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.
Tell us about your role?
I work for legendary Australian obstetrician-gynaecologist, Dr Catherine Hamlin. I have been tasked with funding her legacy in Ethiopia, which is to eradicate the country of an horrific childbirth injury, obstetric fistula. I am the CEO of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia here in Australia and I lead a small but passionate team to raise much-needed funds for the life-changing work in Ethiopia, which is to treat obstetric fistula patients and train local midwives.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
On a day-to-day basis I spend my time managing my fabulous team, creating and editing content, developing and executing creative fundraising campaigns and managing our social media and retail strategy. I deal with our gorgeous, generous donors and spend a lot of time thanking them! We are nothing without our donors. I do a lot of keynote speaking which takes me all over the world. I have travelled to Ethiopia many times.
How did know this what you wanted to do as a career?
I ran my own creative services firm for 20 years and I loved that business. I developed my creative and communications skills working on major brands and also on some of Australia’s largest charities. About 10 years ago I offered my skills as a writer and photographer to Dr Hamlin after I saw her on the Oprah Show. I received a huge sense of satisfaction from using my unique skillset to help such an awesome cause and seriously transform some lives. So it was a no-brainer to move from running my own creative firm to working for one of the most remarkable causes in the world. Dr Hamlin appointed me as the CEO when she realised that she wasn’t getting any younger and she needed to make sure her legacy was funded in future.
Did you have a mentor?
I have had a number of mentors but not in a formal capacity. I have learned from watching and talking to other successful businessmen and women. Nobody has really helped me ‘get my career off the ground’ as such. I am an entrepreneur and I have worked my tail off. When Dr Hamlin asked me to be the CEO in Australia, that was not a career trajectory I had planned but it has been a fantastic opportunity and I love this job.
You started with Hamilin Fistula Ethiopia eight years ago, now you’re CEO. What have been the stumbling blocks, both initially and since then?
In the initial stages after my appointment as CEO, we were in start up mode. Anyone who has worked on a start up knows how full on this is! We were a brand new charitable entity with not one cent in the bank and not one qualified donor. We had to move extremely quickly to mobilise support, pull off some major events and raise big money, so that we could then move to diversify our income stream and build a solid income. I have never worked so hard in all my life! Dr Hamlin came to Australia for 8 weeks and lived with my family and me while we did five enormous launch events and a stack of media. She was amazing and put me to shame for energy. When we began, there was a lot of latent awareness for the cause in Australia. We just needed to fire it up and give people a tangible way to help, and then make them feel so good about their generosity that they became loyal to the cause. That was easy. The cause is tangible and donations make a very specific difference to the lives of the women we treat and train. Donors came in droves!
One of our biggest stumbling blocks was also a major advantage. We were so new that everything we did, we had to invent from scratch. That meant an enormous workload but it also meant we did not inherit anything old-school to slow us down.
There is still much work to do. We are on track to raise between $5M and $6M this financial year but we need to grow to a stable income of $10M annually to really be covering the costs of the hospitals (we have six) and our flagship midwifery school as well as our international surgeon training program and support for our midwives in the field. There is still much work to be done.
Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from Dr Catherine Hamlin. My motivation comes from her brave, beautiful patients who have suffered so much but who are gracious, hopeful and courageous. I’m inspired by Catherine’s work ethic and humility, her kindness in everything she does and her dogged determination to keep plugging away. She is 91 years old and still works six days a week. However, it is the patients we serve who motivate me to leap out of bed at 5am. I owe it to them to work hard and to succeed.
What are your goals for the future?
My goal is to lead our team here in Australia to raise the much-needed funds for the work in Ethiopia so that we will eradicate Ethiopia of obstetric fistula once and for all. We need to grow our income to a stable $10M a year to pull that off. I also want Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (Australia) to be the best place to work in Australia. Hands down.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
- Play to your strengths. Mine are in communication and creative execution. I offered those skills to a needy charity and look where it took me.
- Learn how to master social media to build your profile and to make contacts with influencers in your area. We use social media to create a post reach of five million every week and it doesn’t cost a cent.
- Ignore the critics. If I had listened to every person who told me I would never succeed, I would have fallen on my face. As Winston Churchill once said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks.”
- Be grateful. I am genuinely grateful to the awesome volunteer army we have who give their time and talent to help us do what we do in Australia. I have learned from Catherine who expresses her thanks with such authenticity. When I am in Ethiopia she thanks me every day for coming all that way!
- Have fun. What’s the point if it’s not fun? You will attract good people and you will work harder and be more successful if you are having fun while you are at it.