What drove you to start your own business?
I am passionate about ensuring all young women have the opportunity to achieve their full potential, no matter where they live and no matter their background. I loved growing up in rural Australia, but I realised that country students had less access to education and career opportunities, mentors, and work experience, and their communities were often supported by male-dominated industries. Statistics show that the more remote a student gets, the worse their attitudes to schooling get, and the worse school completion rates are.
After working in journalism for a couple of years, my eyes were also truly opened to gender inequalities in Australia. I became passionate about increasing the number of women in Parliament, on corporate boards and across the leadership spectrum, and educating all young women about their self-worth. I knew that female political and corporate representation was worse in rural areas, and I became increasingly concerned about the impacts these gender and geographical barriers were having on a niche group of young women living in the country. So I had an idea, and that idea was to create a national not-for-profit organisation called Country to Canberra.
Country to Canberra empowers young rural women to reach their leadership potential. We run leadership programs, inspire self-belief and connect high school age girls with mentors to ensure they can achieve their dreams. We run a leadership competition and Power Trip program that provides leadership training and connects girls to incredible female role models, and we run a Blogger team that connects isolated teens and showcases their talents. We have also just secured funding to undertake a national road trip running our 'Project Empower' leadership workshops in every state and territory, to reach and empower thousands of young women to reach their potential.
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
As a social enterprise, our not-for-profit is run completely by volunteers which means that every cent fundraised or donated goes back into our programs. We are so proud of this, but it means our volunteers work big hours on top of our full-time jobs to ensure we can deliver our programs for rural girls. We are so passionate about it, but securing funding in such a fragile not-for-profit environment and taking annual leave, working weekends and during our lunch breaks can be a challenge.
What has been one of your best highlights?
We have had so many incredible moments! But a recent highlight was having the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop mentor our Power Trip winners during last year's 2016 Power Trip. As the most senior woman in Australia's Government, she gave the girls such incredible advice and really motivated them to aspire to achieve their dreams. She also tapped me on the shoulder and whispered that I had 'been an inspiration' to her. As a volunteer CEO, this meant a lot.
How do you keep motivated being a boss lady?
Talking with the young women who have come through our programs, and hearing the positive impact we made on their lives. Recently, one of our first-ever leadership competition winners came to one of our fundraising events, and asked the high-powered panellists an elegant, smart and bold question. She proudly said she was able to do this, because she had come through Country to Canberra. I am so proud that we are creating a nation of #GirlBosses, and knowing the future impacts we can make, motivates me to continue working hard and aiming high.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Former Australian Ambassador for Women & Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, because she tirelessly works to push social policy issues and help people who need it the most. Plus she is funny, kind and hard-working, and is a great role model for young women. I was fortunate enough to briefly work for Natasha when I was going through a major period of uncertainty, and she inspired me to go after my goals and start Country to Canberra.
What blogs/mags or insta feeds do you follow for you business?
There are so many incredible brands and feeds out there! From a gender equality perspective, we follow the likes of Women's Agenda and UN Women, and in terms of rural accounts, we love Graziher, Local Is Lovely, George the Farmer and so many more.
What is the best quote, book or piece of advice that has been given to you on this journey?
Any time I need to prepare for a speech, or start feeling drained, I read passages out of Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In'. It gives me a sharp reminder of why we need to create proactive pathways for women's leadership, build young women's confidence and fight longstanding gender biases. She is a powerhouse and an absolute boss lady.
What would winning the #BOSSLADYDREAM competition mean to your business? How will it change things for you in particular?
It would be life-changing, as it would help spread our positive message about gender equality to thousands upon thousands of young women across the nation. We need to ensure that every girl, no matter where she lives, understands her self-worth, and can access tools and opportunities to reach her potential. However, Australia is so huge, that we can't meet and train every girl face-to-face. By winning this branding and marketing package, we would significantly extend our reach to every corner of Australia, and it would provide an opportunity to virtually deliver our message to thousands of girls, parents and communities.
The prize would enable us to share information about our leadership competition and Power Trip program, to engage as many girls as possible in this inspiring initiative. It would also shape our Blogger Team, website and online content to boost our audience and social reach. Importantly, we are about to embark on a national road trip to teach our Project Empower workshops in every state, meeting hundreds of young women in over 100 communities. We want to build a brand for Project Empower, create a documentary capturing this experience and build our social media following so that we can impact and empower as many girls as possible. As our geographical reach is so expansive, and as we are a non-profit organisation run purely by volunteers, our capacity for this is limited. Having strong communications, branding and marketing support would make an enormous impact on our capacity and ability to achieve our goals, to ensure that thousands of young women are empowered and can prosper to achieve their boss lady dreams.