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 chosen 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
Juliette Wright, GIVIT Founder and CEO, Australia’s Local Hero 2015
Tell us a bit about what you do, what do you get up to on a day-to-day basis?
On a day to day basis I take care of two gorgeous kids who are 6 and 8 years old and although I am CEO of Australian charity GIVIT during the week, on weekends I’m supporting my family manage a cattle property on the NSW / QLD border.
What drove you to establish GIVIT? When did you realise this was what you wanted to do?
Following the birth of my second child in 2008, I was surprised at the struggle endured trying to donate my second-hand baby clothes to someone in need. Instead, local charities were searching desperately for essential items such as sanitary products for women who had fled domestic violence, steel-capped boots to enable unemployed fathers to secure work and clean mattresses to stop children sleeping on the floor. I quickly realised it wasn’t about overloading charities with items, but instead recognising the specific needs they already had to help pull their clients out of poverty. That’s where the idea of creating a website which connects those who can give items, to those charities which need those items, began.
Did you know there are more than 2.5 MILLION people (1 in 6 children) living in poverty in Australia? When I started GIVIT I had one goal – to make giving easy. I wanted to alleviate the effects of poverty by making sure every charity has what it needs through the simple act of giving… and what better way to do this than online. The following year I created GIVIT (www.givit.org.au) an online platform connecting those who have with those who need. Through GIVIT’s website everyday Australians are able to see exactly what is required by vulnerable members of their local community and easily donate those items. Somewhere in Australia, there is a pair of unwanted work boots which could help that father secure work to support his family, a reliable washing machine to allow a single mother the time to apply for work instead of washing clothes by hand and texts books to enable a disadvantaged student the chance to graduate university.
Since I established GIVIT in 2009, more than 210,000 items have been donated through our website to assist those in need. More than 1,000 trusted Australian charities are supported as these urgently needed items are sourced direct from the public. GIVIT supports the charities, but we also provide a platform encouraging and inspiring people to feel good about giving. Tens of thousands of Australians in every state and territory have donated through GIVIT to help someone else with an exact need. It is an amazingly uplifting experience to help someone who desperately needs it – I believe we help the givers too.
What have been the stumbling blocks, initially getting started and since then? How did you overcome these?
I have had a number of learnings. Business learnings and management learnings… so many in each of those. My biggest learning has been the importance of staying true to you. When I have pretended to be someone I’m not, I’ve always failed. For example, I am not bureaucratic at all and initially found working with government very challenging as they have such a huge (and essential) focus on risks and failure. When I decided to be myself, mitigate issues my way and relate to them naturally, my relationship with them became stronger.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find my inspiration in how generous people are – we see it every day. At GIVIT, we constantly hear amazing stories of how one simple donated item pulled someone else out of poverty. A personal favourite of mine was when a soccer ball was given to a young refugee boy struggling to fit in at school. He was very talented and playing soccer allowed him to go from zero to hero with the other children. Donated rugby boots helped kick-start a rugby league team on the remote Mornington Island in far north Queensland. The disadvantaged community was struggling to form their first league team as they had just one pair of boots to share among 18 players. As part of an effort to help foster healthy community connections, local council contacted us in hopes our donors would respond. We shared their plight through our website and social media channels and within hours more than double the amount of requested boots had been donated from right across Australia. To me, that is simply amazing. I’m also inspired by our reality – how can anyone rest when there is such awful poverty around us.
GIVIT not only helps those less fortunate but has stepped up in times of natural disaster. Can you tell us a bit about GIVIT’s involvement in the Queensland floods?
In 2011 Queensland was hit by devastating floods and an overwhelming number of people desperately needed essential items to help rebuild their lives. Then-Premier Anna Bligh turned to me for help and GIVIT became the state government’s official website for matching donations so charities weren’t swamped with excess, unwanted goods. The GIVIT website received 1.8 million hits in 10 days and more than 33,500 goods were matched in three weeks. This led to the establishment of a dedicated GIVIT Disaster Recovery service. In partnership with the Queensland Government, GIVIT is now the only reliable source of exactly what is needed in disaster response and recovery. I am incredibly proud of the system we created and the power it has to help Australia’s most vulnerable, especially during traumatic times such as Cyclone Marcia, the Moreton Bay floods, Logan House Fire and Ravenshoe café explosion.
Your amazing work has seen you nominated for Queensland’s Business Women’s Award for Innovation and winning the Local Hero category at this year’s Australian of the Year awards. How do these recognitions affect you and GIVIT?
I feel unbelievably honoured to have received these awards and now be on the Australia Day Honour roll. Accepting an award from the Australian Prime Minister was the most humbling experience of my life. I this award helps inspire people who want to make a difference – don’t let anyone tell you it cannot be done! With GIVIT, this recognition and endorsement has provided me with renewed energy and passion. It’s given me the confidence to chase my goals, continue growing GIVIT and keep reaching out further to those who need it.
What are your goals for the future and the future of GIVIT?
In future, I would like GIVIT to be a household name nationally as I want all Australians to understand how one simple, donated item has the ability to pull someone else out of poverty. In Queensland, GIVIT will be heavily focused on disaster recovery – expanding from natural disasters to a disaster of any kind, including the support of families after a tragic event. On a personal level, my family and I grow cattle and run 1,000 breeders on a property outside Warwick in Queensland. Spending time on the property, I have grown an understanding of and empathy towards the land and those working on it. I am grief stricken by the stories coming from the land of how our farmers and local communities are being affected by the drought. This has led me to create a Drought Campaign, aiming to pull every drought-affected community up by the boot-straps. As a result, next year I will be heavily focused on helping those living in remote, rural and regional areas.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
I have three…
- Feel the fear and do it anyway. So many people told me GIVIT couldn’t be done and wouldn’t work. It has. If I listened to everyone who said no or I thought failure was a sign I was not supposed to be doing GIVIT, I would not have helped more than 210,000 people who are impoverished, marginalised or vulnerable.
- As social enterprises are always new and exciting, think about getting a law firm’s support. When I started I was told I have the T&Cs of a hairdresser! Lawyers seem scary as a breed, but I think they have been the most surprisingly warm and supportive group. I said I wanted to start a donation portal and you know risk adverse they are! Get a ProBono lawyer, get their advice and solid T&Cs.
- “It will be a roller coaster, enjoy the ride!” If I had have known that, I would not have been so surprised by the difficulties I have had to overcome to make it happen. GIVIT is supposed to be a positive, inspiring website but to obtain money to support its growth has been a constant challenge.
Isabelle is a writer who has a hundred-and-one side-splittingly funny stories about growing up at an all-girls boarding school, with a chocolate habit that requires constant monitoring. Follow Isabelle on Twitter.