28 Aug Institute Sarita – A Chinese company dead set on teaching its citizens about doing the ‘right-thing’
Institute Sarita – Sara Jane Ho (China)
A Chinese company dead set on teaching its citizens about doing the ‘right-thing’
A real lady never sits with her legs crossed (except at the ankles if that is necessary for comfort).
Never she speaks in a loud and coarse voice.
A lady stirs her tea front and back, not in a circle, and makes no noise with her movements.
Does this sound like a 19th century upper-class Europe to you?
You couldn’t be further from the truth.
This is Beijing.
She was born in Hong Kong, educated in Georgetown and Harvard and speaks five languages. You’ve guessed it, Sara Jane Ho, a well-mannered 27-year old young lady, is hardly an ordinary example of a modern Chinese female entrepreneur. Adding to yet another of Miss Ho’s strengths is – her acute entrepreneurial vision. Her story is a story of innovation and resolve. Of striking intuition about consumer demand in a new emerging market. Of daring to launch and to defend a concept some deem futile and archaic. Miss Ho saw and recognized a brilliant business potential in a model once outdated in one part of the world, and yet, that could be successfully exported into new markets and be given a new lease of life.
Sara Jane Ho has started a subtle new revolution in the middle of Beijing, teaching the upper-class rules of etiquette to China’s nouveau riche citizens. She herself attended the prestigious Swiss finishing school – The Institute Villa Pierrefeu. And it was whilst there that she realised that although Europe’s infamous finishing schools may no longer hold the same appeal with its citizens, they might, she thought, still hold some elusive cachet in other parts of the world. The art of being “finished” hasn’t lost its appeal it would seem – it only changed clientèle.
Miss Ho established the Institute with a vision to improve on her compatriot’s reputation both at home and abroad. Fifty years ago people in China were fighting over food amid ration lines to survive. In such circumstances, having good manners falls at the bottom of ones to-do list and rightfully so. How times have changed since! China is now an emerging economic superpower with a rapidly growing Middle and Upper Class that are keen to prove themselves and showcase their new found standing in the global arena. And Miss Ho is now the ‘Lady’ on a mission to help accelerate China’s reputation – that of a well-mannered and refined nation.
And yet, despite having such a broad and very ambitious goal, the Institute Sarita has so far only been exclusively open to women. Moreover it targets a special kind of woman – one who can afford the upper-class price tag which ranges from $3,200 to $16,000 for classes that cover lessons in social etiquette, protocol and varying cultural customs from countries around the world to more lessons in floral arrangement, table décor, gifting and dining etiquette. In addition, the attendees also have the chance to learn the basics of “elite” sports (such as horse-riding and golf) and believe it or not the correct way of pronouncing luxury brand names.
Naturally then, the Institute has many critics. Some judge her business to be frivolous and unnecessary. Some are offended by her judgement of Chinese manners. Some – like us – are puzzled by the exclusivity to women only. Yet, Miss Ho refuses to define her classes as superficial. Her school is about elegance, about building women’s confidence, teaching them to be open, generous beings and empathetic to others. Sara’s mission is to create a new class of ‘well-adjusted’ role models. And we leave it up to you to decide whether you think it’s a cause worth pursuing.
But one thing is for certain Sara is taking all this criticism in her stride, as gracefully as you would expect a real lady to. And like you, we are keen to watch and see what the future holds for this enterprise dead set on doing the ‘right thing’.
Are there other outdated concepts that have lost their appeal in their original market but could successfully be revisited and brought back to life in a new one?
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