WORDS WITH HEART
Words With Heart is a whole new approach to stationery. Combining environmentally responsible production, funding for women’s and girls education projects, and words that promote equality, it is a brand for a better world. We sat down with Words With Heart Founder Lauren to talk about her motivations and the story behind the brand.
How did the idea come about for Words With Heart?
I was at the airport on my way to Sydney, and I wanted to take some notes, so I stopped in at a stationery store. As soon as I walked in I saw this notebook on the table. On the cover it had the phrase “Boys, heels, blog; let’s get bad to the basics”. I was so frustrated. I was used to seeing those kind of sexist messages around, but to see a message like that on a school book was the ultimate slap to the face. I thought, ‘This is really bad” and I took a photo, and put it on Facebook writing something like “great to see the empowering messages we are sending to girls”. On the plane I started thinking, how can we do this better? I thought about the social enterprise space and I realized there was nothing there for stationery. Even though the stationery market was so big, there was nothing focused on creating a social impact. My first thought was to create something that could support women’s and girls’ education. I had been on a volunteer trip to Kenya at the end of 2012 where I assisted at a primary school. While I was there, I met a young girl named Esther who was very smart and enthusiastic. She had dreams of becoming a doctor, but the orphanage where she lived was worried about how they were going to pay the next year’s school fees. I ended up paying her school fees for the next year, but I couldn’t help thinking, what’s going to happen the year after, and what about all the other girls who can’t afford an education? There needed to be something more sustainable in terms of funding for girls education. So it was with this in my mind and heart that Words With Heart was born.
Can you tell us a bit more about the importance of girls education and women’s empowerment in eradicating world poverty? We know a little bit from watching a documentary, Girl Rising, but could you tell us a little bit more about the issue?
Women’s and girls’ education changes everything. 66 million girls across the globe are out of school and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women. Larry Summer, when he was chief economist of the World Bank said that ‘Investment in girls education may well be the highest return on investment available in the developing world.’ When you educate a girl, it empowers them. Just one extra year of education can increase a women’s earnings by 10 – 20%. And a mother who’s child can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5. Education means that girls will get married later, and have fewer and healthier children. Education offers many more opportunities form women to secure work and earn an income. From the stats, it shows that a huge percentage of what they earn, 90%, is invested back into their families, compared to only 40% for men. Educating women and girl’s has such an incredible ripple effect across so many areas – I’m pretty passionate about it!
Starting a social enterprise can be quiet a daunting task, especially compared to finding a 9 to 5 job in the corporate world. Was there specific motivating factor that stirred your passion for Words With Heart?
Well, I was kind of following those steps in the corporate world and when my mother suddenly passed away a couple of years ago, it made me realise that life was short. She was only 56, which is quite young, and it made me think about the kind of legacy I wanted to leave. I didn’t want to wait until late in life to create a meaningful impact because you just don’t know what will happen today or tomorrow or in a few years’ time. Additionally, my mum was a school teacher, and for me that was a real catalyst because as a teacher and a mother, she gave my sister and me every opportunity and really showed us the opportunities that education can bring.
Can you tell us a bit more about that volunteer trip you mentioned before? Did you decide to go volunteer after your mother passed away?
Yes – I decided to head of on my volunteer trip partly because I kind of needed to get away and take time to grieve, and also because I had always wanted to go volunteering, but I just never made the time. Hence it was kind of the result of; a) to get away for that time of grieving and b) just thinking, I’ve got to do it now, why wait?
In a way it was sort of honouring my mum. I was spending time doing what she did – teaching – and feeling like I was in her shoes a little bit. That kind of felt comforting and it felt like the right choice. WWH was kind of my own learning and my own journey but in some ways it kind of started from her and it sometimes that knowledge really motivates me. When there are challenges or it gets really hard I start thinking about my Mum. She imparted strong values onto my sister and I and always encouraged us that we could do whatever it was that we wanted to do.
That’s kind of an amazing motivating factor to help you through those tough times.
