In 1989, Ling Chai joined friends and fellow students at Tiananmen Square for what she believed would be a peaceful protest.
They gathered at the Beijing site to rally for political and social reform, better career prospects and a free media. But in response, China's leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, and senior officials declared martial law and mobilized as many as 300,000 troops. In the resulting massacre, demonstrators were injured, killed, sentenced and exiled.
Placed on the government's list of 21 most wanted students, Chai fled. She escaped by hiding in a cargo box for 105 hours until she arrived in Hong Kong. Once in the United States, she attended Princeton University and Harvard Business School, got married and eventually became a mother.
But her life, though idyllic by most standards, was mired in a sense of unease.
Burdened by the feeling that something was missing, Chai pondered constantly the purpose and meaning behind her existence.
"I'd achieved the picture-perfect American dream but it was empty," she said. "I kept thinking, 'Why doesn't life make sense?'"
Chai, whose actions earned her Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 1990 and 1991, attended a U.S. congressional hearing about forced abortions in her homeland in 2009. She was struck by the experience of a woman who had been coerced into giving up her baby but had found peace and freedom in Jesus Christ. Weeks later, Chai followed suit, quieting all her nagging doubts through faith in God.
The following year, she responded by establishing All Girls Allowed, a nonprofit dedicated to exposing the injustices synonymous with China's family-planning "one-child policy" and to rescuing mothers and their children from gendercide. Guided by the words "In Jesus' name, simply love her," Chai and her colleagues also pray for the healing of the traumatized people they work with.
For one week, starting at 10 a.m. March 10, the group will partner with Costa Mesa-based Sevenly, a lifestyle product line whose creation was centered on co-founders Dale Partridge and Aaron Chavez's belief that "people matter." Refusing to start small, the duo, with $30,000 in startup capital, made it their mission to "activate the younger generations toward generosity," said Megan Guerra, director of charity relations.
Orienting their business model around the number seven, which, in turn, inspired the company's name, Partridge and Chavez decided to partner with a different charity every seven days. Each week, Sevenly releases a new, limited-edition production line and donates $7 of every product sold to the earmarked cause.
In June 2011, Sevenly launched its first campaign with the International Justice Mission, which rescues victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and violent oppression. In the almost three years since, it has donated more than $3.3 million to various organizations. The for-profit group gives close to 30% of its annual revenue to charities; when broken down, this averages $23,000 a week, Guerra estimated.
Since inception, the company, which represents 52 organizations over the course of a single year, has built and maintained relationships with more than 100 nonprofits that work in areas of abuse, aid, human rights, medical help and others.
"The world's greatest problems boil down to or stem from one of these categories, so that's where we focus," Guerra noted. "Companies that are charitable or prioritize social giving usually have one or two key partners. We wanted to reach a large number of groups in a given year and for our customers to have vast product offerings."
Sevenly's website features affordably priced graphic T-shirts, bags, jewelry, children's accessories and prints that declare, "Love is the bridge between you and everything," "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" and more. Buyers who purchase these items provide assistance to groups working across the United States and also in India, Liberia, Haiti, Syria and elsewhere.
One such example is All Girls Allowed. The organization's logo reflects the Chinese character for girl or woman, to which a head and ponytail have been added, symbolizing the playful dancing of a child. Chai longs for the image to become reality for many.
Instead, peasant women are loaded into trucks and driven to hospitals where they are put through involuntary abortions. Elsewhere, embryos are injected with poison so women experience painful contractions and deliver stillborns — all without the use of anesthesia, Chai said. Over 336 million forced and coerced abortions have taken place under the one-child policy, she added, with 1 in 6 girls being killed because of a societal preference for male children.
"This policy has exacerbated the gender imbalance," Chai remarked about a country where, in 2012, there were about 40 million more men than women, including 18 million more boys than girls under the age of 15. Based on government findings, 30 million eligible bachelors will be unable to find a wife by 2020.
The work of businesses like Sevenly has contributed to an international dialogue about the human-rights violations rampant in China. Under the pressure of activists as well as a dwindling labor force and quickly aging population, government officials are now discussing a potential "two-child policy," the British newspaper the Guardian reported.
This is progress, concedes Chai, who lives in Boston with her husband — the chief executive of Jenzabar, a software company that serves colleges and universities — and their children, ages 9 to 13.
Still, she yearns for the day when women and girls in China will also enjoy reproductive freedom and experience lives of value and dignity, secure in the knowledge that they are loved.
"Sevenly has helped us publicize our cause to their customer base, and we encourage more people to participate," she said. "They are a great model of doing well by doing good."
For more information and ways to donate to Sevenly, visit http://www.sevenly.org.