The concept of ‘paying it forward’ is not a new one. The expression used for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of the original benefactor is believed to have been first brought to light by Lily Hardy in her 1916 book ‘In the Garden of Delight’.
A delightful concept it is, and not too dissimilar from the practice of philanthropy, which is based in a desire to promote the welfare of others, and recognised through the act of generously donating money to a worthy cause. They say money makes the world go round (at least the world according to Liza Minnelli), but money is just one energetic currency in power out there.
As I approached my dear friend for this interview, I couldn’t help but circle my mind around the many other forms of currency in action in our world. If currency is simply identified as being a system of recognised stores of value that can be traded, then our choices are open ended, and this raises the question - what do you value?
In our often confronting and not-so-black-and-white world, it’s completely understandable to feel helpless and dis-empowered to contribute to real change, especially when there is a consistent emphasis placed on the monetary resource. But what other opportunities and resources are available to us to contribute to change? We have purchasing power, our thoughts and ideas, our time, patience and voice. Most importantly, we have love.
However the shift is made, once the recognition of available resources within us occurs, we may see that we have far more capacity to pay it forward than we realised. After all, it’s the small but generous and consistent actions of compassionate individuals who are driving real change in our communities - perhaps it’s the only thing that ever really has; because energy begets energy, monetary or otherwise… just ask Bronwyn (Bronny) Bate, Operations Manager for the Australian Women Donors Network (AWDN).
In your own words, please tell us what you do for a living..
I contribute to a small but mighty organisation working to highlight the pivotal role that women and girls play in developing stronger families, communities, and economies. Julie Reilly, our Illustrious CEO, and I work to incorporate gender conscious practices into philanthropy, with the mission of increasing investment in women and girls.
What drives you to get out of bed in the morning?
I’m a very passionate person, and in this job I’m able to play an active role in driving positive change for some of the issues closest to my heart. I feel a great clarity and sense of purpose in that.
UN Women recently released a report highlighting the status of women against Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality by 2030). There is some positive data in the report, but it’s predominantly desolate. For example, globally, 1 in 5 women and girls under the age of 50 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12 month period.
In my role at AWDN, I am in the fortunate position of connecting with many women of colossal erudition, who interpret this type of data and formulate real, applicable strategies for change. The leaders in this space are awe-inspiring, and incredibly willing to share their knowledge. I’m motivated everyday, knowing that there are women and men who are working tirelessly to remove the barriers that women and girls face in society.
Also, rocking up to work everyday is easy, because our offices are located in quite possibly the most wonderful co-working space in Melbourne - Progress Central. It’s a thriving hub for collective thinking and is constantly encouraging me to look outside my area of expertise for alternative solutions.
What are some of the main challenges you've experienced and witnessed working in this field?
One of the biggest challenges we face, is that unfortunately, although the sector has some captivating success stories to share, there continues to be large gendered data gaps relating to outcomes in Australia, and the data we receive from developing countries doesn’t translate seamlessly to our unique social needs. The sector is beginning to understand the importance of capturing outcomes and I’m really excited to see the increased impact that will follow.
I know first hand, that when we are able to demonstrate that funding women and girls transforms communities, by increasing the visibility of the outcomes, then philanthropists are heartwarmingly generous.
What are some of the highlights?
I receive daily reminders that there are SO many good and compassionate people in the world! I curate an online project ‘Showcase’ which highlights organisations and projects that work to better the lives of women and girls. Every time a submission comes in, the warm fuzzies ensue. One organisation on the showcase is Shooting Stars,a Netball WA initiative that works with over 400 Indigenous girls, using netball and mentoring to keep them in school and provide future employment pathways. Shooting Stars aims to foster a new generation of successful Indigenous women who are leaders in their community and beyond. Celebrating the people who are out there doing the work everyday is definitely a part of my job that I love.
What is it that you love about women?
How long do you have?! I'm surrounded by so many unique and mesmerising women, and I love them all for such varied reasons. One of my favourite things about women, is that we have collaborative superpowers! Growing up with three sisters I recognised early on the power of collaboration. When we consciously unite for a cause, we become an unstoppable force. This same rule applies for us all on a universal scale - when we support each other (not just women and women, but women and men), a new world of potential is born.
