Charles Sturt University (CSU) alumni Zoe Lamont is changing lives. As the CEO and founder of 10thousandgirl, a social enterprise financial literacy program for women, Zoe has empowered thousands of women.
Since graduating from CSU with her communication degree, Zoe has been involved in a number of social impact programs including Future Map, a financial wellbeing program for the workplace.
Zoe regularly appears in the Australian media speaking on the importance of planning and financial literacy, completed a fellowship for the School for Social Entrepreneurs, was an ambassador for MoneySmart Week and received MoneySmart Awards in 2012 and 2013 for outstanding innovation and effective financial literacy approaches for women through 10thousandgirl and Future Map.
Zoe shared her passion for social enterprise, women’s rights and financial equality with Insight.
CEO and founder, 10thousandgirl
How has your CSU degree shaped your career today?
University for me opened my mind to what is possible in terms of career choices as well as expanding my network. With a focus on comms, CSU Bathurst was full of creatives and performers; I had friends into music, radio, writing, art and theatre. The network of journalists and public relations practitioners built over my time at uni has been pivotal in launching various ventures over the years. My poor friends, they still to this day get roped into all my social agendas!
What are some of the highlights from your CSU experience?
Again, the friends I made. Because most students at Bathurst were not from Bathurst, most of us lived on campus for at least a year or two so from week one we had 1000s of instant, many now-lifelong friends. So many happy times on the village green, library lawn, at bar nights. Another fun memory, my closest ally and I were keen to get to the Uni games and not being natural sports stars ourselves, we found out what sports Bathurst didn’t have a team for and established CSU Bathurst’s ultimate frisbee team. We raised more sponsorship money than the rugby boys that year – perhaps that was the start of my fundraising days, albeit not for such a worthy cause.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about social enterprise, women’s rights and financial equality. I’m also passionate about the benefits of living in regional Australia. Wagga Wagga’s start-up and business community is inspiring right now!
What is 10thousandgirl and what’s the story behind the campaign?
10thousandgirl was born in 2009 when some friends were chatting in the pub and realised that women don’t spend enough time talking about and planning their life goals and money. Since then, many amazing women have been involved and helped us reach the goal of delivering life and money programs to more than 10,000 women. The 10thousandgirl campaign was formally established as a not-for-profit organisation in March 2011.
Over 2011 to 2017, backed by generous industry sponsors and with a focus on reaching women in regional Australia, we’ve travelled across the Northern Territory, through outback Queensland and down the Western Australia wheat belt delivering women’s financial wellbeing programs in over 85 regional towns across Australia.
In 2018, we’re launching the next iteration, Australia’s first women’s superannuation fund Verve Super, in a bid to continue offering women free financial education and fairer financial products to close the gender retirement savings gap.
What motivates you to make a difference through your social enterprise?
My passion for seeing people take control of their life and finances stems from a chain of insights growing up in regional Australia, through time working on humanitarian projects in Zambia, South India and along the Thai–Burmese border and through involvement in the planning and development of various commercial, not-for-profit and political organisations in the United Kingdom and Australia. Each experience bringing to light how the world shifts in a positive direction each time a business or an individual has access to financial education and the time and tools to make a plan.
What made you want to become involved in social enterprise?
Involvement in women’s and community development projects across Zambia, South-East Asia, India and Fiji led me to return to Australia with a commitment to improving women’s financial inclusion globally. You can’t personally witness the harshness of a Zambian village rife with AIDS, the innocence of tens of thousands of Burmese illegal migrant children trying to survive along the Thai border, or the poverty in Tamil Nadu (South India) without your perspectives being broadened and your outlook permanently humbled.
I will never forget the children and families I worked with overseas and the generosity I experienced. Even with nothing to give, communities in desperate situations band together to look after each other, making sure children are fed and the elderly cared for. There’s a lot we can learn from here in Australia from these priorities.
How easy/difficult was it to get others on board to support the campaign?
I was constantly reminded that we must be doing the right thing by the constant flow of support and skills that were contributed to the 10thousandgirl project over the years. From initial trailblazing women, our ‘steering committee’, ever willing to trial and give feedback on the program, to hugely experienced and high-profile women serving on our board, to corporate sponsorship, over 150 volunteers in local areas, over 50 leaders of local, state and national women’s and community groups who partnered with us to promote the roadshow programs and another 50-plus financial advisors and accountants across the country who sponsored and spoke at their local workshops. People are so generous.
Have you been involved in any other social impact programs?
I’ve always been attracted to altruistic organisations, especially social enterprise – socially minded businesses working to solve social issues in a commercially sustainable way. I think this is the future. Organisations I’ve been involved in include a start-up green energy company, Australia’s first online political party, Online Direct Democracy, and another financial wellbeing organisation delivering programs in workplaces called Future Map. I’ve also had some not-so-successful social start-ups including a business selling jewellery and gift cards to raise money for Burmese teacher training, in which I’ve still got $1000s worth of stock in a shipping container on my parents’ farm. Every failure provides lessons!
How important is it for women to plan for their financial future?
Absolutely pivotal. With women retiring on less than half the retirement savings of men, it is absolutely key that from an early age, pre children and caring responsibilities, women learn about investing and start squirrelling away some money for compound interest to do its magic over time.
Could you tell us about your experience as an ambassador of MoneySmart Week?
MoneySmart Week was an initiative a few years ago run by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) as part of delivering Australia’s National Financial Literacy Strategy. It was a week where lots of events and online activities were held across Australia, largely promoting the really good independent financial literacy site.
What’s next for 10thousandgirl?
I’m excited to be contributing to the establishment of Australia’s first women’s superannuation fund, a new social enterprise called Verve Super. As a means to closing the gender retirement gap, Verve will offer free financial education for women, subsidised fees, ethical investing options and the opportunity to invest in the fund. Verve Super is designed for women, driven by women, owned by women and built to support women, with each member contributing to microloans for women in India, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji or Tonga. So, as each Australian woman becomes more financially empowered, their ripple effect is felt globally. Verve is launching in November 2018.
Where do you hope to be in your career in five years?
Hopefully Verve Super is a massive success and we’re still providing free financial education for women across Australia. The long-term aim is to build the fund and continue advocating for policy change to ensure women are financially included and secure across all phases of life. We want to continue designing new investment products that align with women’s values and ensure substantial wealth pours into the pockets of everyday women and families rather than the wallets of investment bankers.
What is your best advice for those who want to be impactful in their communities?
If you have an idea, do it. Follow your heart, use your intuition and surround yourself with inspiring people. Don’t be afraid to rebel. Challenge the status quo.
Also, if you live or want to live in regional Australia, see that choice as enabling your dreams. With internet and travel opportunities, regional entrepreneurs can have it all, running national and international businesses while living the relaxed, healthy, fulfilling and affordable lifestyle that regional Australia offers.
Want to make a difference through your own social enterprise?
If you want a career where you can make a real difference, explore CSU’s range of courses and choose where you will make an impact.