Don’t let money or following size be the main factor in your decisions. If they are, it will be difficult to make decisions that fit with your goals. Also, don’t forget to do spot checks every now and then to ensure you’re still on track to achieve what you set out to achieve.
That’s great advice. Is there a person or company that you would really love to partner with?
I think the WNBA would be an amazing fit. I was lucky enough to work with the Toronto Raptors but doing something with females in basketball would be such a perfect partnership.
That would be amazing! Who are 5 women or female led groups doing amazing work that people should know about?
Dez and Steen from Patchwork Collective (@patchwork.collective). They were the first community partners that The Give and Grow worked with. They’re all about self discovery and creating a community for women.
Emily Gilpin is a good friend and indigenous journalist out in British Columbia. She is the Managing Editor at Indiginews (@indiginews) and has done a great job documenting and raising awareness around everything that’s been happening with indigenous communities lately.
Gaby Estrada is a coworker at Launchpad and the founder of Girls and Women in Motion (@gwinmotion), a program in Scarborough that focuses on engaging women and girls in physical activity.
Kim & Shanelle, founder of The Villij (@thevillig). They run a fantastic online wellness platform that offers accessible workouts for women.
Meghan Young is the founder of The Sad Collective (@thesadcollective), a community platform that offers workshops for youth and women and promotes mental health and wellness.
We’ll definitely need to look into these! Lastly, if you could ask one thing to those who are reading this, what would it be?
“Lift as you climb.”
It’s important to remember that as you grow and become more successful, you need to continue to lift up others around you. The more we work together, the more successful we all will be and the higher we can climb.
Check out Olivia and The Give and Grow and keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more.