Inspirational Women: Annabelle Chauncy
Each week SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chose field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Name and role:
Annabelle Chauncy, founding director of the School For Life Foundation.
What do you do on a day-today basis?
My role is really diverse and changes nearly everyday! I am in charge of the Australian operations of School for Life Foundation. This includes fundraising, marketing, media, donor relations, communication, events management, prospecting new donors and speaking at schools, community groups, Rotary Clubs and events. It’s an amazing job! I meet the most incredible people and no two days are ever the same. I travel to Uganda three times a year so I get to see the progress, know the children and adults we work with in the community personally and most importantly, see where all the hard earned dollars are being spent on ground. Uganda is a phenomenal place, with the strongest, most beautiful and generous people.
How/when did you know this what you wanted to do as a career?
I sort of stumbled upon my passion and love for Africa. I was halfway through my law degree when I decided I wanted to do something completely different, to give back and use the brilliant education my parents had afforded me to help others. I travelled over to Kenya for the first time in 2007 when I was 20 years old and taught children from the floor of a mud hut, with no desks, pens, pencils or books, using a scratched out blackboard and the resources I had brought across with me from Australia. It was there that I realized just how passionate these children were about learning and how much it really meant to them! I did some travel to Uganda and Tanzania on that trip and was fortunate to visit the School of St Judes (founded by Australian woman, Gemma Rice). I remember standing there in awe of her achievements and thinking to myself, if she can do it, I can. So I sat in the airport on my way back to Australia formulating a plan to build education centres in Uganda.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I am continually inspired by the many budding social entrepreneurs making a huge impact in the developing world. I love hearing success stories, where real changes are being made for the long term! My co-founder Dave Everett is a constant source of inspiration. His development knowledge, depth of field experience and perseverance is so unique. Plus, we are the very best of friends which helps to make work a wonderful place!
On an equal but different level, I am inspired by the people I work with in Uganda. The majority are from the poorest of the poor rural backgrounds, struggling to make even $1 a day but their outlook on life is so positive and happy. Their resilience and determination continues to astound and inspire me on a daily basis.
Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?
I have had so many incredible people help and guide my career along the way. Our Board of Directors grew organically with the Foundation and they have been pivotal to driving the organisation’s success.
My professional mentor is world-renowned neonatologist, Professor Nadia Badawi. She was appointed to the position of Macquarie Group Foundation Chair of Cerebral Palsy in 2009. Professor Badawi is leading a dedicated team of researchers at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute and making ground breaking progress on overcoming Cerebral Palsy everyday. Nadia has dedicated her life to medical research and impacting the lives of children and families across the world. She is a truly inspiring person who gives me guidance, direction and most importantly understanding. I am continually in awe of how much she juggles and how she manages time and stress levels!
What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then?
There were a lot of difficult business challenges along the way, including finding and appointing a supportive Board, fundraising the requisite amount to purchase 10 acres of land and set up a fully functional multi-purpose education centre, learning business acumen, overcoming age as a barrier, understanding foreign culture and ways of operating in a developing country, working with Ugandan citizens from the beginning and incorporating their ideas into decision making processes, working within corrupt systems, negotiating the politics of foreign systems and managing, coordinating and working with many different people in different decision making capacities along the way, from our Australian board to the locals in Katuuso, Ugandan government, lawyers and Ministry of Education.
Since the school opened, constantly finding more sources of funding is an ongoing challenge. It is an exciting one though as I get to speak with people from all walks of life about our programs and how they can get involved!
How did you overcome these?
These challenges were all overcome by being organised, staying true to my core beliefs even in compromising situations, persistence and perseverance, learning on the job and working hard to achieve my goals and objectives. I have also grown the team across Australia and Uganda to help expand the organisation. Without such a strong and passionate team, School for Life would never have been a success!
What are your goals for the future?
In the next few years, we will aim to build another primary school and a secondary boarding school which the graduates of both primary schools will attend. This will ensure the students receive a complete high quality education. Furthermore, retention of females in our schools is a core focus of School for Life’s. Ugandan women are the first to be removed from school to work on the land or have children when they reach puberty.
Ultimately our school is a model, which we aim to replicate in different areas of Uganda and the developing world. We have found that the Ugandans have a strong sense of ownership over the school and are highly supportive of the project. We provide a hand up not a hand out making our program sustainable for the long term.
I would hope that School for Life becomes an internationally recognisable brand in the not for profit industry. We aim to set a high standard of practise and continue to provide much needed education to those in need.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
Get out there and do it! Creating social change, no matter how big or small, and positively affecting the lives of others is the most rewarding thing you can do. If you are passionate about what you do, you will never work a day in your life! Passion is addictive and if you live and breathe your goals, you can motivate others to get involved too. Founding School for Life Foundation has been the most incredible journey. We took a massive risk and had faith making the impossible, possible. People ask me on a daily basis why I ‘threw away my career’ (in law), my answer to them is simple, I haven’t thrown away a career, I have created one and pursuing that ambition is the most rewarding and worthwhile thing I have ever done! I don’t know many people who jump out of bed at 5:30am every morning excited to go to work but I certainly do!