More Blogspiration Project, yay! Today’s features the wonderful Chantelle Baxter, co-founder of One Girl. Follow Chantelle on Twitter here, find out more about One Girl here, and read the other Blogspiration Project posts here. Enjoy! x
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m a born and bred Melbourne girl, and I grew up with my parents and my two little sisters. I had what I would consider a pretty privileged upbringing – private schools, overseas holidays, and never really wanting much materially.
On the other side of the coin – my childhood was pretty rough. By the time I’d left high school, my life had been affected by domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse and suicide attempts. I was a pretty messed up kid – and I left school believing that the only way I’d ever be happy, was if I made a lot of money.
After a short stint at university studying web design, I decided it was time to leave. I wanted MONEY – NOW! After I started a small web company with a friend of mine, and we did pretty well in our first year. But after shopping, drinking and partying my life away – I realized my that money was not the key to my happiness. I was miserable. I needed a change.
A mentor of mine suggested I sign up some leadership programs. So I did. A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Sierra Leone, West Africa. And that’s where my life REALLY began. I lived in a remote community in Sierra Leone for a month – no electricity, no running water, no supermarkets. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it through the first week. I’d barely even been camping before, and now I was being asked to do manual labour in 35 degree heat. I hated it. And I cried, a lot.
A couple of weeks in and I hit my breaking point. I needed to go home. I decided to ring my mentor and tell him that I was giving up. During the call, he said the one thing I needed to hear. He said..
This isn’t an accident. You are there for a reason. Rather than focusing on everything that you hate, I want you to give me the reason WHY you are in Sierra Leone.
I stopped crying and thought about it. It became obvious, I was there for the kids. I’d fallen completely in love with the children living in the village – and they became my reason. By the end of the month, I didn’t want to come home. (But obviously I had too).
When I came back to Melbourne, I attempted to pick up my old partying / shopping / drinking ways. But after 6 angry months, I realised I didn’t fit in anymore. I couldn’t go back. I was different, and it was time my life reflected that.
In early 2009, I gave up it all up – my boyfriend, my business, my apartment. I pressed the reset button on my life. Not long after, I met David Dixon and together we co-founded One Girl. We work in Sierra Leone, which is considered one of the worst places on earth to be born a girl. Since we began, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1350 women and girls and by the end of 2014, that will be more than 2600. I’m blown away by what our community has achieved.
How important is the Internet & social media to One Girl & Do It In A Dress?
Very important – our community has been built through social media and the internet – BUT, I think a lot of companies think that just ‘being’ on social media is enough. It’s not – face to face, word of mouth, real conversations, connecting with people – these are 10 times more important than social media.
We are so passionate about the work we do, we believe in the work we do, and that’s reflected through our communication channels. If any kind of organisation isn’t clear about WHY it exists then just being on social media won’t help.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
It changes everyday. I’m often blown away by our community of supporters in Australia – they inspire me constantly with their passion and commitment. Our volunteers blow me away as well – they’re reliable, passionate and so enthusiastic. And then of course, the girls in Sierra Leone. Whenever I get the opportunity to go back and visit them, I love it. A trip to Sierra Leone is a great inspiration injection.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about the online environment?
I love the transparency of being online. I love that companies can’t get away with things as easily anymore. This really is the age of information and people can make a choice to be informed about what goes on in the world. It’s brilliant.
What I like least? Trolls. I watched a video the other day about a woman who was sharing about the problems with ‘slut shaming’ and her experience with being raped in college – obviously I’m a feminist and very passionate about women’s rights. At the bottom of the video there was a series of anonymous comments from men who were threatening to rape her to shut her up, hunt her down and kill her, just horrible things. This is the dark side of the internet – people can hide behind their alias’ and make terrible threats and get away with it.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Wow that’s tough. I don’t know.. the best piece? Um.. Fail fast is always a good one. Failure is scary, and sometimes it hurts – but the faster you fail the faster you’ll learn. I believe that One Girl has truly failed it’s way to success. We’ve made so many mistakes and that’s how we’ve gotten where we are now. So don’t be afraid to fail.