It’s definitely a powerful connection, and then WWH becomes very personable in some ways because it’s almost a legacy to her, of course it’s bigger than that in many ways, but I definitely think about it.
Have you been surprised with the response from the community? You’ve had so much support from instagram, Facebook?
Absolutely, its been so beautifully overwhelming and encouraging. I think the support from the media and press surprised me the most, with publications like MamaMia and Peppermint Magazine publishing our story. Even organisations like Collective Shout, 1 Million Women and Mighty Girl have showed their support. So I was very overwhelmed and grateful that so many groups and women have been willing to put their voice behind it. That was really exciting to see people coming together out of love for the idea.
How important is having a good team around you in starting up a social enterprise?
So important, WWH first came together through networks and friends. I have a lot of connections and friends in the social enterprise space and they really helped me to work out the best kind of model in terms of development and social impact. When it came to design, I asked a friend who was a graphic designer, “Can you do this, are you able to help?” and another friend helped to put together the campaign video.
Luckily I now have a team of seven interns, and they have been SO valuable for WWH in the last few months. One of them is an official blogger, she just takes care of the blog and I don’t have to worry about it, she is fantastic. Another looks after our PR and puts together press releases, and another executes our market research. So many things that I would never have had time to work on myself, and it frees me up to focus on scale and strategy. I especially love having a team around me that is as passionate about Words With Heart as I am. They are all young woman who care deeply about the cause, and they are also the exact target market for Words With Heart. Having them onboard and having their insights and input has been so wonderful and valuable. I wouldn’t have been able to manage WWH at the speed in which it is unfolding without my team.
How do you think the environment of Australia, or the environment of the social enterprise will grow in the next few years?
I think it’s going to grow hugely and it’s really exciting. I think it is because as consumers now, especially young consumers, we are much more likely to buy a product that has a purpose or some sort of ethical or environmental impact. We are becoming socially conscious consumers and that’s been helped by the rise of social media. I think it’s only going to get more important and significant. In America and the UK, social enterprise is quite cemented, but in Australia I often forget that many people don’t know what a social enterprise is. So there is still a lot of open space here to connect with consumers. For me, it’s really a no brainer, when you have product A and product B which are exactly the same quality and same price, where one has a social impact and the other doesn’t; why wouldn’t you choose the product with the social impact? Of course, if you look at the traditional business model, where it is purely about making profit, those businesses do sometimes look at ways of donating funds or partnering with charities. That’s still very valuable and important, but I think it’s different when a social purpose is set into the DNA of a company, where your whole purpose of existing is to create that social impact. Consumers connect with that, it’s very meaningful. So I think the social enterprise sector is just going to grow and grow.
If you were to describe Words With Heart in one sentence how would you describe it?
Well our byline is “Stationery that does good” and that kind of sums it up in four words I guess! But in a longer kind of sentence I would say Words With Heart creates beautiful, ecofriendly stationery products that fund women’s and girls education projects. As much as I really care about delivering our social impact, I also want to make sure that our products are beautiful and that they are of really great quality. I never want to lean too much on our social impact, because customers might buy our stationery products once, but if they’re not up to scratch in terms of design and quality then they aren’t going to want to buy them again.
How have you personally grown over this process?
So much, even though it’s only been a couple of months. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that you just have to ask. You just have to put yourself out there and ask for help and not be afraid of anything. I think most people would be very surprised at how much support there is out there. Also, I’ve learnt to focus on the little steps. It’s exciting to see us accomplish the little things and then realise we can achieve the even bigger goals. Personally, I have been so deeply moved by the emails and messages of support from women all over Australia. To see how much people love Words With Heart and care about the social change we are creating has been so immeasurably motivating and transforming. It’s kind of like a “coming home” feeling. I feel like I’ve absolutely found my calling, and I’m so excited about the potential we have to make a real difference for women and girl’s across the world.
We also have some very exciting news! Our BIG announcement is that Big Picture Stuff will be designing Words With Heart’s next notebook collection! Which will be sold in a major retailer across Australia. So check back here regularly to keep updated with the process. But for now you can make a difference by purchasing your social impact notebook on their website.