After a humble beginning in 2013 that raised more than RMB 20,000, local charity event Maovember exploded in 2014 when it generated over RMB 100,000 in donations for eye health organization Orbis, with every RMB 800 raised representing cataract surgery for one recipient in rural China. As it gears up again, we spoke to Maovember co-founder and prime mover Jim Boyce about its roots and the plan for this year.
How did Maovember start?
Julian Tavalin and I were getting drunk at the Hilton wine fair two years ago. He was running Tavalin Bagels at the time and had some unsightly lip hair and we started talking about Movember, when guys grow mustaches during November to raise money for research into men’s health issues like prostrate cancer. I suggested a further word play and asked if he’d donate one "mao" — a tenth of a yuan — to charity for every bagel he sold in November. Maovember! It was also Halloween weekend and I remembered how in Canada kids dressed up and visited their neighbors to get treats as well as pennies for UNICEF. The idea of helping someone with lots of small donations sounded good.
Anyway, Tavalin agreed and some other bars, restaurants, and vendors soon signed up and we launched Maovember. We didn’t have enough time to find a reliable men’s health charity so the donation went to the Library Project. I had worked with them on Beers for Books and had faith the money would be well spent. We raised more than RMB 20,000, enough to furnish a library for a migrants’ school in Beijing.
Plus, we grew mustaches. Andrew Papas of Two Guys and a Pie had an especially dubious pie duster. He also turned out to be the ultimate salesman for our 50-kuai Maovember lapel pins — few people have the skill set to turn cynical and sloppy drunks into pin-buying softies at The Den at 3 AM. Anyway, Two Guys was kind of our unofficial headquarters and we ended the campaign on the last — and very cold — day of November by selling Vedett beer, with labels featuring pics of donors, and with a show by The Beijing Beatles, who were juiced up on CHEERS mulled wine, in its modest confines.
That was in 2013. What about 2014?If 2013 was a pencil ‘stache, 2014 was a full-fledged flavor saver with bonus sideburns. This time, there was a men’s health angle — George Smith, a part owner of The Irish Volunteer, works for Orbis and said we could fund cataract surgery for men in rural China at RMB 800 per operation. We also had a lot more events — over a dozen — and participating bars, restaurants and vendors. And it turned out many people were willing to donate RMB 800 to fund an operation. In the end, we raised over RMB 100,000, enough for more than 130 surgeries, including 60,000-plus from events, 20,000 from personal donations and 20,000 from pin sales.
How are the charities chosen?
The idea is to choose charities that show a visible result. We couldn’t find a men’s charity in time in 2013, so we teamed up with Library Project. Andrew Papas and I went to the partner school on the edge of Beijing to help put the tables, chairs, and shelves together, and stocked the shelves with books, so we saw the physical manifestation of the donations. Or maybe a more accurate way to describe it is that we figured we were going to some ribbon-cutting ceremony and ended up being given hammers and screwdrivers and set to work.
Last year, I tried to get in touch with the China branch of the Prostate Cancer Foundation several times–they didn’t respond until February! In the meantime, we connected with Orbis. George Smith provided photos and biographies for some of the guys we funded as well as the charity’s quarterly reports that list progress on the surgeries.
What are the challenges Maovember faces?
Like any project, it comes down to people. There will always have people who promise to help but don’t come through or who have hundreds of ideas but little interest in implementing them, but we’ve been lucky to team with a lot of people who want to do something good and believe in the cause.
We had great venue partners last year, particularly The Irish Volunteer, Paddy O’Shea’s and Jing-A — which also teamed up with Beijing Foodies, Home Plate and The Loca l– who raised the majority of the event money. But there were others who came out of the blue. At the risk of singling out some and being accused of ignoring others, I was surprised when Stefan Schober of Q-Mex got in touch about organizing a quiz night and even more so when it raised over RMB 3,500. Or when Teesh Law of Deli De Luxe, who I had only known a few weeks, agreed to sell hot chocolate and coffee for charity at The Turkey Bowl, an annual flag football game organized by Mash Up. One of my most vivid memories was seeing a taxi, its trunk loaded with full cups of coffee, driving at 10 km per hour around Chaoyang Park in search of a football field. That’s only a couple of examples. There are many more.
What’s planned for this year?
My suggestion is to focus on the basics, to be less concerned about beating last year’s donation total and more concerned about maintaining the spirit of the event and its focus on small businesses, transparent fundraising, and concrete results. My big worry is that as Maovember grows, so do the odds of something dodgy happening and reflecting poorly on everybody, one reason we were pretty picky about events last year. We also raise money through pin sales and it would be nice if the venues who sell them paid up front — we’re talking RMB 500 for 10 pins — as a lot of time was spent running around collecting money and unsold stock last year that would be better spent elsewhere. But mostly it’s about teamwork. I’m not even keen on doing interviews like this because there were literally hundreds of people involved last year, from bar owners to donors to — once again! — The Beijing Beatles. And why not get involved — most of us have our sight, and our health, and are lucky to be able to help.
Keep an eye on the Maovember website for more information.
Photo: Maovember/Jim Boyce
this post first appeared on thebeijinger.com on October 8, 2015