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Aussie female founder changes the lives of thousands of Ugandans

A smiling woman with sunglasses on her head embraces a joyful child. Both are outdoors, with the woman wearing a black tank top and patterned pants, embodying the essence of women in business and the balance they strike. The child, dressed in a blue shirt, stands against a backdrop of a building and some greenery.

Annabelle Chauncy remembers hiding her P-plates and wearing a borrowed suit from her mother as she pitched her idea to build a school in Africa to some of the country’s leading business people.

“I remember the fear, but I also remember thinking, ‘what have we got to lose?’,” Chauncy said as she recounted the first steps she took to set up the charity School for Life Foundation.

At 21, the then disenchanted law student travelled to Uganda to undertake six months of volunteer work. By the time she landed back in Australia, Chauncy had drafted the business plan for what would become a multinational non-government organisation (NGO) that helps thousands of Ugandans obtain an education, healthcare, employment and fresh food and drinking water.

“I stumbled onto my passion. I knew I always wanted to contribute and make a difference, but did I think I’d ever run a multinational NGO? Definitely not,” said the co-founder and chief executive officer of the not-for-profit that now educates more than 1000 students across three schools in rural Uganda.

Now 14 years on, Chauncy believes it was her passion and her age that gave her the confidence to make the leap from idea to execution.

“When I was starting out, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Naivety and enthusiasm are two very powerful tools that you can harness at a young age to your own advantage,” she said.

It’s advice the recipient of the Order of Australia medal has shared with young women from across the country, including at a free virtual summit hosted by the Accelerator for Enterprising Women.

“The more that I can support women to do that and share the journey I’ve had, the easier it will be for other young women who want to do something similar,” Chauncy said.

Annabelle Chauncy’s tips to young women starting a business:

Build a clear business plan: Explain what you’re doing and why. This will be your guiding light and will help you map out the risks and problems you may face. It’s also a way to articulate to your team and potential investors what you’re trying to achieve.

Just take the first step: There will be things that go wrong and things you don’t know or can’t plan for. If you sit in the ideation phase for too long, it’s very difficult to learn on the job. Accept that you will make mistakes and that you will learn from them and continue moving on.

Develop brutal resilience: Be prepared for setbacks, challenges and the word ‘no’. Growth happens when you exist outside your comfort zone. Ask people: How can I do something differently? Where are my blindspots? Why won’t you invest in my company?

Hold onto passion and purpose: Don’t lose sight of the ‘why’.

Pivot faster: Covid taught us how quickly we had to move. The organisation didn’t want the students to stop learning in lockdown and wanted to keep as many people as possible employed, so they pivoted to provide home-learning. You have to think on your feet to come up with solutions at challenging times.

Surround yourself with people who lift you higher: Find mentors who can provide counsel, advice and open doors. Try mentor walks, reaching out to founders or leaders in the field you are pursuing or Kilfinan mentoring.

Adopt a growth mindset: If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. We exist in a resource-rich society, so access free podcasts, blogs, EDM newsletters and books like Brene Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’ and Jim Collins ‘Good to Great’.

Her final words of advice: “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

Some more tips: