|A donation ceremony between SIWA and KUMFA at Cafe Pagus in Seoul. From left to right, SIWA member Eunice Go, SIWA President Veronica Koon, KUMFA President Megy Kim and SIWA committee welfare chair Han Sung-hwa. / Courtesy of SIWA|
By Kyung Lee
To reconnect with its members and communities in response to canceled in-person charities and fundraising events ― including its annual Charity Gala ― the Seoul International Women's Association (SIWA) has launched its 58th annual Diplomatic Community Bazaar on Nov. 8, running to Nov. 30.
A strictly virtual bazaar, that is.
Supported by an e-commerce platform, the bazaar features "premium" items from clothing, beauty care, to packaged foods, allowing visitors to shop by category or embassy.
Though only 15 embassies have participated in direct donations and selling merchandise in the online bazaar, a significant reduction from last year's 43, SIWA members told The Korea Times they have been adapting to COVID-19 to keep their traditions and outreach efforts going.
|Seoul International Womens' Association hold a bazaar in 1983. / Korea Times archive|
"We reached out to auction companies and online sites to see if we can continue the 58 years of tradition," SIWA President Veronica Koon said.
After failed attempts to proceed with the bazaar over the summer, she added, "If no one gives us a platform, then we build our own."
Despite fewer embassies and volunteers helping organize the online bazaar due to pandemic restrictions, other SIWA members noted that the event has been gaining more exposure than they expected.
Some of that exposure includes word-of-mouth promotion and donated items from affiliated school parents, as well as personal collections and proceeds from individual ambassadors.
For Katherine Ann Corteza, the bazaar manager and director for the Itaewon Global Village Center, promoting the event has become an especially intense and committed activity considering the influx of buyers.
"For the online bazaar, we get to reach a lot more people," she said. "It's not just visitors who know SIWA, but also those who are not really familiar with the organization."
In addition to leveraging the group's social media to engage with existing members and newcomers, Corteza added that the Itaewon Global Village Center has also been promoting the online bazaar through its own Facebook page and newsletter.
SIWA realizes the potential of using its e-commerce platform ― alongside in-person functions ― for equally effective and user-friendly solutions to raise funds promoting women-focused events beyond the bazaar.
"The planning of this fundraising site is not a one-off because we can add other events one after the other," Koon said. I think going online and offline will be the new norm, as well as help us widen our exposure."
|UNICEF runs a stand at the charity bazaar of Seoul International Women's Association (SIWA) held in 1979. / Korea Times archive|
According to Koon, the group could move its in-person events like bazaars, auctions and raffles onto the internet, though future planning remains uncertain.
Establishing an online shop for the bazaar may help reel in necessary funds to support partner organizations like the Korean Unwed Mothers' Families Association (KUMFA) and the Holy Family Welfare Hospital, but at the end of the day, civic participation and connections also matter more than just the dollars contributed.
In addition to hosting meetings and activities on Zoom ― for Chinese calligraphy classes, yoga, and guest speakers discussing empowerment and entrepreneurship ― SIWA continues to invest in KUMFA and other partners' initiatives, delivering a wide range of resources including vocational training and emergency relief funds.
Of those investments, the group has provided financial support and ESL sessions to Cafe Pagus run by KUMFA and its unwed mothers.
"It's not like we just go in and give them money ― they want long-term relationships," said Han Sung-hwa, the group's welfare committee chair.
Han also stressed each partnership has progressed to "relationship-based" levels in an effort to understand what's at stake for each partner organization, as well as providing emotional support through the programs that SIWA members and volunteers partake in.
And pandemic or no pandemic, SIWA still retains support from its Premium Platinum Sponsors: Dwight School Seoul, Hana Bank and Seoul Foreign School.
Visit fundraising.siwakorea.com for more information on SIWA's Diplomatic Community Online Bazaar.