We talk with Australia’s Local Hero 2015 Juliette Wright

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It’s been a busy few weeks for Juliette Wright since she received Australia’s Local Hero award at the 2015 Australian of the Year awards.

The inspiring Queensland-based social entrepreneur is the founder of GIVIT, an online service that lets you see a list of everyday items that are urgently needed by someone in the community.

Wright spoke to us about her joy at winning the awards, the recent launch of GIVIT Kids and offers aspiring social entrepreneurs some words of wisdom.

You not only won the Queensland Local Hero Award but Australia's Local Hero award last month. How was it? What does it mean to you and GIVIT?

It was incredible to receive the State award, let alone the national award.  I have never won a raffle or any award, so when the Premier called my name I was in shock and after a long moment people started shouting at me to get up!

When the Prime Minister called my name I was very, very shocked and excited, and all my fellow state recipients looked at me with such pride and joy I felt very overwhelmed! It was the most humbling experience of my life. I really am incredibly honoured to be on the Australia Day honour roll and I hope to inspire people who want to make a difference.

Don't let anyone tell you it cannot be done!

How did you come to launch GIVIT and were you surprised at how well received it was?

Following the birth of my second child in 2008, I was surprised at the struggle I 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 living below the poverty line sleeping on the floor. I quickly realised it wasn’t about overloading charities with items, but instead recognising the specific needs they had to help pull their clients out of poverty.

I started with the goal of making giving easy. I wanted to alleviate the effects of poverty across Australia by ensuring 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, 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, ensuring every charity has what it needs through the act of giving. Now, almost 130,000 marginalised, vulnerable and disadvantaged people have been assisted through GIVIT.

GIVIT currently supports almost 1,000 of Australia’s most trusted charities to ensure they get the exact items their clients need. Somewhere in Australia, there is a pair of unwanted work boots that could help a father secure work to support his family, a reliable washing machine that will allow a single mother the time to apply for work instead of washing clothes by hand and a bed that could provide someone the chance to live in their own home.

Do you think the ‘connecting’ component of the platform – connecting those with something to give to those in need – is an important part of its success?

Yes, I believe that connection to our community is a vital and important part of being a healthy human being. The GIVIT website requests items for people living in poverty, shares their story and explains why they need that specific item. These stories connect with us and motivate us to give and even though we will never meet the person, we feel a sense that we have improved their life significantly. As the giver we connect you to charities and this often sets up long term friendships and support to the charities which makes their service more sustainable and powerful.

You recently launched GIVIT Kids. Can you tell us a little about that?

To help develop a philanthropic culture within Australia, I recently launched GIVIT Kids – a child-friendly website empowering children to donate new and pre-loved items to meet the urgent materials needs of Australian families, in a fun and safe way. The unique website empowers children to support others by safely and anonymously giving to impoverished, isolated and marginalised members of their local community. In addition, the GIVIT Kids’ learning tools are now identified as helpful information in the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE) Curriculum into the Classroom resources for teachers when teaching Civics and Citizenship in primary schools.

The response to GIVIT Kids has been incredible! We’ve had hundreds of children across Australia give items to other children and families in need. Over Christmas, hundreds of GIVIT Kids Care Packs were given to at-risk children to open on Christmas Day which included essential living items many of us take for granted. Christmas is often a very tough time for families and the packs helped to brighten up their day, as well as let them know someone out there was thinking of them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Yes three…!

1) 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 over 126,000 people who are impoverished, marginalised or vulnerable.

With every start up there is risk. My advice is do a risk register and get people who think you will fail to clearly articulate their argument (before you ignore them!). Then enjoy hallucinating all the ways your business will fail!  Yes Fail! Then, mitigate those risks with your wits and by surrounding yourself with people who are savvy and experienced in that area.

If you don't know anyone Google always does! I love Google advice (my lawyer would like to add that I should exclude medical advice here)! It feels anti-intuitive but my business thrived and I felt like I was on solid ground once that was done.

2) 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 how risk adverse they are! Get a pro bono lawyer, get their advice and solid terms and conditions - it determines business protocols.

3) Are you going to have volunteers?  Everyone loves lots of encouragement and very clear goals.  My advice is not to get them KPIs and numbers to achieve, but a clear goal of where you are heading as that keeps them on focus rather than running with every great idea that new businesses get... daily.

Inspired? Talk to Benojo about how your business can help those in need.