What do you feel unifies women universally?
I think it is imperative that we focus on the positive changes that are happening for women universally, however; it’s also paramount to recognise that much of our global unity comes from the shared suffering and a shared understanding or experience of marginalisation.
I think it’s so powerful that the digital age has brought with it opportunities for women who historically didn’t have a platform, to connect with women who may be on the other side of the world, but can assure them that they are not alone. People in positions of privilege are exposed to injustices that may not have been so blatantly visible in the past and they are reaching out in solidarity.
Who are 3 women you admire, and why?
My phenomenal Mum – I have never quite figured out how to adequately express my gratitude to Mum. She is eternally positive and kind, never allowing anything to defeat her. In the most debilitating situations, she powers through and ends her sentences with “It’s all good”, to which my sisters and I say “It doesn’t have to be all good, you’re allowed to feel frustrated”… but somehow, she genuinely isn't and continues to thrive.
Lisa Witter – Lisa is Co-Founder of Apolitical, a platform for governments around the world to share what’s working to create social change. She was honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, she has counselled Nobel Peace Prize winners, politicians, philanthropists, scientists, and academics. Intimidating? You would think so, but she is indisputably one of the most genuine, engaged and warm women I’ve ever meet. So, basically she’s my idol.
Hellen Williams- Hellen Williams in the co-founder of the Babbarra Women’s Centre. Initially opened as a women’s refuge in 1983, the centre now houses Babbarra Designs, one of the oldest Indigenous textile enterprises in Australia along with various small social enterprises. Bábbarra Women’s Centre is a secondary home for the women of five remote communities (Buluhkaduru, Ji-marda, Mumeka, Mankorlod and Cadel) and Hellen has created a space in which these women have access to financial opportunities that support them and their community.
When do you feel most in your power?
When I speak my truth.
This year has been really transformative for me in finding my voice and discovering where I can have a positive impact. I am working alongside a CEO who has encouraged me to be vocal when I have ideas that might not necessarily adhere to past protocols. We have honest and respectful dialogue and it’s very empowering to finally understand the strength of being assertive. My parents raised me to be inquisitive and brave, but by nature, I tend to shy away from being too forthright.
I’m now recognising the power of harnessing the tools that they have equipped me with, to advocate for women and girls who weren’t afforded the same opportunities as I was.
What are you being inspired by right now?
There is really something in the air at the moment, and I think it has a lot to do with the momentum generated by the #metoo, #timesup, #repealthe8th campaigns, as well the events that followed Trump coming into power. Women are throwing aside the fear of vulnerability and understanding that there is strength in honesty. I think the courage being displayed by women globally right now is so powerful and should be looked upon with reverence.
What is your one wish for women everywhere?
That tomorrow morning, all women & girls wake up to find themselves relieved from the pressure of feeling as though they have to strive for perfection. I wish for them to trust in their unique brilliance and put themselves out there wholeheartedly, and in doing so, encourage those around them to do the same.
Tell us about your pooch Murphy, how does he fit into your life in Melbourne?
Murphy is my cheeky 3yr old beagle. My partner and I named him after a song that Kevin Devine wrote about his dog, 'Murphy's Song'. Melbourne winters can be pretty gloomy, and we're feeling it at the moment! Thanks to Murphy's persistent encouragement for his evening walk, I have really had to embrace the beauty of winter and the crisp air. He's such a good friend to us and is definitely part of the family.
What is it that you love about The Dharma Door?
I love The Dharma Door because they perfectly demonstrate the power of a conscious consumer and an ethical trade model; the more we purchase their stunning products, the more sustainable work they create for women.
Which Dharma Door piece do you have your eye on right now?
I adore 'The Everything Pouch', in every print. It reminds me of a beautiful woven purse that I purchased in India many years ago. After 8 years of love and adventure, it is a bit tattered and I've been hesitant to let it go. I have finally found an adequate replacement.
Words by Ellen Watts | @_theatelier_
Shooting Stars - by Shooting Stars
Progress Central - Hilary Walker
All other images - Eric Trigg
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