“She was gutsy. She believed what she believed in, and she was always willing to try what she believed would be the best outcome for the situation.”
When Stanley Chang (BMath ’00) created a foundation in memory of his late wife Joanna (“Jo”) Duong Chang (BMath ’04), he hoped to continue that spirit.
“Jo was 38 when she passed away,” he explained. “Anyone passing away at that age — it’s a disservice to the world. I kept thinking about all the different ways she would have made a difference, if she was still here. Even though Jo isn’t physically here anymore, we can carry on her spirit and her legacy.”
“Even though Jo isn’t physically here anymore, we can carry on her spirit and her legacy.”
Stanley Chang (BMath ’00)
Today, the Joanna Duong Chang Memorial Foundation supports several initiatives that reflect her passions, including a scholarship for entrepreneurial students.
Gutsy is just one way to describe Jo. She was also extremely ambitious and inventive, carving a unique career path as soon as she graduated from Waterloo. When she accepted her first job with the sales team at Xerox, she boldly negotiated a 100 per cent commission structure for her compensation. A few years later, as many of her friends prepared to buy homes, she saw an opportunity and got her real estate license to support her friends as they embarked in the next phase of their lives. Although they hadn’t started dating yet, Chang was her first client in a very successful real estate career.
When they did start dating, Jo had another idea. As a bridesmaid and guest at countless weddings, Jo was spending way too much money on single-use outfits and found it challenging to find clothing that suited her changing body type, size and personal style. If she was experiencing this, wouldn’t there be other women dealing with this too? So, she created Henkaa, an online store of Canadian-made convertible clothing. At first, Jo juggled running her new business with a full-time real estate career.
During this time, her entrepreneurial spirit overflowed from her own career and into others’. “Despite being a mother, a wife, a business owner and part-time real estate agent, she also found time to mentor other young people trying to build their own business and brand,” Chang said. “There were quite a few nights where she would leave after dinner to meet someone who needed guidance on executing on their own business ideas. She always made the time for others.”
Jo's bold legacy continues
With the Joanna Duong Chang Memorial Award, her support of young female entrepreneurs continues. Rachel Butler (BCFM in progress), a current student with a small jewelry business and many volunteer roles within the student community, is one of the impressive recipients. For Butler, the award brought more than financial support.
“Jo is inspiring to me, both because she accomplished such amazing things and comes from a background and education similar to mine,” Butler said. “I think the path to entrepreneurship is hard because there is a lot of flexibility in it and no 'one size fits all' method to learn. But that is also the beauty in it, seeing where you can use your personal talents and vision to shape the way you run your business. It helps to know that I have someone in my corner.”
Chang is equally inspired by the award winners: “After meeting the first recipients, I knew we did the right thing. I just couldn’t believe how accomplished they were at their ages.”
He said Jo would be blown away.