Kaitlyn Tu was the only person left in her apartment in Los Angeles after her six housemates returned home, as the pandemic worsened toward the end of 2020. Due to travel restrictions and flight cancellations, Tu had been away from home for over a year. Feeling lonely and homesick, Tu spent days reading news updates from her hometown, Nanjing, China. While the town had dealt with COVID-19 head-on, the pandemic left a trail of social issues in its wake.
Tu is a senior at USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, majoring in economics and is planning to work in investment banking after graduation.
She was concerned by news reports coming out of China about how women had been disproportionately affected by the impact of the pandemic, and she wanted to help. According to an op-ed from Southern Metropolis Daily, because of financial troubles brought about by the pandemic, there was an insufficient supply of sanitary products for female healthcare workers on the frontline and high schools saw a higher-than-ever dropout rate among girls in rural areas.
In January 2021, Tu partnered with four USC students to start a nonprofit called HelpSquared. The primary aim of the group is to raise funds for the empowerment of underserved female pockets in China.
“The way that HelpSquared works is that we fundraise by providing recruiting mentorship to college students in the U.S. through open panels and one-on-one sessions,” Tu said. “We don’t charge anything, but we do encourage them to pay as they will.”
HelpSquared also holds sharing sessions about finding employment of mentors, most of whom are also students who went through a similar experience. At the end of each project, the organization donates the proceeds to partnering charity organizations in China. The partner charity organizations, like China Children and Teenagers’ Fund, provide funds for high school education for girls in rural areas.
Tu and her team hope to bridge the gender gap by providing funds to as many girls as possible to complete their high school education.
HelpSquared has grown tremendously since its founding.
“We have mentored over 500 students in total. For each open panel we had around 100 students joining us on Zoom,” Tu said. “Besides that, we also have a lot of people scheduling one-on-one sessions with us.”
In addition to the growth in participation, they were also able to attract more students to join them as mentors. Starting with a team of five USC students, HelpSquared has now grown to 40 mentors from all over the world, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, UK and the U.S.
“We [have] also diversified the career track we offered,” Tu said, “In addition to investment banking, which is where HelpSquared started, we now also offer recruiting mentorship in consulting, trading, and product management.”
Quincy Ma, a senior in the world bachelor in business program at USC, is a member at HelpSqaured who helps organize the online events. He recounted many participants who reached out to the assistant account on WeChat commenting on how much they have learned from the sessions.
“Sometimes, when certain participants had achieved their short-term career goals last year, they would be willing to come back and contribute to the organization again,” Ma said.
Natalie Yan is one of the students who came back to HelpSquared. A senior majoring in statistics at the University of Michigan, Yan used to be a mentee who joined several sharing sessions held by HelpSquared in January 2021. After finding the career guidance helpful, she also joined the team and became a mentor who shares insights on recruitment in investment banking.
Transforming from a mentee to a mentor required Yan to start thorough reflection on her path of finding employment in order to give tips to others. She said she had to reflect on the difficulties she met at that time, how she got through them and what suggestions she could give to other students who may be in similar situations.
She also emphasized on the interactiveness of their sharing sessions. She said before each sharing session, HelpSquared always gathers questions from mentees and prepares structural answers in their slides. They also hold Q&A sessions to answer individual questions.
Yan mentioned that organizing more sessions has helped the group receive more donations. With those donations, in less than a year, HelpSquared has been able to fund over 20 girls in China with their high school education.
“It’s definitely very rewarding to be able to help my fellow international students while making an impact on the greater community,” Tu said. “A lot of people reached out to us and appreciate the HelpSquared operating model, our mission, and the platform we provide for everyone to make a social impact.”