It was late on a Monday night and, like all good law students, I was scrolling through Facebook instead of studying. A friend had tagged me in a video, and I clicked through to watch. I had no idea my life was about to change completely.
It’s a video you might have seen it yourself actually…
The video finished and I took a breath. Swivelling around on my chair I gestured at the screen to my partner: “that’s my job.”
He laughed. “You’re not looking for a job.”
“No,” I told him. “You don’t understand. THAT’S my job.”
It’s true I wasn’t looking for a job – I’d stepped down from being the CEO of a not-for-profit education organisation to study a postgraduate law degree some years earlier. All my life I’d thought the law was it for me – that through becoming a lawyer I would find my voice and be able to speak out about the injustices I saw in the world.
But something happened midway through that degree. For the first year or so all I did was study and focus really intensely on the law itself: cases and legislation that were so intangible to day-to-day life.
Later on, when I was lucky enough to start volunteering in prisons providing legal education, the meaning of the law changed pretty dramatically – I wasn’t just seeing statistics and reading about hundred-year-old cases – I was working with the people who the law affects every single day. In them I saw for the first time that the law was not just this intangible thing out there – but is deeply connected to the lives of those without opportunity.
One day I was handing out pamphlets to the men in my seminar, like I did every other day, and I noticed that a man who had been along a bunch of times was back again. I gave myself a little mental pat on the back – wow, Morgan you must be really good at this for him to keep coming back!
This self-love evaporated when I realised that I hadn’t printed enough pamphlets, and that some guys would have to go without. I apologised and promised to bring more next time. That’s when this man, who I’d met a bunch of times and handed a dozen or so pamphlets to, said: “don’t worry about it Miss – you can take mine back. I actually can’t read.”
His words hit me like a punch to the stomach. Here I had been pointing at a PowerPoint and handing out information that this man couldn’t read. It was no wonder he’d been back so many times.
The educational disadvantage of this man was not unusual in the prison system. Less than 7% of the men I worked with had graduated from year 12 and about 60% lack functional numeracy and literacy. The link between educational opportunity and how a person’s life plays out is massive – no matter where a person is born.
Reflecting on my own life, I know I have had every educational opportunity in the world. I attended good schools with teachers who supported me and I came home to a family which valued education and encouraged me to pursue tertiary studies.
But it wasn’t until this moment – when a grown man told me that he couldn’t read – that I finally began to appreciate how the reading, writing and speaking I do on a daily basis comes as a result of this privilege.
And right when I realised that education has the capacity to change lives, I came across that video – with the One Girl team looking for their new CEO.
I didn’t have to think twice.
I knew in my gut that I could fight and fight as a lawyer for change and not be able to improve things as much and help as many people as I want. On the other hand, I could apply for this role, stand up for the girls who haven’t had those same opportunities as me, and change things every single day.
It was a no brainer: I stayed up all night preparing my application.
Two months later, three interviews down, my mobile rang while I was standing in the milk aisle at the grocery store. I did the classic let-it-ring-twice-so-you-don’t-look-too-eager and brought the phone up to my ear. It was the Chair of the Board, calling to tell me I had the role – that I was the next CEO of One Girl. When I hung up, I had a bit of a celebration – okay – the celebration was big enough that I thought I might need to change my local grocery store. Luckily since joining this team, I’m not alone in doing a little happy dance to celebrate the wins.
Our small, but incredibly awesome, team that I get to work with every day!
A few months later into the role, I found myself pulling another all-nighter: preparing for my first speech as the new One Girl CEO. It was something that filled me with excitement, but also with trepidation. What if I stuff it up? What if I get asked a question I don’t know the answer to? What if they see how young I am and dismiss me right away?
The truth was that these questions were really just a manifestation of the bigger stuff going on in my head – what if I’m not good enough for this role? What if I put all of myself into this and can’t achieve the things I want for this organisation? What if the challenge of educational equality is just too big?
The next day when I stood up to speak, my voice was shaky and every few slides I lost my place. My self-doubt kept playing out over and over each time I opened my mouth. Then I flicked through to a slide with a single line printed – our goal as an organisation:
Educate 1 million girls across Africa.
My tongue just about froze. How could I say that out loud? That goal is HUGE! If I speak it out loud to this crowd surely they’ll look at this 20-something ball of blonde fluff in front of them and laugh me right out the door.
I took a deep breath and said: “this goal might seem big or ridiculous, but it’s not one that we have set lightly. It’s this goal that gets me out of bed every morning and it’s one that each and every one of us in the office take deadly seriously.”
I swallowed and looked out at the crowd. There weren’t laughs. Instead there were nods and smiles. And by the time I was done, there were tears too.
I walked away from that talk feeling lighter. All of the fears I had built up in my head about the job before me and the support we need as an organisation to achieve great things faded standing there in that room. Because seeing those responses and hearing the passion in people’s voices I realised something simple, but important enough to repeat to myself every day now:
You are not alone in this.
Every single day I come to work, whether that’s performing a talk, analysing data of our Do It In A Dress campaign, writing emails to supporters, or the million and one other things that make up my job, I get to feel that. I am not alone in this.
In the 6 months or so I’ve been One Girl’s CEO I have learned that this is not just an organisation but a movement.
And it’s a movement driven not by me – but by the thousands of incredible people who invest their energy into making our goal a reality. For some people that’s giving money, for others it’s giving time – but for every single one it’s a commitment to making education a reality for one million girls.
Being part of this incredible network of people is truly energising. It’s something that gets me out of bed every morning, and lights a fire in my belly. I am continuously moved by the care and determination of our supporters.
There’s a quote that we love to embrace and live out at One Girl:
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
And every day of being One Girl’s CEO has truly confirmed that for me. Our team, our community, our supporters (that’s you!) – we’re in this together, and because of that I know we can tackle the huge challenges and mission ahead of us.
To date, One Girl has provided access to education to over 18, 000 girls. We have provided thousands of pads to girls to prevent a period from being a barrier to school. We have more local people employed in Sierra Leone than ever before and we have just seen our first Scholarship Girl graduate from High School and go on to University.
Last year was our biggest year yet – and this year we have even bigger plans.
In 2017 we have plans for LaunchPad in Sierra Leone to grow in scale and reach more women and girls than ever before. For the first time, we’ll be offering our Business Brains program in Uganda, on top of the scholarship girls we already support there. Back here in Australia we’re launching an all new fundraising campaign and we’ve expanded the range of education-funding products for sale in our online store. Yeah, we’ve got a lot going on. It’s exciting.
We have already taken some enormous strides together. We have much farther to go, but I know that with all of you along for the journey, we’ll get there.